Looking Minnesota, Feeling North Dakota: Time in California

Redwood

Muir Woods, California.

Before we spill into the new year of 2015, I thought I’d get in one more running blog post. At least to set down a cross section of what happened in the last week. Molly and I originated in Bismarck, drove to Valley City and picked up Mira and Matthew, and then headed to Minneapolis. We overnighted at JB and Kris McLain’s, and then flew out of MSP to SFO, San Francisco. (Note: JB McLain is one of the horn players for Brass Messengers in Minneapolis, and you need to get a CD if you haven’t already).

Once landed in SFO, we picked up our car rental and headed up to Mill Valley. We stayed with and were hosted by Molly’s aunt and uncle, Barry and Mary. They are more than gracious. We rang in Hanukkah with Barry and Mary and family and company. It was also a time of reflection and memorial and remembrance. The first and last time I hung out with Barry and Mary was under sad and sober circumstances last February, at the funeral of Harley McLain. Harley and I only knew each other for a couple years. We had many more ahead of us. This is why I always love to hear from Harley’s siblings, as it adds for me more and more of who he was.

In Mill Valley, we had the privilege of visiting Muir Woods, California (the state which, when unpacked, means good [“cali” in Greek] growing/fornicating). While sauntering through Muir woods, I couldn’t help but think of John Muir’s friendship with Theodore Roosevelt, and how Teddy sought refuge in the Badlands of western Dakota Territory (North Dakota) after his mom and wife died on the same day.

Historical aside: Teddy retreated from New York City to the Elkhorn Ranch in the 1880s to reconsider and reflect on what was essential. Years later, he developed a friendship with Muir. In 1906, a couple years after he became the president of the United States (McKinley was assassinated and, since Teddy was VP, he took over), Teddy and Congress passed the Antiquities Act. It was and still is huge: Theodore used this act to designate Bear’s Lodge (or “Devil’s Tower”) as a national monument. Numerous other national parks and sites were created with this act.

A mosaic at a rest stop on I-94 in Minnesota. Redwood boots bottom of photo.

A mosaic at a rest stop on I-94 in Minnesota. Redwing (MN) boots bottom of photo.

As for the redwoods, these trees fascinate. One redwood is a clone of many redwoods. The DNA of a redwood growing today is that of the redwood it cloned itself after. So the DNA of a redwood today is the same as the redwood it descended (or ascended, since it’s a redwood) from 8,000+ years ago. A redwood forest is living and ancient, all at once. The smells of the forest are damp and piny. The majority of the time you can hear running water from the creeks and streams.

Beyond the woods, our group found fresh shucked oysters on the half shell at Bungalow 44 in Mill Valley on Christmas Eve. If you can make it to Bungalow 44 during happy hour, and on a non-holiday, they will serve you these for $1/oyster. It was a holiday when we visited. So we ordered 1/3 of our regular intake, and made sure to enjoy them 3x as much (whatever that means — I am set on returning to these places for $1/oysters).

There was much celebrating and feasting over the holiday. We returned to MSP, picked up our vehicle (I had it stashed at my Uncle Jim’s), and hauled back to North Dakota. Now we await the New Year here in Bismarck.


American Western Memory and History

This Smithsonian link here is a good write up on a hard, sobering chapter in American western history. The Sand Creek Massacre, like the Whitestone Hill massacre (September 1863, northern Dakota Territory), and the Bear River Massacre (January 1863, Idaho), were never forgotten. This article says the Sand Creek Massacre was lost and rediscovered: it’s highly doubtful that Lakota, Cheyenne, Dakota, among others, “forgot” what happened in 1863 and 1864 when they converged on Custer and the 7th in late June of 1876. Not in the least. And if chatting with the descendants of the historical participants of these conflicts, you’ll know that the memories and stories were never forgotten. In some cases the stories went underground. They are re-emerging today, and justly taking the place as the official interpretation. It is powerful stuff. It continues to compel me to listen, study, and reflect.


