WATFORD CITY, ND – Drive carefully. Watch for deer. How was the ride? Is it freezing? Blowing snow?
Leave early. Drive slowly. Check the weather. Call me when you’re there. Call me when you leave. I will wait for you. I’ll leave the light on.
In rural North Dakota, especially the icy, unstable tundra that is the 17 months of winter, I grew up hearing these statements as a kind of love language. Because to get everywhere we need to go, we have to consider the roads.
30 mile drive to school, work, grocery store and nearest gas station. 90 miles by car from a big box store or an airport. A 140 mile drive to a specialist doctor or to have a baby near a NICU, to have your wisdom teeth removed, a treatment for your cancer or, sometimes, before Amazon delivers the world to your doorstep, just to find the right size of envelope or diapers.
How are the roads?
My little sister just texted me this question when I got to town and she plans to take her girls to gymnastics later this afternoon. It rained all day yesterday, just above ice and snow, then, just to be dramatic, the wind blew all night at 40 mph.
The fact that the roads between the ranch and town were perfect was some kind of weather phenomenon, ruining any excuse I could find for why I barely got Edie to kindergarten in time. And why I forgot my work bag with my computer in it and basically everything I needed for a long day in town. It wasn’t the roads. It’s just me. It’s just me in the middle of winter – exhausted, pale and distracted, trying to get two tired little children out of bed while it’s still dark outside.
Because what I think we’re really supposed to do this time of year is eat a bottomless serving of carbs and hibernate. My word, it’s hard to fight nature these days. (I yawn for the 50th time in 10 minutes).
For the past three weeks, I’ve been back and forth from the ranch and across the state on these January routes, taking my children’s book to libraries, schools, and stores along the way. I have driven in blinding snow and clear skies, in the darkness of early morning and the calm of late nights, over uneven ice, highways wet with cold rain, through snowdrifts and through snowdrifts, in the sun and away from it, past big trucks stuck in ditches and moms like me pulled up in SUVs and snowplows and tractor-trailers hauling cattle and giant wind turbine blades and crosses the along freeways and highways, lit by solar lights or decorated with flags and flowers or a high school jersey reminding us that when we move so fast – blurry people on wheels at 80 mph, trying to stick to a schedule, showing up on time, getting home for supper or homework or bedtime – it only takes a split second for the whole plan to change.
And that’s why we ask. That’s why we wait. That’s why we tell you to watch for deer or moose or ice or snow or wind or rain. That’s why we tell you to drive carefully. Please. Drive carefully. Because it’s the only way to feel we have any semblance of control over those miles, we have to walk on stretches of freeways, freeways, and back roads that are equal parts freedom and fear.
Moving has always been dangerous for humans. It’s nothing new in the times we live in, walking or riding through uncharted landscapes or well-worn trails. Hand-sculpted boats with hand-sewn sails take us on an easily edgy sea or a river that turns from calm to rage just around the bend. If only all these years of evolution could protect us today from these unexpected waves. Sometimes we start to believe it’s possible. So, just in case, we say:
Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband and daughters on a ranch near Watford City, ND She blogs at
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