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Veeder: Freedom isn't always a life on the open road

Jessie Veeder

As a rural kid and traveling musician, I've spent countless hours of my life behind the wheel of my car moving through back roads, highways, interstates and small-town streets.

Sometimes I have a passenger, sometimes I am one, but most of my hours on the roads are spent alone humming along to music from the radio or pulling over to write my own.

Because there's something about covering ground that propels not only my body, but my mind.

The act of moving forward, in any capacity, is what I imagine the stream of consciousness looks like -- sweaty, breathing, flushed and meandering -- where the space between point A and point B takes on a life of its own.

Last weekend I packed up my guitar and the boys in my hometown band, hitched up campers to pickups and took a lonesome highway across the state of Montana to play in a music festival in the middle of a cow pasture.

Years ago I would have been taking this trip alone in my Chevy Lumina, just me and the radio pointed west, eating sunflower seeds and wondering what the mountains look like up close.

I thought about this as I sat in the back seat counting fence posts while my dad and husband took turns at the wheel. I pressed my forehead against the cool glass of the window, and my mind wandered to all the unfamiliar roads I've traveled in the name of music -- the tollbooths on my way from Fargo to Chicago in the early daylight hours, my eyes heavy from the unexpected miles. The long stretches of yellow lines on the interstate in Kansas.

The blacktop back roads on my way to a small Wisconsin college town. The bridges that confused me in Green Bay. The antelope-infested stretch in South Dakota. The mountains that unexpectedly rose from the horizon as I hit Boise. The white-out road that welcomed me home to North Dakota and forced me to spend one spring night in my car along the interstate.

The hot Montana sun bounced off of my sunglasses as I thought of beer, coffeehouse gigs, sidewalks in my college town, movie theatre trips to pass the time, crying from pure loneliness, a future naively hopeful and wanting so bad to always be somewhere else.

Our tires hummed along, the pink sun dipped down below the mountains, and I wondered how a woman could be so rooted and restless at the same time.

Is it the music that gives me momentum or is it the other way around?

I closed my eyes and remembered how I used to follow the creek until dark, making up songs and singing at the top of my lungs, and I supposed sitting in the back seat of a pickup on a highway heading for a stage somewhere isn't so much different than that. I wondered how long a woman like me might keep chasing things like stages in cow pastures in Montana.

I wondered if I didn't have the ranch to come home to if I might have just stayed out here, on the highway, tires pushing against pavement toward the next place to be gone.

But that's not the life I chose. The life I chose takes home with me when I leave. When I was alone on the road home was in my songs, and last weekend home was behind the wheel driving me west and in the pickup in front of us turning into a diner for rhubarb pie.

On Monday we returned to a landscape fresh with rain and the smell of horsehair, and I was glad for it.

I breathed in the familiar scent, slung my bag over my shoulder and stepped out onto the scoria driveway and up to my door.

To know you can always move, to know you have an option of a road, an option of your feet to take you away is one of the greatest freedoms.

In my life I have come to find this is true.

But freedom isn't always about the leaving.

Sometimes there's nothing more free than the choice you make to stay.

Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at