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Jessie Veeder, Published May 25 2013

Coming Home: In face of progress, we can do better

Progress. Lately, this word comes to my lips countless times a day. I suppose it’s not surprising considering I live on an almost 100-year-old ranch in an almost-finished house in the middle of one of the most booming economies in the country.

Progress in our world is happening because of us and regardless of whether or not we exist at all. In the morning I point my car toward town while the landscape moves and evolves under new roads and changing horizons on the other side of my cracked windshield.

I spend my days talking about this change and what it means. I answer questions about new housing, new jobs, new developments and the future of our community. How long will it last? What else do we need here? What could we be doing better?

I ask those questions too.

And then I head out of town against a heavy flow of traffic carrying people on their way to catch dinner, fuel up for their next shift or strip off their work clothes to rest before facing another day of progress.

But when I get home, the conversation continues, because we’re not finished here. No. We have a vision and that vision includes making a decision about carpet in the bedroom, a railing for the staircase and where to plant the garden.

And because it’s nearing summer and there’s work to be done, ranchers everywhere are staying out as long as the sun to fix their fences, move their cattle, brand their calves, tear down and rebuild corrals and make plans for the hay crop.

The same sort of frantic carries over to the construction industry as well. Because we’ve got three good months before it snows and so many holes to dig, houses to build and roads to fix.

And so, after a long North Dakota winter, it seems we’ve all got our date books out, penciling in deadlines, goals and better ways to get where we need to go.

But I’ll admit, in all of the excitement, some days I feel like I’m just riding shotgun with my face pressed up against the window, my eyes growing heavy with a sleep none of us around here can afford to take.

A few weeks ago a crew of men came to tear down the old farm house, the house where my father grew up and the house where I lived with my husband during our first few years back at the ranch until a fire forced us to throw our belongings on the lawn and move into our new home last summer.

The removal of the home was a huge step in the reconstruction of the family farmstead, but in the hustle to get into our new home before the snow flew, it was one that had to wait until spring.

And so spring came as it always does and now there’s a nice, clean and level piece of ground waiting where that tiny old house once stood.

The sight and the emotions it stirs strike me. Sure, there’s nostalgia for the physical presence of a place that was important to my family, but more so I feel a flutter of excitement for a clean slate.

I suppose all I really need from that piece of ground is the memories of what was so important to my family, memories that will allow us to continue to build a positive future out here.

And so I realize, that in the face of progress, we may choose to mourn our history as our greatest loss, reveling only in our best moments and pushing our struggles to the backs of our memories as we become bitter with the change.

Or we may choose to use those memories as a tool to build a foundation based on lessons learned from mistakes, experiences that make us unique and values we simply are not willing to give up.

That’s the kind of progress I wish on every community, the kind of leader I strive to be and the kind of foundation I want for my home.

So, no, we can’t close our eyes just yet. Summer’s coming, the days are long and we’ve got our own dust to kick up.

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.