Monthly Archives: March 2014

Dungeness Crab and North Dakota Walleye

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Sensibly priced Dungeness crab.

Over the weekend I located some Dungeness crab at the Costco in West Fargo, North Dakota. To clear it up for non-Fargoans and non-North Dakotans, yes, Fargo is large enough to have a West Fargo (perhaps an idea for a second Coen Brothers film entitled West Fargo, which Molly says is on the east coast of North Dakota). The crab was so sensibly priced that I couldn’t avoid it. A small contingent — Mira McLain and Ben Simonson — from Valley City, North Dakota, came as well, bringing fresh-caught North Dakota walleye and sauger. Aunt Chris McLain also joined us, as did Matthew Trefz and Karis Thompson.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

North Dakota walleye and sauger fish fry.

While eating the crab, I noted a couple things: first, fresh crab eaten in the middle of North America almost confuses one’s sense of place. It’s something that tastes like the ocean but it is so far removed from that locale. So if you’re in Fargo, or Ohio, and if you locate delicious and sensibly priced Dungeness crab, go for it. You get to taste the ocean while on a sea of prairie.

The second thing the royal we noted was that eating whole crab is an event: it takes patience and effort, and plenty of melted butter. Up to this point in time, the lot of us were land-lubbers the most if not the majority of our lives. Sure, one or two of us had the occasional deep-sea fishing experience, but that was more exotic than frequent.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

After the feast, even the Chihuahuas were exhausted.

Like I said, Ben, who often squeezes 25 hours of ice fishing into his 24-hour vacation days, brought the North Dakota walleye and sauger. And the feast was just that, a combination of steamed crab from the Pacific Northwest and North Dakota freshwater fish, fried up on the spot to absolute perfection. Aunt Chris provided a homemade fudge and ice cream desert, something she learned from her mother. Heritage dinners are real, and they often involve statements such as, “My mother used to make this.” I thought about that, and how the Sunday evening meal created a memory we could someday look back on 20 years from now.

Note: Twenty-four hours later, a March 31-April 1 blizzard is going full tilt. I just wanted to document it all. Here’s a video short of Matt Trefz offering a balanced assessment of Dungeness crab.


Weekend in Montana

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

North Dakota sunset from March 20, 2014, near the Crystal Springs exit on I-94.

I’m currently blogging from downtown Bozeman, Montana, after Molly and I hit up Chico Hot Springs (click here for a history of Chico Hot Springs) last night and earlier today, visiting her uncle in Livingston, and a scattering of her family in Paradise Valley. While at Chico we relaxed, and reflected on how Molly’s late father, Harley, loved this place. Harley grew up in Livingston, and Molly explained how her dad used to love taking summer time dips in the Yellowstone River throughout his entire life.

Of that Yellowstone, yes: the mountain runoff feeds it direct. This water meets up with the upper Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota border. For the long hydrology of it all, this water eventually empties into the Mississippi near St. Louis, and then it runs to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s nice to catch it fresh up here in the glorious Rockies, though.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

A short walk along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, just south of Livingston, Montana.

Here are a couple photos from when we left Fargo up to Bozeman. The above photo is the evening sky from March 20, 2014, around the Crystal Springs exit on I-94 in North Dakota. What the photo didn’t catch (or what we just observed rather than photographing) was the sun reflecting off the aqua blue of the melting ponds (kind of like a light turquoise, and highly reflective from the couple inches of water on the surface of the ice). 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gil’s Goods in downtown Livingston, Montana.

The middle photo is the Yellowstone River from earlier this morning, and the final is from downtown Livingston, Montana. If you visit Livingston, go to Gil’s Goods for food. It is good at Gil’s. I think tonight we’ll try to track down one more hot springs dip, this at the Bozeman Hot Springs. Yes: make a vacation out of the hot springs scattered throughout our glorious American West. It is good for the muscles and spirit.


History Mash-Up: O’ Brother the Tennessee Valley Authority

I call this slide, "TVA O' Brother," a combination of the map from Roark, et al., "The American Promise" (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000)

I call this slide, “TVA O’ Brother,” a combination of the map from Roark, et al., “The American Promise” (2012, p. 726) and the handbill for “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000)

For the second lecture on the Great Depression tomorrow at North Dakota State University in Fargo, I’m showing a map of the Tennessee Valley Authority with the handbill for “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” (2000) the backdrop of the movie set in the TVA of the 30s. My reasoning is that 1) this is a fun visual; 2) the Coen Brothers are great; and 3) students in the future are much more likely to see “O’ Brother” than a TVA map. The idea is that both of these visuals will leave a singular imprint, and from here on out when they hear George Clooney lip sync, there’s a greater possibility that they’ll think about the history of the TVA, the Great Depression, FDR’s responses, hydroelectric power dams, etc.


Nice Write-Up on Theodora Bird Bear

This is a great write-up on Mandan-Hidatsa Theodora Bird Bear, linked here, and on the complexities of life in the Bakken of western ND. She currently keeps the books for a church, this after spending 19 years working for Indian Health Services. I have had the privilege of hearing her speak about the living history and genealogical attachment to the landscape (every word deliberately chosen and delivered to the audience with respect for herself and others). This was last year, January 2013, before the ND Industrial Commission.


Friends in Fargo this Weekend

It’s about 3:23PM, so I thought I’d break just a moment for tea and a blog entry to throw out a little PR for some colleagues and friends.

