I imagine everyone has some familiar scent that hits their lungs and brings them back to a time in childhood when they felt so deeply loved, so overwhelmingly safe, so much themselves. So free. Maybe it's your grandmother's warm cookies from the oven or the smell of a diesel tractor plugging across a field. Maybe it's your parent's home or the fur on the back of your old cat or the salty air blowing across the ocean and onto vast beaches. For me, it's sweetclover.
She used to follow me up the coulee and along the crick, her purple barn jacket zipped up under her chin, the rubber soles of her boots keeping a careful distance between her and her big sister who hadn't discovered her lurking behind the trees yet. I would leave the house unannounced to sing to myself as I inspected my tree fort, the frog count on the crick and the wild raspberry plants growing alongside the beaver dam. And she almost always followed, stopping at the tire swing for a quick ride.
My phone dinged with a message containing a photo of my daughter in her life jacket and sunhat sitting on the banks of the Little Muddy River looking up at her daddy looking down at her in his Superman shirt.
I rushed to get the slushburger in the crockpot, the chip dip layered, and the watermelon cut and mixed with the cantaloupe from the fridge. It was 7:30 a.m., and one of our friends was already sitting at the counter with a cup of coffee, boots and hat waiting in the entry. He's more of a cattle expert, but it turns out he had some tips on cantaloupe slicing before heading out the door with my husband to gather gear and saddle horses.
The first calf of the year was born on the Veeder Ranch last week. That afternoon I went out on a walk to clear my head and to climb to the top of a hill to see if there were any mommas off alone on a hillside or in the trees, a pretty sure sign of some birth action. But I didn't see a thing. So then, because it's been warm lately, I decided to scope out the hilltops for the first crocuses, confident that I knew just where to look because years of early spring crocus hunts on this place have taught me such useful things. But I struck out again.
It was late August, and it had been hot for weeks, the kind of heat you remember as a kid, where popsicles melt on sticks in the heavy air that sends the flies gathering at horses' bellies and driving them to bob their heads and swish their tails in the trees. We were sweating it out in the little house in the barnyard where my grandparents used to live, three years into our marriage and three months into unpacking our lives back home at the ranch where I was raised. And it was only six years ago, but we were just kids, really, with plans big enough to keep us busy.
There are things I always envisioned doing once I had a child of my own in tow. One of them was sitting my baby on a hay bale at a pumpkin patch and taking a photo. It seems simple and maybe not such a necessary step on the path of raising a baby, but it was a club I wanted to be a part of, the club of moms and dads bundling up their children, pulling them along in wagons, picking out the best pumpkin in the patch and celebrating a season change with a forced photo or a hay ride or a chaotic walk through a corn maze.
WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- Early this morning I got a text from my dad. A picture of his cow dog Juno came through with the caption, "4 puppies so far!" And there they were, all squishy, slimy and black and white, poor timing to be born in the coldest part of winter, but tucked in snug in a bed my dad made up for her. Downstairs, my oldest niece was sleeping on an air mattress in my makeshift office. After all of the Christmas festivities, she made plans to come home with us for a few days to help with the baby.