Tag Archives: Great Plains

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.


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.


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.


Langdon Locker

Langdon Locker, 324 6th St., Langdon, Cavalier County, North Dakota, on the morning of February 27, 2014.

Langdon Locker, 324 6th St., Langdon, Cavalier County, North Dakota, on the morning of February 27, 2014.

This morning just after the sunrise, the car thermometer registered something like -18° F in Langdon, northeastern North Dakota. I’m on detail up here for a couple days, dissertating (a verb in grad school) and so on. But before getting started on that, I decided to track down the famous Langdon Locker, home of the famous Langdon Locker Sausage (caps is warranted).

This, says Tom Isern, is the greatest sausage in all of North Dakota. I once pressed Isern to explain why it was the best, and he (paraphrased) chalked it up to preparation and texture. I think the texture reminded him a bit of sausage production around and near his historic family farm in western Kansas. It is no surprise that certain smells and foods activate otherwise hibernating memory files within our brains.

Langdon Locker.

Langdon Locker.

In any case, I tracked down the Langdon Locker. Then I tracked down an ATM. Then I returned to Langdon Locker and purchased one of their regular staples, the smoked garlic pork sausage. It is locally made, and goes for just over $4 for one-and-a-half pounds. There are rumors that this sausage is available through distributors in Fargo. But there is something fun about getting the stuff at the source too.


Traditional Native Food Systems

Sahnish AgricultureIt has been a couple years now that I have served on the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council. It is incredible in the sense that a board member is brought within range of all that this NEH-funded council does. While great ideas abound, sometimes we are only logistically able to make it to a sampling of the events around the state. If it was somehow possible for the council to be funded where board members could quit their day-jobs, we indeed would be present at each and every event. But unfortunately my landlord, cell phone provider, and the bill issuers in general refuse to accept my historical articles, papers and daily blogs as payment for their services. Thus, I have to keep at my day job to keep the lights on around here which in turn keeps me from some of the great NDHC programs.

A couple days ago, I received a thank you from Dr. Wanda Agnew of United Tribes Technical College (an institution that has one of the most renowned global pow-wows every year). Dr. Agnew said the “funds provided by the North Dakota Humanities Council gave us the opportunity to make the Key Ingredient American By Food Exhibit and Special event OUTSTANDING!” The goal of this event was to connect the UTTC campus populace, Tribal Sovereign Nations, and folks in the Bismarck-Mandan area with ideas about traditional Native food systems, deepening the understanding of how pre-Industrial agriculture, farming and gardening worked. It has only been in the last 125 years or so (out of at least 6,000) that homo sapiens have increasingly industrialized what we shovel into our mouths. I have thought about and acted on this in recent years.

Lakota AgricultureIn any case, within this blog are the three hand-bill diagrams Dr. Agnew sent along with the thank-you that point to how food, culture and humanity intersect with three different tribal systems (oyate) on the northern Great Plains. They are the Anishinaabe, Lakota, and Sahnish. We are leaving September and heading into October, so note how the traditional calendars describe the seasons: for the Lakota, September-October is the time when trading with other tribes occurs, when buffalo berries are gathered, and when the earth experienced its hard frost and went into hibernation. For the Anishinaabe, chokecherries and wild potatoes and cranberries would be gathered, and deer would be hunted (which also coincides with our modern deer hunting season). For the Sahnish, this time of year marked the corn and harvest ceremonies. Okay, off to start the charcoal grill. Happy weekend to you.

Anishinaabe Agriculture


A Great Plains Airport

On the morning of August 31, 2013, Molly and I took an early morning flight from Fargo to Buffalo, New York, with a connecting flight in Chicago. That morning in Fargo’s Hector airport, while we waited to board our flight, I typed out a description of my surroundings. The trinity takeaway from Buffalo: it is the birthplace of Richard Hofstadter and the Buffalo chicken wing, and it is also the city where Teddy Roosevelt was inaugurated after McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet.

Okay, enough of that. Here is the late-August 2013 Fargo airport description in unadulterated form:

It’s 5:12AM at the Fargo Airport, Gate 5, and Molly and I are waiting for the United Chicago flight to board around 5:30. I thought I’d give some descriptions of my surroundings, as this airport has a different social atmosphere than the Chicago hub we’re flying into.

The view: there are about 15 of us so far, waiting to board. A slow trickle of passengers continues advancing toward their respective gates in the terminal. A lot of us are wearing sandals or easily removable shoes. This is for utility, as they are easier to slide off and on when entering and exiting the security checkpoints.

The terminal itself has strip-mall aesthetics (in fact, it is unusual today to be in new construction that is non-strip mall-like). The color scheme is grey, blue, peach, and terracotta. Molly thinks elementary schools used to have this color scheme in the late-80s, at least around these parts, and at least if they were new back then. “New” is an elusive word, like “modern.” The floor and ceiling are carpet, and the walls smooth either with paint or wallpaper. Lighting here is recessed halogen fluorescent, or whatever they are called.

It is dark in the early morning outside too. It is pitch black out there, the “United Express” logo on the plane illuminated by exterior lighting. Within the windows, we can only see the reflection of our Gate. There are three plants at Gate 5 too. They look real. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has static signage near this gate, too, an information booth on local species.

The sounds: a steady gentle hum persists from the black rectangular vending machine. It rattles occasionally, as the refrigeration compressor keeps the beverages cool. A couple of the families have young children, and they are a bit chatty. Other conversation, at least amongst the adults, is muffled. There is a silent kind of still, folks a bit groggy from getting up at 3:30 or 4:00AM, and others wanting to respect the quiet associated with this morning hour. A hum outside, toward the plane, is also audible. The conversations increase as we draw nearer to the boarding time, and as more and more folks arrive.

The sensation: some folks feel like they want to sleep, but can’t. But they so would like to. Everyone knows that in 10 or 17 or 23 minutes or so, we will be asked to board the plane. For myself, there is slight warmth in my forehead, a kind that a person sometimes feels when without enough sleep.

The smells: it smells similar to a hospital waiting room with occasional whiffs of coffee.