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Published June 15, 2013, 11:30 PM

Coming Home: Discovering history, past and future

I stood at the top of the Badlands, the morning sun bright and warm on my skin, the breeze keeping the sweat from my face and the face of the students sitting at picnic tables, munching on Marcia’s homemade scotcharoos.

By: Jessie Veeder, INFORUM

I stood at the top of the Badlands, the morning sun bright and warm on my skin, the breeze keeping the sweat from my face and the face of the students sitting at picnic tables, munching on Marcia’s homemade scotcharoos.

I was feeling satisfied and proud of these fourth- and fifth-graders who had just learned a lesson on GPS units and the harsh terrain of the clay buttes from an adventurous and incredibly patient Lutheran pastor.

It was the perfect day to get these kids out to explore the wild world that exists in their backyard. And they were explorers indeed, some having just arrived to North Dakota in the last few months from places like Florida, Idaho or Minnesota, others having lived here their entire 10 years, learning about Florida through the eyes of their new friends and learning how to grow up in a small town that won’t stop moving.

Every cactus, every slip, jump and climb was their own adventure. I liked how it made me feel to help be their guide on a landscape familiar to me.

And I liked how Marcia’s scotcharoo tasted as I turned to find a man on a red motorcycle pulling in to the picnic table beside us. I didn’t pay much attention except to notice the eclectic way he packed his bike with makeshift yellow crates, loaded down with as much as he could carry. Under his helmet I assumed he was a young man, but when he removed it he revealed a bright orange knit stocking cap and white hair escaping out the sides. I turned my attention back to dessert and wondered what it would be like to be a stranger in this place.

Sometimes I see it on the children’s faces, the ones who say “Yes m’am.”

And I saw it in the motorcycle man, walking slowly on the gravel road past our picnic to stretch his legs and find out he had arrived.

Now, I wanted to tell you today about the rain. I wanted to talk about how the smell of wild onions fills my nostrils in the evening reminding me of the boys returning to their seats after recess at my country school with those onions on their breath.

I wanted to tell you about the familiar things that root me here and make me fine and comfortable, but I couldn’t shake the old man on the motorcycle who stopped to ask Marcia how to get to the park.

“I want to drive through the Badlands,” he said. “I want to see it all.”

So Marcia gave him directions and advised him to be careful.

“Watch out for trucks,” she said as he thanked us and walked back to his loaded-down motorcycle.

Suddenly, I was a little uneasy.

That man came to me in a dream that night, standing in his stocking cap along the highway, stretching his back and shielding his eyes from the sun as he gazed across the badlands.

And I imagined his story, an old man from the plains of Nebraska or Kansas, planning to take 85 north off the interstate to ride free through the rugged landscape that Teddy Roosevelt explored, his route perfectly, imperfectly planned. I imagined him alone, but refusing to be lonely.

I imagined this was his one big adventure.

Then I decided to imagine him as a man of many instead. It sounded less lonely, and it eased my worries about a man who had heard something about the truck traffic out here, but it didn’t matter.

I sat with the thought and that unease lifted in the realization that my familiar and changing home, inundated by international attention and plagued and blessed by the wealth that lies 10,000 feet below the surface was still a wild and uncharted mystery to some.

To the motorcycle man who longs to ride the landscape and revel in the history and his own uncharted territory.

To the children who are learning to be part of the adventure.

And even to me with a past rooted and wild as those onions and a future that hangs on the hope we all can all find where we’re going here, and what we need to get by.

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.

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