Two events are going down in Fargo this Saturday, March 15. Well, wait a minute: certainly there are more than two events going down in Fargo this Saturday. But here are the two events that I know of right now, this Monday afternoon. The two that I’m going to talk about. You should definitely go see other events, too, above and beyond this.

The first event is a benefit for a friend and scholar, Mike Casler. Mike was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2011, and he’s been through a battery of surgeries and radiation treatment. Mike, along with a bunch of us, are gathering at The Bowler in Fargo (2630 South University Dr.) anywhere from 4:00-11:55PM for the official Mike Casler Benefit Fund — again this Saturday, March 15. Also, Mike is the author and historian of several upper Missouri River scholarly works, including Steamboats of the Fort Union Fur Trade: An Illustrated Listing of Steamboats on the Upper Missouri River, 1831-1867 (Ft. Union Association, 1999); and he regularly collaborates and conspires (in a good way) with the Great Plains titan of anthro, archaeology and history, W. Raymond Wood (some of Ray’s works here, here, and here, and his memoirs here).

And also on Saturday, March 15, Keith Bear will be playing Mandan-Hidatsa flute at 8:15PM in The Avalon. This is a part of the larger Great Winter Crow Show organized by Dawn and the Spirit Room Galleries. Also check that out from 5:00-10:00PM. You can read more about Keith at this link here. The event is sponsored by the Avalon Event Center, the Lake Region Art Council, and the North Dakota Humanities Council.

Okay, that was a 5-minute blog post update. Back to it.


Visiting Dickinson State University

Left to right, Historian Frank Varney, Aaron Barth, and Political Scientist Steven Doherty.

Left to right, Historian Frank Varney, Aaron Barth, and Political Scientist Steven Doherty on the campus of Dickinson State University, western North Dakota.

Yesterday Dickinson State University (via Frank Varney) invited me to speak about a component of research concerning how and why the US-Dakota Wars (1862-1864) were remembered at the turn of the 19th century throughout the Minnesota River Valley and on the northern Great Plains. It was great to get west of the upper Missouri River and spend some time with Varney and other fellow history and humanities nerds. I like this topic — thinking about how the US-Dakota Wars were remembered — because it mitigates what I call historical anxiety. I’ve thought about this phrase for a while, and loosely define it as that anxious feeling of not knowing how and why something happened in a particular place in time. A way to mitigate historical anxiety is to head into the archives and cobble together a narrative from the disparate bits and pieces. Through this I’ve been able to understand why the US-Dakota Wars were memorialized the way they were at the turn of the 19th century.

I’m using this, in turn, to push the way in which we think about the US-Dakota Wars today: largely as genocide, the word invented and deployed by Raphael Lemkin first in 1944. At the root, genocide comes from the Greek genos, which roughly means people or tribe; and the Latin cide, which means killing. Don’t take my word for it, though: visit Sully and Sibley in their own words. One humanistic universal I pitched out there to the group was that if the United States concerns (as it should) itself with genocide taking place today in Syria, and in other parts of the world, the U.S. should also concern itself with and consider the genocide that took place in our own past. Otherwise it just gets awkward, as the question will invariably come up time and again. So we can either chat and consider this, or just pretend like it doesn’t exist. If we pursue the latter, it just ends up leading to long bouts of awkward, uncomfortable silence. More on all this scholarship later, at least as it applies to the US-Dakota Wars, and the broader 19th-century Anglosphere.

Just a real quick warranted amplification of Varney’s work (he is in the midst of preparing a second volume that builds off his first monograph), General Grant and the Rewriting of History: How the Destruction of General William S. Rosecrans Influenced Our Understanding of the Civil War (Savas Beatie, 2013). Click on that link. If you enjoy history, or have thought deeply or superficially (there are only so many hours in a day) about memoirs, or Grant’s memoirs, definitely give it a go.


Thoughts on Nebraska

NebraskaMolly and I caught the late matinee Nebraska at the downtown Fargo Theater this Sunday afternoon. It’s a story about an older man (Bruce Dern) who is starting to enter the earliest phases of senility. He and his wife made a life in Billings, Montana, having relocated there years prior from their small home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska. This old timer received a standard sweepstakes letter that said he was a “winner” of $1 million. He only had to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to check his winning number to see if he did in fact win. Through this he becomes possessed with getting to Lincoln: he finally felt he had something to live for. And without spoiling any more of it, I’ll just type a couple ideas below and recommend that you check out the film yourself.

The first idea is how small town agrarian life can come to a crawl in the absence of, well, anything beyond industrial farming. In many ways this reminded me of life in western North Dakota in, say, the 80s and 90s. In the movie, Hawthorne was not experiencing a robust Bakken oil boom. Folks kept busy, but it was at a level rather than an unrestricted economic pace.

The second thing impressed upon me was how well the cameras captured the northern Great Plains. The film is shot in black and white, possibly to convey a greater sense of gloom. But the Great Plains look glorious in either full color or black and white (and when we say “black and white,” what we really mean is shades of grey).

The old timer and his family also visited the abandoned family farmstead, one of those homes that we pass thousands of times on rural and main roads throughout the Great Plains. Whenever I’m out on assignment, recording one of these rural structures (I’m in the profession of historic preservation), I can’t help but think about what kind of lives were made and carried on day in and day out. A kind of “these walls can talk” feeling. It’s a squishy feeling, yes. But we’re human. That means we feel — sensory and perception — and we’re supposed to describe that. So anyhow go to this movie. It is good. I think we’ve earmarked Inside Llewyan Davis for our next cinema outing.