Victorian Medallions in Downtown Bismarck

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A 2014 photo of the southwest elevation of the Bismarck Auditorium (Belle Mehus).

Yesterday I took a jaunt around downtown Bismarck to capture some images of historic buildings. Autumn has turned to winter, and this means the glorious deciduous leaves are no longer. At least until spring. This also means that it is a great time to take photos of historic buildings (or buildings in general): just like the presence of leaves gives some good angles for photography, so does the absence of leaves. I ended up sauntering around the beautiful Bismarck Auditorium, renamed the Belle Mehus some years ago during a much-needed and -deserved rehabilitation and restoration. An excellent history of the Belle is linked to here on the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony’s Orchestra’s website.

Erected in 1913 and opened in 1914, this auditorium was typical for its time, at least in the sense that opera houses provided the entertainment before the rise of television, radio, movies and iPhones. Traveling opera companies would make the rounds on railroad, stopping in one town after another (much like touring bands today). When visiting historic opera houses, take note of how close they are to the historic railroad: one can imagine an opera company arriving by rail with all the graceful bustle of offloading at the train depot, making their way to a hotel and preparing for one or three days wortOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAh of performances.

It is fantastic to see opera houses restored, or repurposed. It is literally hard to come by this type of stone and brick monumental architecture, at least today. So that’s what I did yesterday: enjoyed the rehabbed and preserved aesthetics of the Belle Mehus, the Bismarck Auditorium in historic downtown Bismarck, North Dakota. I snapped a photo of the copper Victorian medallion centered at the top of the Belle, too. Michael Gilbertson even drove by, managing to roll down his window in time to give me a drive by “Hi Aaron!”

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The large copper, shield medallion with Victorian ornamentation centered on the west elevation at the top of the Bismarck Auditorium. In winter, it is possible to get this photo due to the absence of the leaves.

 


Western ND Roosevelt Notes

RooseveltThis afternoon I’m doing a bit of research and reading of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1884 diary from the digital collections of Dickinson State University’s Theodore Roosevelt Center. A very, very, very sad diary entry from February 14, 1884, the day his wife and mother died (on the same day!).

Teddy wrote an “X” on this page, and followed it with the short, heartfelt statement: “The light has gone out of my life.” Sad!

On June 9, 1884 he arrived at his Chimney Butte Ranch on the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota (then Dakota Territory). From here he proceeded to blow everything away for a while. For example, the June 13, 1884 entry reads, “One jack rabbit, one curlew. Both killed with double barreled express rifle, 50 caliber, 150 grains of powder.”

The next day, Saturday, he blew away two more cerlews. He must’ve took the day of rest on Sunday. But on Monday he was back in the saddle, blowing everything away again. He drilled “one badger; found out on [the] plains away from [his] hole, galloped up to him and killed him with revolver.” This hunting spree goes on for some time. I’m sensing a foreshadowing for future conservation efforts around the turn of the 19th century. We’ll see what happens next…


Teddy Roosevelt on Halloween in Dakota Territory

I’m looking at some of the original Teddy Roosevelt documents this evening from Bismarck, this provided by the glorious Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in western North Dakota. I came across a historical Halloween gem. It is a November 3, 1885 letter of Teddy describing Halloween in the Badlands of western North Dakota. It is accurately titled, “Hallowe’en in the Bad Lands.” I’ll analyze it after this blog post. I want to just transcribe it here because we’re getting close to Halloween in general. So here is for your historical Halloween sense of time and place. Writing from the Badlands of western North Dakota, Roosevelt said (run-on sentences were his style of the times),

