Remembering Harley McLain

Left to right, Molly, Matthew, and Mira McLain. The frog is in the middle.

Left to right, Molly, Matthew, and Mira McLain. The frog is in the middle.

This last weekend, the McLain family (Molly, her sister and brother) and the rest of us near and within the region of Valley City, North Dakota, laid the ashes of Harley McLain to rest next to his wife, Julie. It got me thinking in a number of directions, about history, or why I got into the profession in the first place. This includes how studying memory and remembrance is monumentally important to us as individuals, and as a civilization, and as the broader human continuum. Historians are trained to see the world through the eyes of others (or to see the world from our eyes through the eyes of others, which is two lenses before we arrive at the event). So while at the funeral, I thought about what others might have been thinking, and how their relationship with Harley was much different than mine (Harley and I only had the chance to know one another for less than 2 years). So I guess I’ll leave it open-ended at that, for now. Except for one more point.

Molly McLain, my fiancee and Harley’s oldest daughter, noted this on her social media page, with picture, shortly after the funeral:

We buried our dad’s ashes next to our mom today, and as we all placed him in the ground, we found there was a frog in the hole looking up at us. It seems our dad is still playing little tricks on us. RIP and long live your memory Harley McLain.

Memory is the historian’s business. We capture and archive memories and experience so that they can be revisited and explored in infinite ways.


Crosby Threshing Show

On July 20, 2014, Molly and I went to the Crosby Threshing Bee in Crosby, Divide County, northwestern North Dakota. Years before my Grandpa Barth passed away, he had always asked me to attend the threshing bee in Braddock, Emmons County, south-central North Dakota. For whatever reason, I never made it to the Braddock threshing bee (and I wish I had). I did go to my Grandpa’s farm with him on numerous occasions, though, sometimes stopping at the small-town local bank in Hazelton, and always stopping for lunch at the local deli/cafe.

So yesterday, while walking around the threshing bee in Crosby, I was continuously reminded of my grandpa. And of the advent of industrial agricultural practices, at least as it looked at the turn of the 19th century. I also thought of the novel history, Big Wheat by Richard Thompson. A year or more ago, Larry Schwartz, librarian at Minnesota State University Moorhead, recommended me this book. It’s good, and it gives the reader an idea of what it was like to be a migratory laborer employed by one of these outfits. In North Dakota, large bonanza farming took place in Cass County at the Dalrymple bonanza farm, and the Chaffee bonanza farm, amongst others. I was catching my historical bearings and thinking of all this while wandering through the Crosby threshing bee with Molly.

Below is a short clip of the tractors, complete with coal-burning stoves, whirring gears, and popping pistons.


The World is a Classroom: Stone Circles and Cairns

I’ve been asked (and privileged) to give a brief, short talk tomorrow in northwestern North Dakota on how to identify stone circles (often called tipi rings) and stone cairns. I will open by chatting about what meaning stone circles and cairns have to my friends, and I’ll probably mention a great friend Dakota Goodhouse, and one of his great-great uncles, Rain-in-the-Face (this is a magnificent attention getter by the way). Unsolicited universal observation: one doesn’t have to be within the halls of the academy or in a college or university to learn and teach. I kind of think of the world as a conversational classroom and lectern. It is only formalized when we’re in said classroom. Okay. That’s all. Carry on.


Prairie Lily in Western North Dakota

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA simple post to enjoy the beauty of blooming prairie lilies on the northern Great Plains. This photo was taken on June 29, 2014. Enjoy.


Flag Day and Thoughts on Art and Growing Gardens

On Thursday evening (06/12/2014), Molly and I strolled down to the Plains Art Museum to hear Sandra Menefee Taylor speak about her exhibit, Heart/Land: Sandra Menefee Taylor’s Vital Matters. This exhibit is on the 3rd floor of the Plains, at 704 First Avenue North in downtown Fargo, just in case you’re in the area and want to visit. Two things among many stand out as I think back on taking in the talk and the exhibit.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

Planting at our Probstfield Farm plot in early June 2014. View to the west, the setting sun dropping behind the trees.

