WATFORD CITY, N.D. — It’s late October and our windows have been closed for weeks, sealing our houses up against the chill that this month lays upon the nights.
And we button up in the morning as we step out to start our cars, or saddle a horse, or feed the livestock, or take a jog while the streets are quiet. We rub our hands together and notice our breath pushing out our bodies and floating in the atmosphere, hanging our words up there to linger for a bit.
“Huh, look at that,” we say. “Haven’t seen my breath for months.”
Our words forget that they can be seen now. Our skin forgets, somehow, what this chill feels like. It forgets it bites a bit. It forgets the way the cold comes in, rustling the near-bare branches, dancing with the dried-up grasses and the remnants of the wildflowers left behind, brave and brittle, just as we have been left here season after season.
Yes, it’s late October and we are reminded by the flush in our cheeks and the boots on our feet, prepared for the moment the sky could fall. Any moment.
Our senses know it. We were animals once. The ones who move along ridgelines and on horses’ backs, behind the path of a deer, they remember. They remember that animal’s still there.
So we put on our wooly coats like the horses do and crunch through blankets of leaves on the ground, stripping off layers as the sun rises to give us one more day of warmth. Oh, we know it’s a gift. If only it could stay a little longer.
But we take what we get, we do. We roll up our shirtsleeves and bring the cattle home. We stroll our babies dressed in fleece on sidewalks along paved streets. We sit a little longer on the front porch.
We think of making apple cider, some biscuits, maybe a pie for dessert. We eat soup and hang on, like the last of the yellowing oak leaves, to a hope that the snow will stay up in the air.
We hang on to the colors that don’t dare leave us, the colors that stick out on the landscape and promise a reprieve from the brown and from the inevitable white that is to come.
We hang on and take trails still made of dirt, breathe in the damp air and find a quiet spot to watch the birds get ready for it too, wondering where they go in times like these… …wondering if they’d take us, too.
Wondering if they are ready. Missing them already.
Yes, it’s late October and just like us the sun is slower to rise and faster to set, the dog takes pause before he walks out the door, the horses nibble on hay, the cows stay close to the barn, the birds move in bunches and call to one another, “Come on, come here, stick close together, we have places to go,” as they fly over a landscape that is rough like our skin, and an earth that has given in to rest and is waiting, like us, for the cold.
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. She blogs at https://veederranch.com. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.