While the young people of Bismarck paid me extraordinary attention to the fair Hallowe’en, the cow boys of the Bad Lands favored the stars and gaudy buttes of that land of earthen goblins with a celebration, which for brilliancy and spontaneity surpasses any thing of the kind on record. True there were no maidens to add the feminine charm to the occasion, but the pistol decorated gentlemen of the ranges were equal to every emergency, and that the conventionalism’s of the occasion might be properly observed, a number of the bovine guardians agreed to don the female garb, and while away the early evening hours in waiting for the coming of the sign changing hoodoos. There were no signs to tear down in the Bad Lands, but they could skim the jagged pasture land on their half breed plugs and rip the ambient air up the back with shouts and whoops and leaden balls. The proper hour having arrived, the cowboys on the outside, as representatives of the masculine gender rode up to the ranch and entered, to find that their female impersonators had been faithful and fifteen of their fellow cowboys were seated about the room in skirts and waists and what scraps of ribbons they could gather from their tanks and neighboring ranches. A dance was immediately opened and everything was as pleasant as a Fifth Avenue social, until the whiskey reached its zenith and the hour for shooting had arrived. The cowboy girls seemed to forget the modesty which their positions demanded, and in language of the prairie, “they turned themselves loose.” A general fusillade was indulged in, the meeting adjourning when the lamps were shot to pieces and the narrowed and improvised dresses were obliterated. It is said that had the celebration lasted an hour longer the climax might have a row, but as it is, a few loud words, a parting drink and a desperate attempt to shoot the blinking stars closed the memorable event.


Downtown Fargo Autumn 2014

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I took this photo one evening a couple weeks ago, the view looking north on the west side of Broadway in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. I just wanted to share it, a slice of the eastern edge of North Dakota.


Josh Rushing and the North Dakota Humanities Council

Tayo, NDHC board member and Bismarck State College Professor of Philosophy, at the Game Changer event in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

Tayo, NDHC board member and Bismarck State College Professor of Philosophy, at the Game Changer event in downtown Fargo, North Dakota.

I’m in my 4th year of board membership with the North Dakota Humanities Council, and it is a duty I feel a privilege to be part of. This last Thursday (10/09/2014), the NDHC kicked off the first annual Game Changer series, a signature event that will continue to be hosted every October in cities throughout North Dakota (the 2015 Game Changer will be in Bismarck). This year’s Game Changer was titled, “Between Two Worlds: America and the Mid-East,” and the NDHC brought together a collection of journalists, poets, authors, and reporters in downtown Fargo. We also received some outstanding support from Forum Communications, Ecce Art Gallery, the HoDo, The Bush Foundation, and Wells-Fargo. This funding and donation of space helped the assembled group speak to an audience throughout the day, and also to have smaller round-table discussions that evening.

After the evening round table discussion, it was photo time with Josh Rushing (r).

After the evening round table discussion, it was photo time with Josh Rushing (r).

One of the speakers was Josh Rushing, a Marine Corps officer of 15 years and a current reporter with Al Jazeera English. I had a chance to take in Josh Rushing’s talk, and it resonated with some of my own ongoing research. I focused on Josh’s points about how the media presents stories today, and how there are infinite voices that do not make the immediate story. I thought about this in the context of the US-Dakota Wars, and how the media — the St. Paul Pioneer and the New York Times — presented a more sensationalized and monolithic version of the story in contrast to the complexities inherent on the ground and at the scene. This makes sense from a reporters standpoint, though, since they are trying to communicate a complex story in a very quick way to an audience that is already mentally and spatially disconnected from the event. At least that is one thought I had, a kind of then and now.

If you want to look into a bit of my research, you can click on this link here. Otherwise, below is about 7 minutes of video from Rushing’s talk at The Fargo Theatre from October 9, 2014. As well, if you enjoy this, and you think it is a good idea that the NDHC continue having these sorts of events, you’ll want to click here and donate. Any amount helps. One of the NDHC’s ideas is modest: we just want to create a more informed North Dakota. To do that, though, requires me to admit that there is a lot out there that I do not know. It’s Socratic in that way: I know that I don’t know, and I’m here to listen, and here to take in what others have to say, and give. But again, enough of that. Check out Rushing’s talk below. And watch “Control Room” (2004) if you want more. I’ve got “Korengal” (2014) in the Netflix queue for this Wednesday, and I’m wondering how it will build off my knowledge of “Waltz with Bashir” and “Restrepo.”


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