Monthly Archives: December 2013

Winter Oil Explosion in Casselton, North Dakota

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west.

At mile marker 340 on I-94 looking west. Oil plume just to the left of the signage on the horizon stretching south.

This afternoon while following up on a US-Dakota War historiographic line of research in the library at North Dakota State University, I received a few texts from a friend that read, “KFGO News says 7 oil tanker cars on fire, many have exploded near Casselton.” More went up after this text. This raised my eyebrow. It’s not often that oil tanker cars blow up in North Dakota, and my first thought was, “I sure hope this wasn’t in downtown Casselton.” I was thinking I would just stay in the library, but I also thought about how seeing something first hand is different from seeing it on the flatscreen. Historians are fanatics about primary sources. “Might as well make a contribution,” I thought.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota.

A horizontal smoke from the oil explosion in Casselton, North Dakota. The setting sun just dipped behind it.

Molly and I drove out west of Fargo on I-94 to Casselton, about a 20 minute ride one way. Here are some of the raw observations: when we started in Fargo, the temperature was -3°F, and when we finished up in Casselton it read -5°F. Sun dogs were also out to the right and left of the sun. Wind was steady out of the north. As we left Fargo, the sun was setting and snow wisped north-south over the interstate. By mile marker 340, we discerned that the horizontal haze in the distance was indeed produced by the burning oil. Since the wind was blowing hard from the north, this horizontal streak stretched south over the horizon. In the flat Red River Valley of the north, this means that the streak stretched south and was visible for a very, very long way. The setting sun dropped behind this streak, some photos of which are included.

I took the exit off of I-94 into Casselton, and we drove north on Highway 18 that runs south-north through town. I eventually parked the car in a parking lot just to the northeast of where the east-west railroad tracks intersect the north-south Highway 18. This is raw video from that:

Here are some subjective thoughts from the outing: I’m uncertain if anyone was hurt, or worse. I hope not. We all hope not. I also thought about the variety of apartments, residences and businesses along these railroads. Molly and I live two blocks north of one of these rail lines. I have friends that live right along them. And what about our neighbors to the north who went through something much worse than this in October 2013 in Quebec. Then I thought of how this will certainly be politicized in

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

Photo looking west toward the oil fire in Casselton, North Dakota.

numerous ways. Then I thought about how the world — all of us — have been born into a culture that relies on petroleum. It’s kind of a cultural inertia, something America, the West and the world has been increasingly addicted to at least since the turn of the 19th century. It seems that until oil becomes expensive enough, there will not be a massive enough cultural effort to harness other energy sources. We see signs of it, of course, with wind turbines and the hydroelectric. But it’ll be a while before all of these other alternatives eclipse petroleum. That’s kind of the way with the petroleum industrial complex. There is plastic all around us, too.

Anyhow, stay safe in Casselton, all. Looks like they may have already started evacuating the entire village…


Local Music Memoirs

This morning I dropped into The Bismarck Tribune‘s website and noticed a front web-page article on Jim McMahon. Anyone who is remotely connected with the Bismarck-Mandan or University of Mary music scene knows Jim, and they also know about his optimistic and upbeat commitment to professional and informal music. This article got me thinking a bit about how I started formal music percussion training in the 5th grade under the direction of Randy Salzer at Grimsrud Elementary in Bismarck. I knew I was interested in percussion (or what I called “drumming”) for a variety of reasons beyond the mimicry of AnimalTommy Lee, or Keith Moon (among others). So in my earlier years I asked my mom and dad about drumming, and they responded immediately. My mom came from a musical family, so it was not only an easy sell, it was encouraged. Her dad, my Grandpa Christy, was an administrator in a musicians union in post-WWII Rapid City, South Dakota. My mom has childhood stories about any variety of musicians being put up at her home in Rapid City (music being played in the house till the wee hours as well). This is kind of the way with musicians, whether professionally trained or auto-didactics (or both, which often is the case).

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

From behind the drums in the Les Dirty Frenchmen practice room. Photo from December 2013.

Nonetheless, the story on Jim McMahon reminded me of the 5th grade, and lugging what at the time was a gigantic snare drum to school before the start of classes. I think we had something like 20 minutes or so of time with our professionally trained teacher, and he taught us the basics of quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second notes, paradiddles, flams, and rim shots. As my 5th-12th grade matriculation continued, I found the percussion avenues of other instruments, including the timpani. Today, just down the road in Fargo, I like to know that if Todd or Troy (Reisenauer) asked me to drop a timpani solo into a Les Dirty Frenchmen song, I’d be able to do that, no problem.

