Left to right, Molly, Matthew, and Mira McLain. The frog is in the middle.
This last weekend, the McLain family (Molly, her sister and brother) and the rest of us near and within the region of Valley City, North Dakota, laid the ashes of Harley McLain to rest next to his wife, Julie. It got me thinking in a number of directions, about history, or why I got into the profession in the first place. This includes how studying memory and remembrance is monumentally important to us as individuals, and as a civilization, and as the broader human continuum. Historians are trained to see the world through the eyes of others (or to see the world from our eyes through the eyes of others, which is two lenses before we arrive at the event). So while at the funeral, I thought about what others might have been thinking, and how their relationship with Harley was much different than mine (Harley and I only had the chance to know one another for less than 2 years). So I guess I’ll leave it open-ended at that, for now. Except for one more point.
Molly McLain, my fiancee and Harley’s oldest daughter, noted this on her social media page, with picture, shortly after the funeral:
We buried our dad’s ashes next to our mom today, and as we all placed him in the ground, we found there was a frog in the hole looking up at us. It seems our dad is still playing little tricks on us. RIP and long live your memory Harley McLain.
Memory is the historian’s business. We capture and archive memories and experience so that they can be revisited and explored in infinite ways.
A photo of Tumbleweed from yesterday. I thought I’d include a photo of this sweet nice dog, since almost everyone likes looking at photos of cats and dogs on the internet. Tumbleweed is Harley’s faithful friend.
Several things have been happening in the last week, so I thought I’d jot them down here.
1) Our dear friend Harley passed away, and funeral services will be held tomorrow (02/15/2014), Saturday at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Valley City, Barnes County, North Dakota. If you’re in the area we hope to see you there. Also, we know Harley cared deeply about farming. He also received an English degree back in the day from Jamestown University. It got me thinking about how we need more farmers with English or Humanities degrees in this country, and on this planet. I can elaborate later.
2) Minot State University invited me to give a talk on February 24, a Monday, on institutional memory and how that has shaped why and how we know what we know today about the US-Dakota Wars in North Dakota, with allusions of course to Minnesota and South Dakota. The talk will be held in the Aleshire Theatre starting at 7:00PM. I’ll speak at length for a while, showing slides of my established and latest research and such. There will also be a give-and-take session, since the idea behind being informed is to always allow oneself to be informed.
3) Dickinson State University also invited me to give a talk, and that will take place on March 7th, Friday afternoon. Specifics on that are still being decided on. So more on that later.
4) The sun is coming up on another cold winter day on the northern Great Plains. And that feels good.
In 2004, the North Dakota Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson, Inc., and Industrial Builders, Inc. (Fargo), all collaborated to rehabilitate and rebuild to almost complete historic specs the historic 1925 concrete rainbow bridge in Valley City, North Dakota. I took a panoramic photo of it and wanted to share it. So here you go.
A November 14, 2013 photo of the Rainbow Bridge in Valley City, North Dakota.
The sun is just starting to set and I’m sitting in the back yard of a residence in Valley City, North Dakota, and thinking that it is worthwhile to both upload a pic of and put some thoughts down on the material culture in front of me. I was thinking this because archaeologists often come across assemblages that have either no voice, or they consciously or unconsciously ascribe a voice to the assemblage through the construction of typologies and interpretations. Archaeologists will find themselves thinking, “I seriously would like to have a conversation with the individual who created this Mandan-Hidatsa pot sherd,” or “If I could only chat with the person who made this Scythian arrowhead…” To counter that, at least in the here and now, I’m going to quickly expand on the domestic assemblage that goes hand in hand with a Saturday evening grill on the northern steppe of North America in the first week of July, 2013.
A contemporary archaeological domestic assemblage from the evening of July 6, 2013, Valley City, North Dakota.
Big Picture: This residence is, today, on that proverbial edge of town, a kind of gateway between the rustic countryside and the city or village. To borrow from Raymond Williams, the countryside has been characterized as representing purity and a re-engagement with the wilderness and also backwardness and idiocy (from Virgil, Thoreau and Muir to the Industrial and Post-Industrial H.L. Mencken and beyond). The city as well has been represented as cosmopolitan, where citizens of the world unite to exchange ideas and culture and conversation. Cities also are known to be bastions of corruption and vice. This is the kind of intellectual borderlands where I sit at tonight.
