Monthly Archives: June 2013

Iconic Railroads on the Great Plains

High Line BridgeA couple days ago I snapped some photos and a video short in Chautauqua Park, Valley City, North Dakota. While looking at the High Line railroad bridge (built in the first decade of the 20th century), I was kind of thinking about how elder Euro-American frontiersmen (or frontierspeople? — what the heck is the non-gender form of frontiersmen?) might have been thinking about this and railroads around the turn of the 19th century, especially as younger industrial laborers swarmed into the area.

The idea of history is to understand understanding, or understand how others understood their world. To apply my historical sense of place, a frontiersman, along with Natives in the area, would have looked at this industrial expanse of railroad as something out of place; or as a way to populate the Great Plains and American West with non-Natives; or as a new industrial icon supplanting a time and place that had passed (Fred Turner rambled on about this at great length in Chicago in 1893).

A historic photo of the construction of the High Line. Photo from Digital Horizon's, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

A historic photo of the construction of the High Line. Photo from Digital Horizon’s, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.

Today, though, there are many that say Valley City wouldn’t be Valley City sans the High-Line bridge. History is both complex and universal that way: the sensibilities of younger generations will supplant those of the older generations — both might presume or assume that the way they grew up and the time they lived in was and always had been. (this is often captured in the phrase, “Things just aren’t like they used to be…”)

If you overnight, and it’s a pleasant enough evening to have the windows open (or even closed), you’ll be woken up by the thumping cha-chunk, cha-chunk of today’s diesel locomotives playing the Hi-Line bridge like an instrument. I find the noise soothing.

Here is the link to the historic High Line photo from NDSU’s Institute for Regional Studies. The video short and another photo below.

A detail of the High Line substructure.

A detail of the High Line substructure.

One Longue Durée of Mosaic History

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter.

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter salvaged from someone’s trash pile.

It is the weekend and projects are happening: plans have been set in motion to slow-smoke some baby back ribs, and Molly is out front of her sister’s Valley City home, toiling away at a mosaic project. I’ve busied myself with reading James Belich, The Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, The British, and the New Zealand Wars (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986 & 1989), but have set it down to do a bit of immediate chores.

So while taking the trash out from the kitchen to the dumpster, I passed by Molly’s ongoing mosaic project. Then I started thinking about how Molly’s mosaic project today reminded me of the Late Roman mosaics I saw a year ago in the historic archaeological village of Kourion, Cyprus. Then I started thinking about how historians and archaeologists — depending on what cultural settings they were born into, and depending on what previous experiences they have had — bring individual and disparate meanings to the stuff they come across. (This may be getting a bit too self-absorbed, so if you’ve noticed it, and it offends you, please stop reading here if you already haven’t. I will not take offense. But it is a line of thinking with universal application.)

So without slamming out any more dialog (we are packing up and readying to go, which is timely to end this short entry), I will upload a couple pictures I snapped a year ago in Kourion, and a couple pictures from today in Valley City. Taking massive leaps through space and time, this is what I call a global and local longue durée of mosaic history, from Kourion, the Roman Empire, to Valley City, North Dakota.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator's home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator’s home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

Thoughtful and Respectful Disagreements

Before I return to the coding and data entry before me, I wanted to jot down some quick notes on this latest piece from The Atlantic Monthly by Larry Alex Taunton, “Listening to Young Atheists, Lessons for a Stronger Christianity” (June 6, 2013). Whether Christian or atheist, the specific note comes in the form of this quote by Taunton:

I find talking to people who disagree with me much more stimulating than those gatherings that feel a bit too much like a political party convention, and the exchanges with these students are mostly thoughtful and respectful.

This is why we have institutes such as the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and why we support and fund thinkers such as John Voll, among others. The words “thoughtful” and “respectful” are crucial, though, because these exchanges (the ones I have viewed) can easily turn into reactionary diatribes. To get a bit pedantic: in many ways — whether one is reading or thinking about Darwin or grand theological thinkers — individuals throughout time have been searching for the origins of humanity. We want to deeply know locally and globally where we came from, because this will give us a bearing on why we are here, and also direct us to what we ought to be doing in preparation for tomorrow. Only through thoughtful and respectful dialog with one another will we be able to sharpen that knowledge, and who knows where it will lead.

This, of course, is why certain thinkers in the 20th century Western World held up the ideal of the free and open exchange of ideas (whether this was real or mythical is important but not of concern here). One final thought, ancillary but somewhat related, is this: while one of those free market thinkers in the first half of the 20th century fatalistically charted a future road to serfdom (see F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom [March 1944]), it seems like there is room in the 21st century for someone to consider a fatalistic monograph with the tentative title, The Corporate Road to Serfdom. (side note: I’m not much for fatalism, so I would be interested in reading this for the sake of conversation rather than belief). I haven’t the time to consider something like this now. But I’m sure it would get the attention of large ideological factions.

