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Jessie Veeder, Published March 16 2013

Coming Home: Promise of spring makes one feel young

I grew in a house in a clearing surrounded by oak trees on all sides. Outside my window and behind a restrung barbed wire fence was a homestead that had been abandoned years before my existence, leaving behind lilac bushes, rhubarb plants and a couple apple trees for my little sister and me to climb.

Below the house a creek bubbled and wound, smoothing stones and cutting a deep crevice through the quiet spaces of the tall trees and thick brush below the fields and through the cow pastures of the ranch.

I kept time by the rhythm and predictability of the world around me, not that time meant much to a 7-year-old girl who wanted nothing more than to wear her red boots and run as wild as that creek. In the afternoons the small school bus would kick up dust on the pink road on its way my door and I would wave goodbye to my friends, throw my backpack in the house and head out to check on those apples.

At the end of summer when their skins were red it meant it was almost time to go back to school. And when the snow began to melt from their branches at the end of winter it also meant the creek was rising. I would pull on my rubber boots and run out to follow it, captivated by how the new warmth magically turned the creek from a trickle into a raging river.

Each season meant a world transformed, and the beginning of spring was my favorite transformation of all. The comforting and familiar smell of dirt and prolonged sunshine had me reimagining the plan I had to live alone among the oaks, picking wild berries, drinking from the creek and building fires outside the fort I constructed out of fallen trees.

The promise of spring meant that the plan I put away for the winter in exchange for a warm bed and my momma’s cheeseburger chowder could be reignited.

And each year was the year it was going to put in place. This spring I would patch up the holes in my fort, learn to build a fire and break away from the confinements of civilization once and for all. I was confident in my skills. I had read “My Side of the Mountain” at least a half-a-dozen times.

And then the sun would sink, casting long shadows and my stomach would growl, reminding me that March was a long way from July when the raspberries would be ready.

Reminding me that I forgot to pack a sandwich.

So I would follow the cow trail back toward the house where my little sister was likely lurking in the shadows, begging me to let her help next time and we would argue and grappled until we could smell dad’s steaks on the grill or mom’s soup on the stove.

:::

I’m a grown woman now and out the windows of my new home the snow has melted off the top of my favorite butte and the warm wind will soon blow the ice free from the stock dam. I realize this is as close as I’m going to come to being the wild wilderness girl I dreamed I would be back before I understood that another spring meant another step out of the comforts of childhood.

I was never one who wanted to grow up.

I step outside to follow the thawing creek for a mile or so until I’m below the house where I grew up. I climb the banks and the fallen fence behind the house to rest my hand against the old apple trees.

Soon little green leaves will burst from their limbs, reaching out toward the sun, working to grow apples before the snow falls again. Yes, the apples will ripen, children will grow up and winter is always coming, that’s this prairie’s promise.

But being out here, held among the oaks, listening to the creek rush and waiting for the robins to come home, it’s easy to forget that promise and remember only the one that makes my heart beat wild and young and free in my chest – the promise of spring.

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.