Veeder: Longer days are ahead

With New Year upon us, some people mark the solstice by setting intentions. In Native cultures the coldest, darkest nights of the year are the time for storytelling and for many, a time for grieving.

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Jessie Veeder, "Coming Home" columnist.
Contributed / Jessie Veeder

WATFORD CITY, N.D. — The winter solstice welcomed us with a fresh blanket of snow this morning. It came as a surprise to me after a three-day blizzard that kept us at the ranch, simultaneously working to stay tucked in and dug out. I’ve taken a break from the weather report.

I followed the tracks of the single truck that was awake and driving our county roads before me, with my daughters dressed in their best red and green, bows and ribbons tucked in cozy under blankets in the backseat on our way to school, 30 miles in the dark.

I turned my favorite Christmas music on the car stereo and the girls and I sang along, “Noel, Noel,” as I navigated the very beginning of the shortest day of the year. The temperature stared at me from the counsel, -18 and I couldn’t help but think for a moment, even with the heat blasting along with the music, safe for now in this four- wheel-drive car pushing snow, that this was crazy. That hibernation is a real thing in these northern climates. What are we doing out here?

The solstice marks the official beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, although our winter here in Western North Dakota knocked on our door mid-November and has held us in her grip ever since. But on this day, December 21, the sun appears to stand still at the southernmost point of the equator and we enter into our longest night. For many cultures, this signifies the rebirth of the sun as the days gradually get longer once again. With the New Year upon us, some people mark the solstice by setting intentions. In Native cultures the coldest, darkest nights of the year are the time for storytelling and for many, a time for grieving.

On days when the wind blows and drift snow upon my door at 40 miles per hour, and the trees and ground are heavy and cracking with the frost, I think of the animals and the humans who came before us out here and how they survived the brutality of it all. It had to be with a long preparation followed by a slow down. A reflection. It hasn’t historically been with the invention of heated seats in four wheel-drive-tractors and blades and snow-blowers, the things man has invented to push us through this season so that we don’t skip a beat of progress.


But as I wake my sleepy daughters in the dark and chill of the morning, as they snuggle into my arms, their eyes begging to stay closed for just a few more minutes, I wonder sometimes, up here, these days, if we’re doing it a bit wrong. Can we truly have progress without rest? Without reflection?

Is it instinct we’re feeling here, to feed our bodies full up, to lay down when the sun leaves, to feed the livestock an extra pitch or two of hay, to take to drinking tea or another splash of coffee, to gather up?

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Recent bad weather prompted Jessie Veeder to think of "the humans who came before us out here and how they survived the brutality of it all."
Contributed / Jessie Veeder

Last week at the ranch, when the temperature dropped well below zero, I turned on my faucet to wash my face and came up dry. Suddenly the thing we simultaneously rely on and take for granted the most was not available to me, or any of my neighbors. After a trip to the barns to check tanks and a few phone calls it was concluded that a line had broken in our rural water system and, in brutal temps and deep snow, it was likely going to be days before it could be resolved.

When I was a kid growing up on the ranch, the water to our house, as well as the water for the livestock, was fed by a natural spring in the trees. When we turned on the faucet and came up dry, there was no one we could call to fix it. It was on my dad to solve the problem with whatever willing soul stood by him with the flashlight, which was me sometimes, holding and handing tools and looking down into the well where something was broken. I had no idea what could be done or what was wrong, but I trusted he’d fix it up like usual, my dad not letting on about the panic and uncertainty likely welling up in him at a time like this.

So many of us have never lived in a time and place where the work, the manual labor of our every day existence was done for the sake of staying alive. When things like this break out here, when the temperatures drop and the snow piles up and our modern conveniences forsake us, it’s hard not to think about whether or not we could go without.

To make a phone call about the water situation was a luxury not lost on me. To drive this warm car loaded with bundled up babies, the sun slowly rising behind us with the promise of longer days, it’s a privilege.

Merry Christmas. Happy Solstice. I wish for you rest. I wish for you reflection. I wish for you time to tell stories, time to grieve, time to celebrate. Time to be.


Jessie Veeder module photo

Greetings from the ranch in western North Dakota and thank you so much for reading. If you're interested in more stories and reflections on rural living, its characters, heartbreaks, triumphs, absurdity and what it means to live, love and parent in the middle of nowhere, check out more of my Coming Home columns below. As always, I love to hear from you! Get in touch at

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Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at Readers can reach her at
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