"One. Two. Threeee!!!" She yelled before she launched herself from the top of one big round hay bale and over the mud-filled gap to the next, landing safely on her knees before scrambling up to her feet to continue her race down the rest of the row of hay. I stood holding Edie on my hip, both of us laughing as we watched her three cousins run and leap, making an obstacle course out of the hay yard, their blonde hair escaping from ponytails and flying up toward the blue sky in the wind.
Some days, when I feel like life hasn't thrown me an adventure worthy enough of reflection, I like to dig back in the archives for a memory to recount, the way you do when you find yourself sitting around the table having a beer with old friends. We all have our favorite go-to stories in times like these, the kind that work in mixed company, just off-kilter enough to reveal something about you to new friends while reminding old ones you were a younger girl and you once drove 30 miles in the car you borrowed from your best friend's dad, to pick up a goat.
"She's not a baby anymore," I said to my husband as we were driving home from the big town; Edie was strapped in her car seat behind me, singing her own original refrain on repeat at the top of her lungs. "No, she's not," he replied. "She's the CEO of a household now." Well isn't that the truth, I thought as I laughed, her little song turning into mimicking giggles behind me.
I used to go to her house in the time between after school and basketball practice. I would eat graham crackers with cheese, and we would sit at the table in her family's kitchen, her mom popping in to say hi and get the scoop on our day. I was a country kid in junior high, and I had a few years and a few tests to pass before I got my driver's license, so the chance to participate in after-school activities meant finding town friends who would save me from roaming the streets between the last bell and the starting practice whistle.
I was five years old when my little sister was born. I was at an age where only the big things stick with you as a memory moving forward, and her arrival was one of those big things. I remember the talks my family had about what we were going to name her if she was a girl or a boy. I remember my opinions on the choices. I remember my mom and her big belly at Christmastime.
Last week I had a couple meetings I scheduled in the late afternoon. I do this on days I don't have Edie in daycare, strategically overlapping the beginning of my workday with the end of my husband's. Because we live 30 miles and a good 45 minutes from town, the planning can be a little tricky and usually involves a quick stop and drop at Gramma's store so Edie can destroy the place before her daddy picks her up.
We were all sitting around in the living room visiting about weather, politics and how Edie managed to get her second bloody nose in two days in church that morning when he came sneaking sort of quietly through the door, slipping off his snow boots and wool cap before shuffling down the hall and sliding into the chair. The last time we saw him he was at the top of the neighbors' sledding hill, brushing the snow off of his Carharts after a lightning speed solo trip on the orange toboggan.
Northerners. We like to boast that we're hardy and resilient and can stand up against the biting, sub-zero, blizzardy cold without much consequence besides a bad case of hat head. We can handle our feet and our pickup tires on icy paths, and we know how to hunker down and make it through on hot dish and hot soup. We like to say this place isn't for the faint of heart.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. — Every farm or ranch needs an old horse, an animal with a long story of seeing it all so that he can be trusted with the smallest rider or the most inexperienced visitor who wants to see the place on horseback, a request that can be sort of nerve-wracking if you don't have a trustworthy grandpa or gramma in the pen. Because an old horse can make up in experience what your rider lacks. He won't shy from that weird-shaped rock on the hill because he's seen it a thousand times.
Outside, up out of our driveway next to the gravel county road, a couple pyramids of hay bales are stacked up nice and neat, waiting to be unrolled on the cold hard ground for the cows that we will be feeding this winter.