Author Archives: Aaron Barth

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.


When the Eagle Statue Landed in Bismarck

The eagle statue in Custer Park, Bismarck, North Dakota. View to the south.

The eagle statue in Custer Park, Bismarck, North Dakota. View to the south.

I dropped into Bismarck yesterday, and after having breakfast with my folks this morning I decided to visit downtown Custer Park. It is beautiful outside.

The park itself is a kind of border between the historic western edge of downtown Bismarck and one of the historic residential areas. To the south is Elks Aquatic Center, and just to the east is a Dairy Queen. You can see how this is triangulated and primed to be a serious summer hangout for those on summer vacation.

While at Custer Park, I also visited the huge metal eagle sculpture. This eagle was dedicated in 1988 (or thereabouts), and I have a vague recollection of my cub scout troop being at the dedication. At that time, when the sculpture was new and sans rust, we were told how the eagle would take on a more eagle-like color because the metal would oxidize and rust over time. This is about all I recall, but every time I drive by the eagle, I think of that dedication.

On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed fitting to take and post a couple pics of this winged statue, as it is swooping into the park with a handbill that reads “We the People…”

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Neary’s “weld” signature from 1988 at the base of the eagle statue.

The dedication plaque below reads as follows:

This sculpture was dedicated to commemorate the bicentennial anniversary of the constitution of the united states of America on October 1, 1988. 

Commissioned by: Bismarck Park District

Funding Provided by: Fraternal Order of the Eagles, Bismarck, Aerie No. 2237

Sculptor: Tom Neary

Design Assistant: Wayne Pruse

Today, artists have pushed metal sculptures in different directions, now using found metal objects to craft works of industrial public art. Here is a link to some of that at the University of Montana in Missoula, and some more from Lemmon, South Dakota.


Memorial Weekend

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

Memorial Day weekend burger grill.

It’s Friday evening and Molly and I are sitting on the living room futon which now faces west. It points us in the direction of a screen porch, and beyond this we can see the youthful spring green of deciduous trees and leaves set against a background of grayish-blue sky. A storm is brewing out west for sure. You can smell it. Something to do with the ozone.

We live in pre-WWI construction, so we are also treated to a kind of pre-WWII sense of place. I haven’t been able to put words to the smell, but the smell I’m smelling reminds me of my late Grandma Christy’s house on the 700 block of North 4th Street in Bismarck, North Dakota. That house, too, was built prior to the First World War. Anything built before the Second World War has this sense of smell and place to it. The homes and apartments all have hard wood floors, radiator heating, and super tall ceilings. They were built before the invention and ascent of conditioned air.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

My latest archaeological find of Minnesota Twins propaganda.

So now that it is Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would post the epitome of Americana. I love this stuff. Baseball and cowboy charcoal grilled burgers. Memorial Day weekend is a grand extension of Decoration Day, a Civil War day of remembrance.

This evening also got me thinking a bit about all the German-Americans that poured into the United States when, in the words of Lt. Aldo Raine, people were getting out of Europe while the getting was good. Massive religious and political upheavals in the 19th century (this is the most focused brush stroke I’m going to use right now) induced hundreds of thousands of Europeans to simply leave Europe. They crossed the Atlantic and poured in the United States. A large swath of these immigrants came from Germany, or German-speaking countries (I have often hypothesized that the reason Germany started two big ones in the same century had to do with this intellectual emigrant drain from the previous century). And the Germans, when they arrived in the United States, took up numerous causes. In some cases they played baseball. And in other cases they agitated for emancipation. I like to imagine that they also grilled burgers, too. Baseball and burgers. Happy Memorial Day.


Happy Mother’s Day

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota.

Vivian in the late-1910s on the Swedish-American farmstead just northeast of Bremen, Wells County, North Dakota. That is Vivian’s handwriting at the top of the photo too.

It’s Mother’s Day (of course, every day is mother’s day). It is a holiday with origins in the post-Civil War (American) generation, championed by Anna Jarvis just after the turn of the 19th century. The idea was to get together all the moms who had sons die in the Civil War. Today we use it to recognized the heroine feats of motherhood.

Molly and I drove over to Bismarck, North Dakota, to spend Mother’s Day weekend with Julie and Paul (my parents). I also got flowers for Molly’s late mother a couple days ago, because mothers are all around us. Always. Last night, before bed, Molly and I (or Molly and Me, which has a nice ring to it) stumbled into a family archive in Julie and Paul’s basement. Numerous photos from my late grandmother, Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, who passed away a year ago this month.

There are a lot of photos within the archive, and a personal project goal will be to digitize them, get family members digital copies, and then consider conversations with archivists at the State Historical Society of North Dakota or NDSU’s North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies or UND’s Special Collections for eventual curation. This is why we have state historical societies and regional archives: it captures what us global locals have been on about from one generation to the next. And it is better to digitize and then curate them with a sound archives than to keep them in a box in your basement (which can flood, or something like that).