The first was an all too brief conversation with Abby Gold about farming, or gardening, at the historic Probstfield Farm just north of Moorhead, Minnesota. Molly and I, and two of our friends, decided to go in on a small community garden plot, the idea being that the four of us can more easily tend to such a garden than two or one of us.

I told Abby that when one has a garden, or a farm, one is suddenly paying more attention to weather patterns, especially rain. If we don’t have rain for more than a day and a half, then it means someone has to go and irrigate: literally one of us has to coordinate with the others, and say, “Okay, we’ll run up to the farm this evening, walk over to the watering station with buckets, and haul water back to our plot and gently water each row.” This, in turn, means that we are connected to the soil and land, at least if we want a harvest (and at least if we want to harvest beans so we can pickle them).

I said all this (more or less) to Abby, with the broader idea of how gardens are healthy for the psychology and soul. If I did not have a garden like this, irrigation would not cross my mind, and I would not pay as close attention to rain patterns as well. This garden, too, is bringing Molly and I, and our two friends, closer together, since we are privileged with the obligation of caring for our small rows of crops. We are a team.

The second point that stands out in my mind from Thursday evening was brought up during Sandra Taylor’s talk. It dealt with four ways in which one might consider approaching life. The four ways are as follows (and it turns out a lot of us already carry out these ways, but it’s nice to have someone articulate them):

  1. Show up. Be on time. I’ll add even another point: be early.
  2. Pay attention to what is going on in front of you. I’ll also add: research and think about what will go on in front of you, and then actively pay attention when it is happening.
  3. Speak the truth, and do so without judgment. I’ll add: we can tell the truth all the time, and we can do so without judging. It does not have to become entangled in emotion, or polemics, or name calling, and so on.
  4. Be open to the infinite range of un-intended outcomes. Or don’t be attached to a particular outcome. Things will never play out the way we think they will. So we might as well remind ourselves of that, and carry on.

Okay, I’ll end there. I just wanted to set this down and float it out there into the blogosphere. Happy weekend all. It’s Flag Day by the way, too.


Molly and Me: Singing on Sunday

Molly and I have been straightening up the flat this weekend, taking short breaks here and there as well. It is really fantastic to be engaged to a professional artist and art teacher for numerous reasons. Molly has a range of medium she works in, including custom mosaics, piano playing and teaching piano, guitar and ukulele playing, mastering the Swedish folk art of Dalmål, and on and on. Of all these mediums, included in a short YouTube video below is Molly’s rendition of Feist’s 1-2-3-4 (the Sesame Street version is linked to here as well). One of the many spectacular reasons that live performance is, well, spectacular has to do with the direct interaction that stage performers have with their environment and the audience. It’s an exchange. Of course, I have recorded and uploaded Molly’s impromptu performance on the YouTubes (thereby digitizing and preserving it in some kind of digital cloud space and time). But it is a slice of the reality that took place. Part of this reality is the unforeseen, as when a BNSF train horn rolling through downtown Fargo let loose about 0:43 and 0:57 in the video. Then a breeze decided to shut the door at about 1:01 in the video. But again, this is live, DIY, living room flat performance. And the band, and life, plays on.


D-Day 70th

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is June 5, 2014, which means it is one day away from the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or D-Day. This also means that either this evening or tomorrow evening I’m going to fire up Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s rendition of Stephen Ambrose’s 1992, Band of Brothers (2001).

I’m also drawn to thinking about what my late Grandpa Barth and his brother (my great uncle Charles “Bud” Barth) did during WWII. They both came from a farm near rural Braddock, North Dakota. During the war, Grandpa Barth was shipped to the central Great Plains to build bombers (I remember him talking about how he was charged with buffing the glass bubbles for the bombers). And Uncle Bud was sent to Army training, eventually becoming a front line medic in the Battle of the Bulge. Bless those for blessing us. I think that’s about all I got for now.


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