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Jessie Veeder, Published April 13 2013

Coming Home: Finding a new quiet in Boomtown

If you were to catch a long-time resident of Boomtown standing in line at the grocery store paying for lunch on the run, fueling up a pickup, or guiding a group of students across a busy Main Street, you might ask what has changed the most about their hometown over the last five years of progress.

And, after a pause and a little nervous laughter almost every one of us will shrug our shoulders and tell you that above all, well … it’s just not so quiet around here anymore.

Quiet.

In these times of accommodating, building and rushing to grow a town beyond the fields and farmsteads that have held the sidewalks in place for years, we become nostalgic in the face of uncertainty.

And quiet is familiar. So we say we miss it, thinking that perhaps if we had a few moments to stand along the horizon on the edge of town without the noise of the future barreling down the gravel roads, leaving pot-holes in our roads and cracks in our windshields, we might be able to see a bit more clearly.

I was thinking about the quiet as I climbed to the top of the hills around the farmstead last week in my search for green grass and possibly a nice sunset to photograph. Among the familiar breath of the wind in my ear and the “caw, caw” of the hawk circling above me I caught the periodic hum of a pickup passing on the red dirt road.

When I was younger the sound of those tires meant someone was coming in for a visit. Today it means they’re passing by, hopefully taking notice of that fiery red sunset.

As a kid growing up here I didn’t recognize the quiet unless it was disturbed by a mysterious sound I couldn’t place. The howl of the coyote was familiar and safe. So was the shrill screech of the crow. But if the wind was right sometimes I would hear the strange drumbeat of a gas powered oil well pumping on the edge of the badlands, and it would send chills down my spine as my little mind searched for an explanation.

I haven’t heard that sound for years. Technology has advanced, and the industry has sent new sounds our way, but if I heard it again, I could explain it. Funny, I guess it became familiar after all.

So I sat on that hill listening to the sounds of the pickups, the dogs crunching through the snow, the geese in the sky announcing their arrival, and I wondered about the quiet and if it really exists.

And if it does, is it what we really want?

Ask my dad what quiet has meant to him on this place, and he might tell you about a peaceful ride through the trees, but he also might mention the kind that crept up on him, reminding him that his parents were gone and so were his kids and he and mom were alone together on a ranch they’d worked all those years to nurture.

That’s a lonely kind of quiet, the kind a new Boomtown resident might describe, and the kind that settles in on top of the fear when the phone doesn’t ring after a job interview.

A kind of quiet this community has heard before.

So maybe in our nostalgia-laced rush to keep up we’re forgetting that while quiet has always been our refuge, it has also been one of our biggest concerns.

Perhaps we’re not necessarily missing the quiet, but the familiar sounds that have been the backdrop of our existence as we climb these hilltops looking for a little space to breathe and work things through.

And we’re nervous about these new sounds because they’re drowning out the old. Because even in the excitement of progress we all need a refuge, and we’re worried that we may wake up one morning and forget to listen for the meadowlarks.

We’re worried we’re losing our balance.

When you ask us what’s changed, we should tell you this, but it’s hard to explain what being grateful and fearful feels like. So we just say it’s not so quiet anymore.

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.