So here on the memorial of D-Day, we might ponder this one final-final fatalistic piece of fiction: a future world war will not require the tank divisions, navies and airforces to be labeled with flags of nation-states, but rather they will have multinational corporate labels such as “Google,” “GE,” “Dupont,” “ADM” and “Monsanto.” This, of course, is extremely dangerous to humanity, because corporations are beholden to generating industrial profits for shareholders rather than upholding ideals of liberal, democratic-republics. But again, that’s another point of long conversation that will not be settled in a simple blog entry (perhaps it is better for a graduate seminar in political philosophy and business school). Nonetheless, back to my data entry…

Some Archaeology of Food

Pheasant and BarthSome years ago I decided to take up bird hunting for this main reason: if I was going to purchase saran-wrapped chicken legs, thighs and breasts in the refrigerator section of the grocery store, I thought it was more respectful to at least experience what it was like to kill wildlife — in this case pheasant, doves and grouse — for the purpose of feeding family, friends and myself. This decision required me to purchase a bird gun (in my case, I bought a double-barrel, side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun), shotgun shells, and the necessary hunting permits. Since then I have hunted with at least four friends, including Rod Austin (accompanied by Grizzly, his beagle), Tayo Basquiat, Ed Stine, and Bob Shannon.

After identifying suitable areas to hunt (in ND, PLOTs land provides excellent public hunting grounds), walking several miles, spooking pheasant from the brush, identifying the roosters from the hens, and then downing a rooster, one of the first impressions I had (and I’m presuming I’m not the only one here) in picking up a recently-killed pheasant rooster was the warmth. This stands in contrast to the cold feel of a saran-wrapped chicken breast in the grocery store, or the increasingly ubiquitous appetizer called “bone-in” and “boneless” chicken wings (culturally, we shovel these into our mouths, kind of on autopilot, as we watch the 37 flat-screen televisions broadcast UFC fights and sporting events, and as additional juke box and video game machines drown out any kind of conversation that could have been had in our drinking warehouses throughout America).

A local plate of food. Slices of bison (medium-rare) from south-central North Dakota, this topped with a sauté of locally-harvested morel mushrooms. The origin of the salmon is unknown, but comes from Valley Meats in Valley City, North Dakota. The remaining vegetables were organic, or from what I call historic farming practices.

A local plate of food. Slices of bison (medium-rare) from south-central North Dakota, this topped with a sauté of locally-harvested morel mushrooms. The origin of the salmon is unknown, but comes from Valley Meats in Valley City, North Dakota. The remaining vegetables were organic, or from what I call historic farming practices.

No doubt, authors such as Michael Pollan have tapped into a growing social structure that concerns itself with the technics of how and philosophies of why food is produced. As an observer of this growing movement, international and local journals have also turned attention to reporting on these stories. Or at least the stories that involve individuals who want to know where their food comes from. These groups are bringing attention to multi-national corporations, and the stories have been picked up by The New York Times, CNN and, locally, WDAY News in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota.

In this latter story, the reporter focused on something North Dakotans are very aware of: heritage. This heritage is in turn used to consider how our grandparents and great grandparents produced food on family farms in contrast to how the Agricultural Industrial Complex produces food today. I remember when I was 10 or 11 years old (or thereabouts) in the kitchen of my late Grandma Barth. She had just sliced up a tomato, and in putting it on the table in front of me she said, “Here is a tomato, although they probably gassed it just a couple days ago.” My grandmother was communicating something to me that has been lost (and what I’m trying to recover by hunting): a connection with the land, and the landscape, and the food we eat that comes from that land. Although she didn’t say it directly, she was also concerned with what a gassed tomato (which is how the Agricultural Industrial Complex turns a green tomato into a red-colored tomato to simulate ripeness) might do to physiological early childhood development of her grandchildren.

The main point of this, though, is that individual consumers continue to consider and ask questions about where the food is coming from. (I’m a bit amazed by this point, too: if Monsanto made this great bio-tech seed that is going to feed the world, why aren’t they proud about labeling it so you and I can easily identify it when in the grocery store?)

Another note: North Dakota legislators recently said it was okay for individuals to purchase unpasteurized or raw milk, so long as they owned a share in the cow. Below is the local WDAY story, and also the CNN story too.

The CNN story:

The WDAY story, which won’t imbed for some reason, so you have to just click on this link here.