A couple weeks ago a friend, Tayo, texted and asked if I would be his supply line for the Maah Daah Hey 100+ this coming Saturday, August 6, 2016. His original text read, “Do you have any interest in spending a night in the badlands and being my support vehicle for the Maah Daah Hey 100 bike race the first weekend in August?” I asked about exact dates. And then checked with the calendar. And then quickly talked myself into doing this after chatting a bit about it with my wife (she was enthusiastic too).
The trail name, Maah Daah Hey, is from a local language, the Mandan people. The trail name translates into something along the lines of an area that has been or will be around for a long time. I know this because I Google’d it. But there is likely a ton more nuance to the phrase than is captured by this one, Google’d definition.
So what does one need before doing the entire supply and gear (SAG for short) for a comrade and friend? It first requires time to think about what to bring and how to prepare. The Maah Daah Hey association has built up an impressive road map and guide for both riders and the SAG support vehicles. While the rider zips through an impossible and marked course in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota, the SAG vehicles zip around on the scoria/klinker covered roads to meet their riders at the next check point. I was reading that just a bit ago and decided to blog these thoughts.
Before all this, though, Tayo and I spent the last week hypothesizing how we might locate or bum an appropriate SAG vehicle. Even a modest weekend outing in western North Dakota requires a bit of gear. And something that requires gear requires the proper vehicle to haul that gear. The last time I did something recreational like this was with Adventure Science, the 100 Miles of Wild: North Dakota Badlands Transect. In this 2013 outing, I helped the team with supply and gear. It was during the late winter or early spring. With the snow thawing, it turned the badlands silt into super slick mud during the day and afternoons. Then, at night, it would refreeze. And the process would repeat itself. It’s been doing this for a long time. Which, when thinking about it, makes the Mandan description applied to this place all the more fitting. It’s the first week of August, though, so we don’t need to concern ourselves with the thaw and slick mud. I checked the weather forecast, and it said no rain too.
I touched base with a friend who has a huge pick up truck (but small by Bakken Oilfield standards). He said go ahead and use it over the weekend. So this evening my wife and I picked it up and drove it over to Tayo’s to load most of his gear. It’s now parked. And I’m taking this blogging break from laying out my own gear. I still have to toss a couple changes of cloths into a backpack.
I want to continue narrating this and uploading it eventually to this blog. I won’t be hooked up to internet. So I’ll type out updates on Microsoft Word and later upload them. That’s the ambition. It’ll provide Tayo and I with a bit of future history and memory. Tayo will be way too focused on the ride. So again, this little log will be quite a bit of fun.
Here’s a quick post, something that rattled though my brain while reading Stanford University’s advancements in Alzheimer’s disease studies. I know all of us have watched Alzheimer’s disease take a close relative or friend from us, and it may have been all the more distressful because your relative or friend is taken from you even before mortality sets in: we literally watch someone’s memory die before they die. This is super-depressing. When Alzheimer’s destroys the memory banks, it destroys our ability to remember what we did, and this means we forget who we were. If we don’t know who we were, or we don’t know our history and heritage, then we do not know who we are. Again, this is troubling for infinite reasons.
Certainly there is more to be said on this, but I’m just sending a flag into the air on it here. Thanks Stanford University, and the research and development and knowledge-sharing that goes with it throughout the global, university world. Let’s all get together on this and have more public discussions. I’d like to see a panel of Alzheimer’s researchers and professional historians explore why this research is so important. I’ll add it to my bucket list.
Just this evening I chatted a bit with Paul, or who I call dad. We found ourselves reflecting a bit, at least why his grandfather (my great grandpa Barth) left railroad work in Cleveland, Ohio to take up a homestead claim just outside of Braddock, North Dakota. This is how one line of our family history goes, at least one of the general narratives.
After a bit of chatting my dad, knowing I am a bit of a bibliophile, produced two books from his late mother’s (my late grandmother’s) library. One of these books was The Joy of Words, published in 1960 by the J.G. Ferguson Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois. I started flipping through the table of contents and pages, and I arrived at the section called “Historic.” Here, in the opening, on page one hundred eleven, it begins with a quote that seemed to capture the evening conversation I had with my dad:
“The heritage of the past is the seed that brings forth the harvest of the future.”
I thought I’d float that quote our there, at least since it resonated with me. Perhaps someone else might be able to grab hold of it and use it too.
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.
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.
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.
It’s closing in on 7:28AM as I type, and I thought I’d do a quick recap of this last week. Just yesterday evening on my walk home from NDSU campus, I was thinking how much more exciting blog posts on exploding trains are in contrast to posts about napping. Yet when it comes down to it, and if I’d have a choice, I’d rather read up on nap studies than exploding trains, since the former — naps — are much more likely to affect and influence a larger cross-section of society than, say, oil trains that explode near Casselton, North Dakota. Both are important. But I tend to enjoy figuring out how to find and make the otherwise mundane and boring (naps, or even a German-Russian homestead) interesting than focusing on the also important mushroom clouds rising up out of the northern Great Plains winter prairiescape.