And here’s another thing that Randy Salzer and Jim McMahon (and Robert Pesky, Brad Stockert, Scott Prebys, and professionally trained musical educators in general) plant within their students, whether they know it or not: training one to act on stage in front of small and large groups. Think about it: it is a rarity to play any song to perfection (which is one of the original socio-cultural gripes that punk had toward the music industry). But anyone can receive training to know that when you sense a screw-up, just push on. Instead of obsessing over the mess-up, embrace and own it. This is what in the arts and humanities we call a “transferable skill.” We can use it in other disciplines, and even as a life ethos. There is a psychology to it, and the more one performs, the better they get at their work, and the better they get at interpreting this to larger audiences on stage, both formally and informally. That’s what Shakespeare said, anyhow, about how life is a stage. It’s much more than sound and fury signified by nothing, though. It is, in fact, about how our actions today — the musical training of students — have unforeseen effects. Or unforeseen repercussions (hey, it’s a blog post about percussion). In every conversation I can think of, Jim has been perpetually open to different ideas that encourage and cultivate the local music culture of Bismarck-Mandan. So I just wanted to end this by saying nice work, Jim. Nice work indeed.


Blizzard Grilling On the Northern Great Plains

Rick Gion recently returned from southwestern North Dakota, having hunted pheasant around Mott and Regent. He brought back pheasant, and we — Rick, Molly and I — ended up grilling them last night. Rick pounded out the pheasant breasts and made a roulade, tying them up with peppers, jack cheese, and prosciutto. It, the weather, also decided to turn to a blizzard — icamnatanka — leading up to the grilling. So we just forged ahead. Molly prepared a delicious wildrice-mushroom hot dish, inspired by Linda Whitney (my aunt) and her knowledge of how they prep wild rice hot dishes up around Devils Lake, North Dakota in general. It was a northern Great Plains winter meal through and through. Here are some photos from the late afternoon and evening.

A bag of sensibly priced charcoal purchased as the blizzard set in.

A bag of sensibly priced charcoal purchased as the blizzard set in.

Rick prepares the pheasant-breast roulade.

Rick prepares the pheasant-breast roulade.

Molly's wild rice-mushroom hot dish. This is perfect eating for a blizzard.

Molly’s wild rice-mushroom hot dish. This is deliciously perfect eating for a blizzard.

Grilling the roulade. The temps were sub-zero at this point. In the distance from the grill is a mildly creepy-looking snowman I built the night prior, in anticipation for the sub-zero weather.

Grilling the roulade. The temps were sub-zero at this point. In the distance from the grill is a mildly creepy-looking snowman I built the night prior, in anticipation for the sub-zero weather.

The plated meal. We ended up finishing the roulade in the oven after putting a char on it with the grill. Wild rice-mushroom hot dish to the left, and steamed broccoli above, this just below a bit of table red.

The plated meal. We ended up finishing the roulade in the oven after putting a char on it with the grill. Wild rice-mushroom hot dish to the left, and steamed broccoli above, this just below a bit of table red.

 

 

 


Vegas to Fargo

Molly and I returned to Fargo from spending a Christmas in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, and we are settling back into our regular duties on the northern Great Plains. Since temperature comparisons are eternal sources of fun and conversation, it seems worth while to note that right now, as I type, the temps in Fargo are 29°F, while in Vegas it is 39°F. Of course, the Vegas high is expected to top out at 65°F today, while the Fargo high at 37°F. Of the latter, this means snow will melt so it can freeze solid when the temps return to sub-zero starting this Sunday (the Fargo high for Sunday is -7°F, dipping further to -13°F on Wednesday and Thursday — yes, the high, not the low).

So yes, the weather is always fun to talk about. I don’t mind the cold, or the bitter cold, but I know it can be a huge morale crusher for many of my family, friends and comrades on the northern Great Plains. One solution I have used, at least for myself, is psychological, and that is to simply own it (versus complaining about something, which doesn’t make it go away). The other is to keep moving. Another is to use it as time to enjoy hot coffee, grilled cheese, and tomato soup even more (it tastes better when it’s frigid outside). As a kid, when it was this cold I remember my mother trying to keep us inside. All we wanted to do was bundle up and go outside for hours on end to sled, build snow forts, have snow ball fights, and so on. So that’s a mild tangent on this Friday morning.

And since I’m on weather conversation, below is a video short from time recently spent presenting at a scholarly conference in New Zealand. This is of the Milford Sound fjord, west coast of the south island, New Zealand. In late November, of course, Kiwis are transitioning from their spring to summer. So it’s a perfect time to take a short boat ride out from the fjords to the Tasman Sea and back. That’s what we did. The boat captain gave us all a close up of the humbling waterfall, too. Here it is, from my perspective.