But back to Grandma Barth, and a couple photos I digitized for uploading purpose here. To celebrate Mother’s Day. The photo at top is of Vivian, taken likely in 1918 or 1919, just northeast of Bremen, northeastern Wells County, North Dakota. The second photo is of Vivian in the mid- to late-1930s, likely when she moved off the farm to Bismarck, North Dakota. And the third photo was taken likely during or around the time Vivian was attending one of those late-1930s college programs to train as a secretary. She later held positions at the Bank and state capitol of North Dakota. She did this while tending to her three boys and husband (a total of four boys). She was loving (and still is), hard-working (I remember she gardened up until she was 91), and she babysat us grandkids countless times.

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Vivian in the late 1930s.

 

When I was real little, I remember being bummed out when my parents left for a couple weeks of vacation (I am blessed with great parents, so I tended to get bummed out in their absence). To set me at ease, before bed that night my grandma recounted a story of how her dad at the age of 13 boarded a boat in Sweden with his uncle, and set out for Ellis Island and America. She reminded me, “He was only 13.” Grandma had a way with bringing gravity and reason to any situation that was or seemed stressed. She also made extra ordinary chocolate chip cookies, Swedish meatballs, and, well, you name it. Here’s to you, Vivian. And Grandma Christy (for another blog, perhaps next Mother’s Day). And here’s to the memory of all mothers, and to making memories with our mothers today.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I'm thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.

Vivian Marie (Larson) Barth, I’m thinking taken after she relocated from Bremen to Bismarck, North Dakota.


Historic Movie Theaters: Restoring the Walla Walla

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

The Roxy Movie Theater in Langdon, North Dakota. Photo from February 2014.

Today in the Forum News Service, Ryan Bakken reported on the rehabilitated movie theater in Mayville, North Dakota. It got me thinking a bit about how we are witnessing numerous historic movie theaters get an updated restart in communities across the northern Great Plains (and elsewhere).

The movie theater is an important place, allowing a community of movie goers to engage, as we say, in a collective experience. This gives us points of reference in conversation — “Hey, you remember that line from ‘Walter Mitty’?” — and it also allows us to explore and ponder our own humanity. It is different, of course, from live theater, where there is always a direct interaction between actresses/actors and the audience. But the theater idea is the same: bringing together a group of people to take in a performance, or a spectacle. Life is a stage, after all.

Beyond Mayville, here are a couple more theaters in smaller North Dakota communities, to add to Bakken’s great write-up of Mayville. The Roxy theater is located in Langdon, North Dakota, just north-northwest of the long-since abandoned Nekoma ICBM missile defense concrete pyramid (it would be good to watch “Dr. Strangelove” at the Roxy some day). I snapped a photo of this Roxy in February 2014. It is up and running, having been brought back to life by the community in and around Langdon.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

The historic 1949 Walla Walla Theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010, and the regional arts community is crowd-sourcing funds for its 21st century rehabilitation.

And here is the Walla Walla theater in Walhalla, North Dakota. Built shortly after the end of WWII in 1949, this theater was justly placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The Gorge Arts & Heritage Council (Facebook page here) is in the midst of crowd-sourcing funds to bring this theater back to life. This is a good idea. If you want to take pocket-book action, click on this link here for more information.

I was thinking today how much I enjoy these old time movie houses, and how the smaller the town, the more I enjoy them. I like the way that old time movie marquee stretches way out over the pedestrian sidewalk, acting as both a visual lure and a way to bring passersby under its influence. It is a much different feeling than when driving by more modern suburban theaters in our hermetically sealed automobiles. In addition to this, the old time theater is added value to any town, at least so the evening outing option isn’t always a default to the local tavern (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know what I mean). Yes, theater regularly plays out in local taverns. But it’s good to have the option to spend an evening in a defined theater proper.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.

Downtown Walhalla, North Dakota, with the Walla Walla Theater to the left.


Following ET in New Mexico from North Dakota

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One of the only known Pizza Hut ET commemorative glasses in North Dakota’s Sheyenne River Valley.

Throughout last week I’ve been following the media trail of four friends — Andrew Reinhard, Richard Rothaus, Bill Caraher, and Bret Weber — who were mustered into a modern archaeological dig in New Mexico. The goal was to dig up a pile of ET Atari games that were buried after the craptacular game hit the shelves in 1983. When this game hit the shelves, it signaled the beginning of the end for Atari, as Atari lost (according to the Wikipedia page) over a half-billion dollars after buying the rights from Spielberg; over-producing a terrible game; and banking on the idea that customers would rip them from the shelves. They did, to a degree. But the video gamers returned them for a refund as well.

So I kept up with the social media and stories, noting to myself that the archaeology of ET Atari games was more popular than the actual 1983 game. I was also happy to read that Caraher made Rolling Stone. Check it out in the link here. CNN covered the story too. Daniel Politi of Slate.com also covered the story, as did Dominic Rushe of The Guardian, and NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story here. Eric Mack of Forbes covered Andrew Reinhard here (well, the picture is of Andrew). And The Onion covered it here.

The more local Fargo Forum ran a story on it here, too. And you can get direct, unadulterated coverage of the ET dig from Bill Caraher’s blog here. So while holding down the bunker in North Dakota, and while reading these stories, I would often take sips from the ET glass pictured here. The glass comes from my fiancée’s sister’s Valley City home. I think it was a thrift store find some time ago. I still have to set down and get an official oral history.