Anyhow, I just confirmed a couple lecture-talks this semester at universities within the region, and these talks will build off published research on, broadly speaking, how and why the US-Dakota Wars have been remembered for the last 150 years in the Dakotas and Minnesota. I’m perpetually fascinated by this topic of memory. I suppose one reason is that by looking at how and why groups remember an event is just as informative as the actual event itself. And maybe even more. By studying these groups, we’re able to unpack the cultural, social and political set of ethos that various memory groups brought to bear on the interpretation of historical events.
These groups, in turn, are responsible for advancing the general topics in history that we know today. There is, for another example, the world historical event of the Second World War. But there are also the memory groups — in this case led by Tom Brokaw (also from South Dakota), Tom Hanks, and the late Stephen Ambrose — who study, popularize, and consider America’s involvement in the Second World War. These memory groups have reasons for studying what they study, and I want know the philosophy and technics behind it — the why and the how.
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.
Today 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.
Yesterday I was one of the 17 participants in a seminar-workshop hosted by the University of Otago’s Center for Research on Colonial Culture, this directed and led by Tony Ballantyne, with discussion also led by Maya Jasanoff. The day started with short introductions, and I found that I was only one of two from North America, the rest consisting of two highly trained squads of sharp New Zealand and Pacific Island historians. I assured one New Zealander/Kiwi that North Dakota and New Zealand are similar in that when someone visits either North Dakota or New Zealand, they aren’t just stopping in and on their way to a final destination. It makes a person living in either place feel important when distant company shows up. The Kiwis decided that was true, and we moved on to other topics.
One of those topics concerned different ways to write or consider writing history, and in a global historical context. I mentioned something about that yesterday, but it was even more important to hear what others thought and bounce around ideas. My research trajectory is concerned with how the US-Dakota wars have been officially and un-officially remembered for the last 151 years. I was particularly drawn toward scholars who look at how indigenes have acted and managed the 18th and 19th imperial struggles in in this neck of the world.
A section of the University of Otago campus.
Louise Mataia, for example, is looking at how Samoans carved out an identity in the overlapping worlds of American and British “controlled” Samoa. This invariably brings up the issue of how European and Euro-American powers from the Atlantic World attempted to map and impose imperial interpretations on the Pacific islands. There are boots-on-the-ground Samoans, and then there are map-makers in some board room in London and Washington, DC who claim, with their maps, that they know what’s going on a half-world away. This conversation invariably leads to the name Benedict Anderson, and it’ll be great to keep up with Louise to see which directions her dissertation takes.
Memory, or what we have remembered, is often about politics and power, and figuring out why we have remembered stuff today requires us to chart why and how it was remembered yesterday, from one generation to the next. This in turn not only invites scholars to consider what historical maps might tell us about the past, but also how local museums and the history of theatre have informed, or attempted to inform, various audiences: before the invention of radio and television, ideas were often transmitted via theatre and live performance, this through plays and opera.
I better charge off to this morning’s conference, so before I end this blog post, I’ll have you know that Molly and Matthew are tracking down bungie jumping, and they mentioned something about a scenic jet boat tour. The photos below are from our scenic drive yesterday evening out to an albatross breeding sanctuary.
An Albatross Sanctuary just outside of Dunedin, New Zealand.
Before heading off to the National Archives, I thought I’d do a quick post on my personal perceptions of being in Washington, DC this morning. I’m looking out over Franklin Square about the corner of 14th and K Street. As I glanced at the brightening cityscape from the rising sun about 15 or 20 minutes ago, it reminded me of years ago, sitting in my parents’ livingroom in the mornings, usually my dad and I, watching and listening to the early morning C-SPAN Washington Journal, this from Bismarck, North Dakota. Some cereal or oatmeal eating would be going on, as well as orange juice and coffee drinking. On occasion the C-SPAN commentator would remark on the rising sun. So this is the view I have this morning, not from the television (before flat screens) on the northern Great Plains, but from DC itself. There is the reality of being in Washington, DC, and then there is the idea of Washington, DC from afar.
A morning view of Franklin Square in Washington, DC, from August 21, 2013.
Where some see a prairie-scape of oblivion, others see a culinary buffet. Just last night I was cruising around in some old digital photos on the desktop, and I came across a couple shots of prairie turnips. I photographed them a couple years ago in the kitchen of a downtown Bismarck apartment I used to live in (the historic Mason Building), I think around 2008 or 2009.
During those summers, Tim Mentz, Jr., of Standing Rock, showed me on the northern Great Plains how to identify the prairie turnip. You can read the landscape for prairie turnips in July. This is when the vegetation sprouts above ground, making them visible. They also grow in certain areas on a hill (it may or may not have something to do with the ph levels of the soil — I’m in the humanities, folks). This, of course, leads to the idea that if you have two different people look at the same landscape, they will see it in a variety of different ways. I like listening to what others have to say about the landscape. Tim Mentz, Jr. always had my ear. We would often joke, too — when a bull was once staring at us and uprooting the topsoil with his front hoof, I asked Tim, “What does that mean?” Tim responded with, “That means we give him distance.”
It is customary to braid the turnips by the root ends, and then hang them to dry. Just like mushrooms (and other dried goods), they will reconstitute in liquid or water. I made turnip soup out of this batch.
With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.