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Jessie Veeder, Published January 05 2013

Coming Home: Friends get us through long winters

Winter. Now that the holidays have passed I think we’re officially in the heart of it. And I’m staring down January like an intimidated opponent, refusing to back down but panicked on the inside.

If I could grow a thick fur coat like our horses in the barnyard or curl up in the hollow nook of a tree and sleep for the next two or three months I think I might feel as if I were meant for a season that packs ice on our roads and threatens our exposed limbs with a cold so raw it actually hurts.

It’s January and just like clockwork, I ache for the summer as if she were my long lost sister who promised to come home someday, but never told me when.

So I stand by the window and watch the hills for any sign of her, knowing full well it will be a while.

It’s the longest season here at the ranch and one that seems to weave in and out of some of my most vivid memories as a young girl growing up in the drifting, snow covered hills of the middle of nowhere.

January. It’s a predictably unpredictable month that will always remind me of squeezing into Carhart coveralls, pulling my wool beanie down to the tops of my eyes, my scarf up over my nose and sitting next to my dad in the old feed pickup as he yelled “Come Boss, Come Boss!” at a black line of cattle walking nose to nose in our direction. The smell of the hay as it rolled and bounced off the back of the pickup was spring and summer and fall harvest and everything sweet and wonderful about life on the ranch all wrapped up and released in one simple but crucial act under a cold sky.

In January I knew that as long as we had hay and neighbors we could make it through the worst of the year.

Hay and neighbors and sledding hills.

Because sledding was a ritual in our little rural neighborhood that kept us all sane as we bundled up and squeezed as many people as we could on a tractor inner tube, toboggan or the plastic sled our little sister got for Christmas, launching our bodies down the un-groomed and steep slope of the fastest hill we could find before hitting the homemade ramp and landing in a pile of screams, snow pants, mittens, beanies and limbs at the bottom.

We would untangle ourselves, wipe the snow and snot from our faces and climb that hill to warm up with our mothers by the bon fire at the top before going at it again, challenging the worst of winter side-by-side and laughing.

Yes, it’s January and the smell of horsehair and hay on my barn jacket warms me as I look out the window at the snow falling, a flurry of swirling flakes drifting down to rest on the big hill outside my window. Summer becomes a distant green dream that gets pushed aside as I catch myself imagining what it would be like to climb to the top of that hill with my best friend and my purple Torpedo sled…

I pick up the phone to give her a call, a sudden wave of bravery washing over me as January softens with each falling snowflake.

Because out here in the middle of nowhere summers blend in to one another, turning one lush, long day into the next. The sun feels the same kind of warm on my skin and the wildflowers the same kind of beautiful, but it seems every new winter feels like a different and surprising kind of cold.

I hear my friend’s voice on the other end of the line and we decide we’re not going to let it take our nerve.

Because we’ve got hay, neighbors and Carhart coveralls.

And I have a pretty promising sledding hill outside my window.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.