Historic Christmas in Vegas: In Photos

Historians are both notorious and professionally obligated to spend the majority of their lives analyzing, thinking and talking about dead people. Which is good, of course, because it keeps those that have gone before us alive while simultaneously enriching our own existence. But sometimes it’s necessary to capture one’s here and now. So that’s what is happening with this Christmas Day posting, direct from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. The ages at our large family gathering range from 9 months to 86 years, and it involves great grand-daughters and -sons and great grand-fathers and -mothers, cousins, aunts and uncles, mamas and papas, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. It is deep kinship, and it is being experienced everywhere. But enough of that. Here are some photos of our local. Enjoy. And Happy Christmas and Merry Holidays.

Christmas 3

Christmas 2

Bellagio Christmas decorations.

Meals bring humanity together.

Meals bring family, friends and humanity together. We had steaks the night Molly and I arrived.

Kitchen busy work on Christmas Eve. Great Grandpa Christy chats with Carmel and Molly.

Kitchen busy work on Christmas Eve. Great Grandpa Christy chats with Carmel and Molly.

Grandpa Christy brings 86 years of experience to the Jenga tower on Christmas Day.

Grandpa Christy brings 86 years of experience to the Jenga tower on Christmas Day.

Christmas 6

Molly and I wait for the tram outside of Vdara and Aria, downtown Las Vegas.

Molly and I wait for the tram outside of Vdara and Aria, downtown Las Vegas.


Thoughts On David Blight’s Race and Reunion

A view this morning of I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks.

A view this morning of I-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks.

This morning Molly and I drove north from Fargo to Grand Forks, and now we’re waiting at the GF Byron L. Dorgan International Airport to board our flight to lovely Las Vegas, Nevada. I got family in Vegas, so that’s where we’re setting up for the holidays.

While we wait for our flight, I’ve been revisiting David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Harvard University Press, 2001). As the title suggests, Blight looks at how aspects of the Civil War were and were not remembered in the post-Civil War era from 1865 to 1915. At the turn of the 19th century, as the self-fulfilled WASP theory of Social Darwinian thinking — also known as racism — gripped many political leaders, old Union and Confederate veterans tried to find a “happy ending” to the divisive Civil War. To do this, they decided to talk about a lot of the Civil War, but they decided not to talk about emancipation and race. They certainly turned away from memorializing it in icon and statue. In chapter 10 of this work, Blight turns out attention toward the 1897 monument dedicated to the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth. This all-black regiment was commanded by Robert Gould Shaw, a Boston Brahmin. In the context of Civil War memorials, at least in the eastern 1/3 or 1/2 of the United States, Blight says,

The Shaw Memorial was (and still is) different… the Shaw Memorial moved people emotionally. The events it commemorated compelled viewers to acknowledge that wars have meanings that go beyond manly valor. Saint-Gaudens’s relief forced the thoughtful citizen to ask how a struggle in the 1860s between white Northerners and Southerners over conflicting conceptions of the future became a struggle for blacks over whether they had any future in America at all. The monument also asserts with majestic anguish that in the nation founded by the Declaration of Independence, black men had to die by the thousands in battle or of disease in order to be recognized as men, much less as citizens. 

I think about this quite a bit. At least since 2009, I’ve been absorbed by how that same Union army carried out punitive campaigns against the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota, and how these campaigns have been remembered in regional and national history. So those are my thoughts for now. Back to the book. And back to waiting to board our flight. Happy Christmas all.


Northern Great Plains Shu Mai

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough this blog leans toward history updates, I like to give food entry updates every now and then. Yesterday I determined to make east Asian steamed dumplings. The main factor of dumpling preparation is making the dough. This requires about 1 part boiling water to 3 parts flour, as the boiling water brings out the elasticity in the dough. I used North Dakota State Mill organic flour. After adding the boiling water, I mixed it with a wood spoon until the dough was cool enough to mix by hand.

The recipe in front of me also called for ground pork, but instead of that I used local goat shank that I had in the freezer. The goat meat came from County Line Meats, this just south of Jamestown. Since the recipe called for 2 minced garlic cloves, I added 5. Also into my dumpling mix went minced chives, onion, carrot, ginger, and a dash of rice wine vinegar, cane sugar, ground pepper, mint and soy sauce.

All this filling gets centered in the middle of the thin dough sheets I rolled out. Then a systematic pinching of the dough around the perimeter forms up these dumplings, almost into the shape of little pies. I dropped these into the bamboo steamer, but after laying down a layer of cabbage. I didn’t have Napa cabbage handy, so I used standard issue Euro-American cabbage. The dumplings were great, and since the goat, flour and cabbage were local, I decided they were Northern Great Plains-Chinese fusion dumplings.

The next dumplings I make are going to be an appropriated recipe we recently had in New Zealand. They were wontons filled with minced lamb, onion and mint. They came with a mint dipping sauce too. They were spectacular. It’ll be easy enough to re-create goat-mint shu mai. Everyone should do this. It’s not difficult.