Veeder: Family connected by the land
Our skin was brown from days spent under the summer sun in the biker shorts and neon sunglasses our grandmother gave us.
It was 1990-something and we were just kids, so the scratches on our knees from our collected refusal to change out of those shorts, even while running through the tall grass, was part of the wardrobe that went well with our wild hair and mosquito bites.
See, we were cousins, and we liked the way our matching outfits signified our togetherness, sort of like the way some of us looked alike. And we liked to hear it, how our dark eyes were like our grandmother's, our noses like our fathers', our potential to grow tall, a quality passed down from our great uncles.
We would look at one another and know we were connected in that way and in the way we were brought here to explore and get to know these hills where our parents grew up.
Maybe we'd all live here together one day. We would make these plans as my big sister and oldest cousin directed us down through the cattails growing on the drying creek bed and up along the flat where the small cactus would jump from the ground and stick to our legs, a minor kink on our way to the top of a hill we could see from the window of our grandmother's kitchen, a hill we called Pots and Pans.
Because, in some other life out here at the ranch, a different group of kids hauled old spatulas, flour sifters, mixing bowls and cast iron pans to the top of this hill for a reason none of us were told or cared to understand at the time.
All we knew was the hill was a mysterious destination that was a little too far for the smallest to attempt without making a pit stop to avoid peeing her pants, but we would drag her and our fanny packs full of juice boxes along for the epic trip every chance we got to be together.
A few weeks ago one of those cousins brought her young children up from Texas to show them the ranch that held so many memories for their momma.
I watched as her baby girl held our aunt's hand along the trail to pick tiger lilies while Pops lifted his grandson on his shoulders and pointed out the ducks floating on the stock dam below.
I stood next to my cousin on the top of Pots and Pans, and we were swept up in the memory of the summer heat and the way it felt to be kids tucked in safe out here. Our grandparents left us all too soon but not before giving us the chance to be bound together by a common love for place.
I thought of them as we watched the future generation cut trails through the tall grass, a dream every farming and ranching family has for the future of the land where they raised their children.
I watched my father and his grandson and couldn't help but wonder about roots and why some hold on so tightly.
On a landscape that was once dotted with half a dozen homesteads, why did this family, our family, survive out here?
Last weekend the cousins were together again as the youngest, the one who was a baby safe and sound in his mother's arms while his cousins were out gathering cactus, got married to a woman from the cornfields and rolling hills of South Dakota.
In the hustle and excitement that comes with the celebration of a new marriage, woven into the texture of conversation, the warmth of the congratulatory hugs, the laughter in the teasing, were the stories that bind us together like the bump on our noses, the curl in our hair and the memories of eight cousins in neon sunglasses kicking up dust on our way to the top of the world we will always belong to, together.
Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.