Tag Archives: Great Plains History

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.


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.


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.


When CNN Airs Your YouTube Train Explosion Video

One week ago I drove from Fargo to Casselton, North Dakota, to take in first hand what happened with the train explosion. Details of that outing are linked to here. The next morning I checked my e-mail in-box, and CNN’s Justin Lear had a message waiting for me. He wondered if it was okay for CNN to use my YouTube video. My thought was, “Yeah. Sure.” So I e-mailed him back, we corresponded briefly, and eventually CNN put my video on their page. Click here to see what it looked like.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog's site visitation.

When you blog exploding or burning trains, this is what happens to your blog’s site visitation.

The footage also got me thinking a bit about how Lear might have come across the video in the first place, this through the computational algorithms built by the internet folks (at Microsoft, Google, and so on). If you happen to be within photographic range of exploding trains, or the burning aftermath of exploding trains, and you upload this footage to YouTube, there’s a good chance Justin Lear will get a hold of you.

I think, perhaps, the most enjoyable footage had to do with the on-the-spot local narration from North Dakotans who caught footage of the actual explosion. If you click on this link and go to 0:24 seconds, you’ll hear through-and-through NoDaker commentary: “There it goes,” and this followed by “There it goes.” Phonetically, it sounds like this: “Der it goeas.” And while this makes us smile, this is the reflection of a North Dakota dialect (played up pretty heavily in the movie Fargo — thank you Coen brothers). The sound of it is completely disarming, and you can hear our Scandinavian and German-Russian great grand-parents within it.


Dissertation Update

Dakota LanguageToday is Friday the 6th of December, it is approximately -11°F, I am looking out beyond the laptop screen through a south-facing window to the light blue snowscape, the time when the approach of the sun-rise appears eminent. I plan on finishing my opening dissertation chapter (which might turn into an introduction) that deals with the public remembrance of the US-Dakota Wars. One of the main thrusts in this disquisition is to look at not only how various generations have remembered and memorialized the US-Dakota Wars, but to piece together why.

I chatted with an engineer about this a couple days ago, albeit briefly, and I found in myself another reason that I hadn’t articulated so well: whenever we, the royal we, are frustrated with the way things are, sometimes it helps to track the history so as to see how we got where we are today. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will agree with it, but one doesn’t have to agree with something in order to understand it. To my right on the floor is a stack of published monographs on world and public history — historiography (or the history of history) having spoken to and shaped what we know today.

I also picked up and have so far read the introduction of Denise Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (U of Massachusetts Press, 2012) from the dutiful Inter Library Loan-ists at NDSU. A couple months ago Bill Caraher and I were chatting at Laughing Sun in Bismarck, and he suggested I check it out. It is good. More on that later, either in blog or dissertation form. To my left is Stephen R. Riggs, A Dakota-English Diectionary and John P. Williamson, An English-Dakota Dictionary. I continuously re-re-rediscover that language, or the study of it, provides insights into the past, as do oral traditions and oral histories. But okay, enough of all this blogging for now. I’m just going to get after finishing this draft. Happy Friday to you.