The birthdays are over and the Christmas season has officially arrived at the ranch. I’m currently writing this under the boughs of a giant cedar tree that is taking up the entirety of my living room, lit up and sparkling in the dark and quiet of an early morning, where not a creature is stirring — yet.

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And there are things that have been ugly about this year, but this tree isn’t one of them. It’s one of the best we’ve found on our annual tradition of scoping out the prairies and buttes of this ranch to bring home the merry. And when I say scope out, I mean heading to the tree Papa Gene found for us way back in June as part of his cowboy Papa duties of keeping an eye out for us as he rides every corner of this place in the warm seasons.

And how does he give accurate directions to a random, but beautifully proportioned, cedar tree? Like this: “You know that bald knob in the east pasture? (There’s like a thousand bald knobs in the east pasture, but anyway…) OK, take the road through the Pederson pasture, on that side of the crick, there’s that bald knob of a hill at the fence line in the corner of the east pasture and Altons… you know, where so-and-so shot that nice buck a few years back…”

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We usually find it, but then again, we usually take him along, in blinding blizzard-style winds or, this year, under a beautiful pink and orange sunset sky. We wore our Santa hats, loaded up in the side-by-side and sang "Jingle Bells" all the way there and all the way home, really getting into the spirit of it all, grateful for the nice weather and the jolly task ahead of us blowing the dust off of our Christmas totes, untangling lights and sorting through all the old ornaments we’ve acquired through the years.

There are things that have been ugly about this year, but this tree isn't one of them. Jessie Veeder / The Forum
There are things that have been ugly about this year, but this tree isn't one of them. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

It’s a process, you know, the holidays bringing with them comforting rituals I think we’re all more than ready to partake in, in our own ways, across the country. For us, the cedar tree is at the center of it, a little piece of the prairie that’s so often overlooked, scruffy and homely, standing rugged under the perils of the North Dakota sky, getting its chance to shine under the gaze of adoring fans, warm and cozy in this house, like us.

And Christmas is going to look a little different this year for many, taking precautions, not able to include those we love the way we usually do. But I’m finding so much comfort and inspiration in those who are making the best of a hard situation, and trying to help where I can.

Which meant that my little family found ourselves helping to raise money, shop and decorate the courtyard outside of our local nursing home this year. Surrounded by inflatable Christmas elves, birds, pigs, a Nativity scene and of course a 10-foot Santa, my husband climbed a ladder, my neighbor untangled masses of donated lights and my girls waved to a man on the other side of the window, watching the staff and community scurry around to make a little quick magic come together.

And when the lights were strung and plugged in and the sun dipped below the horizon, the magic was there in the twinkling trees, of course.

A small act — and this 10-foot inflatable Santa — helped bring holiday cheer to the courtyard outside the local nursing home. Jessie Veeder / The Forum
A small act — and this 10-foot inflatable Santa — helped bring holiday cheer to the courtyard outside the local nursing home. Jessie Veeder / The Forum

But more than the sparkling end result was the act of it all. Even if we didn’t pull off the giant 10-foot inflatable Santa in the end, that we were charged with a task of bringing smiles and a little comfort to those on the other side of those walls made us all feel a bit more empowered, a bit more useful and a bit more together in this challenging time.

And there are things that have been ugly and hard and confusing this year, but in these small gestures, these simple rituals of love, I have found so much profound good.

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