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Published May 18, 2013, 11:30 PM

Coming Home: My love of wildflowers started young

When I was 10 years old, I was obsessed with wildflowers. Obsessed. Coincidentally, I was also obsessed with 4-H.

By: Jessie Veeder, INFORUM

When I was 10 years old, I was obsessed with wildflowers. Obsessed.

Coincidentally, I was also obsessed with 4-H.

See the 4 H’s – head, hands, health and heart –were a country girl’s lifeline to the rest of the world. And 4-H meant not only projects to which I was devoted, but also that I got to spend one glorious weekend in town with my friends comparing creations, eating burgers and flexing our flirting skills in the stands at the rodeo during the county fair.

But my friends came second to my loyalty to

4-H. Because even at a young age it seems I understood I wasn’t going to win any trophies for my athleticism, so I made 4-H my sport.

Because, well, it was my only chance in life to earn a trophy.

I feel compelled to mention here that I was the kid who followed 4-H dress code to annoying perfection: white pressed collared shirt, strategically placed four-leaf clover over my heart, tight Wrangler jeans and polished boots.

I was a model member, a spokeswoman, an ambassador with a framed photo of my cat, a sketch of my dog, a half-finished latch-hooking, wood burning and beaver dam research project, a well-groomed horse in the pasture, and a garden growing award-winning carrots out back.

Now I generally don’t possess a competitive nature, but when it came to the fair, I was out for blood. A hundred blue ribbons meant nothing. I wanted the grand. The purple. The trophy.

Which leads me to my wildflower obsession. I can’t remember, but I imagine the long winter had provided me with ample time to consider a masterful project that would land me a top spot at the State Fair. I’m not sure what gave me the idea to set out on a quest to hunt, gather and identify every living wildflower in McKenzie County, but it was genius. It carried massive potential. And it’s exactly what I did.

As soon as the first spring rain touched the earth, I hit the hills with ambition and a worn copy of the “Wildflowers of North Dakota” handbook. I became a hunter, a wild woman with a hawk’s eye for a new color on the landscape.

I would make my parents pull the car over if I thought I saw a semblance of a species I had yet to collect. I was a seeker of the rare, fragile flower, plucking, pressing and labeling every tiger lily, prairie rose and coneflower in my path. I left no leaf unturned, no purple thistle undocumented.

I would like to tell you that at the end of the summer I took this project into town, stood proudly in front of the judges and confidently explained what I knew about the wild sunflower and the blue flax. I would like to say I had a worthy explanation about why I chose to press and identify the creeping jenny as a “flower.” I’m sure I was brilliant. And I’m almost positive I got a purple ribbon. Maybe even a trophy. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.

But I guess I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the wonder I felt that summer in discovering the little gems of my surroundings. Each prairie smoke or lady slipper I pressed gave me such a sense of accomplishment and pride that it kept me climbing and clamoring around the rugged landscape, in awe that such terrain could produce vivid, fragrant, perfect flowers so fragile that some might only live a couple days.

I was in awe of the juxtaposition of it all, and I became so engrossed that at times, I felt like one of the flowers myself.

And this feeling comes back to me each spring when I find myself walking out in the warm air, my eyes to the ground, searching for a sign of a new flower sprouting from between rocks, growing in flocks across the peak of a hill, in a coulee or scattered like heaven’s perfect garden along the landscape.

And I know a girl can’t stay 10 years old forever, and I know my trophy days are over, but as long as there are flowers, I’m happy to be obsessed.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Jessie Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City, N.D. Readers can reach her at jessieveeder@gmail.com.