Immediate: with what archaeologists call a “domestic assemblage,” to my right is an aim-and-flame; a can of Miller High Life (the new hipster beer that my friend Troy Reisenauer said may be poised to usurp the hipster Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, if not already); a small bowl of apple wood chips soaking in water; a large coffee cup with a small amount of shucked peas from the Valley City farmer’s market; an iPhone and MacBook Pro, presumably made somewhere in a factory in East Asia by a team of workers who have un-imaginable hours to work; a crumpled up paper bag; and tongs to work the coals on the fire. Music playing is Bruce Springstean, “Mansion on a Hill” from the Nebraska album (appropriate for the Great Plains for sure).
Background: center-right is a make-shift grill (one of those portable backyard firepits, this also made in some East Asian factory by workers with un-imaginable hours); a slender grate; and a bag of Our Family hardwood lump charcoal. I don’t have a proper charcoal grill here (at my girlfriend’s sister’s place), so I just started using the firepit. It has worked quite well.
Far background: behind that (even more blurred) is a pre-WWII home shrouded in modern siding and asphalt shingle with aluminum downspouts, a lawnmower, a plastic gas can (a petroleum product that contains petroleum), a quasi-rusted stool and chair, an A/C unit (which is humming), and toward the back of the house is the beginning of the sparse tree line that separates the country from the city (as mentioned at the outset of this blog).
I better get after putting the steaks on the grill, as these coals are primed and ready. In any case, note how much stuff in this assemblage is industry, factory-made, and whether or not it originates from East Asia or North America (or beyond). The only thing that is produced locally (that I can think of) are the peas I’m shucking, the steaks from Valley Meats I’m readying to put on the grill, and this blog entry. The center of the globe’s gravity continues moving from the Atlantic to the Pacific World, this whether we know it or not. Happy evening to you all. Here is that Springsteen song:
Getting pickled with jars of local farmer’s market pickled vegetables.
A culinary note: the season of the pickle is here, well established, this on the eve of July 1, 2013. It’s not just a cucumber, folks. This jar was picked up from Becky at the Valley City Farmer’s Market in downtown Valley City, North Dakota. In the past the family has locally raised and sold Christmas/jultid trees, and today they pickle vegetables.
This jar includes chili peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, carrots, and sturdy dill sprigs. The recommendation is that it be paired and digested with a good dose of Summit Ale. I have to go put the wild rice brats and salmon on the grill now. The onion and garlic saute is already happening (with butter and a shot of course ground mustard). Happy Sunday evening. July, here we come, glorious farmer’s markets and all.
A couple days ago I snapped some photos and a video short in Chautauqua Park, Valley City, North Dakota. While looking at the High Line railroad bridge (built in the first decade of the 20th century), I was kind of thinking about how elder Euro-American frontiersmen (or frontierspeople? — what the heck is the non-gender form of frontiersmen?) might have been thinking about this and railroads around the turn of the 19th century, especially as younger industrial laborers swarmed into the area.
The idea of history is to understand understanding, or understand how others understood their world. To apply my historical sense of place, a frontiersman, along with Natives in the area, would have looked at this industrial expanse of railroad as something out of place; or as a way to populate the Great Plains and American West with non-Natives; or as a new industrial icon supplanting a time and place that had passed (Fred Turner rambled on about this at great length in Chicago in 1893).
A historic photo of the construction of the High Line. Photo from Digital Horizon’s, NDSU Institute for Regional Studies.
Today, though, there are many that say Valley City wouldn’t be Valley City sans the High-Line bridge. History is both complex and universal that way: the sensibilities of younger generations will supplant those of the older generations — both might presume or assume that the way they grew up and the time they lived in was and always had been. (this is often captured in the phrase, “Things just aren’t like they used to be…”)
If you overnight, and it’s a pleasant enough evening to have the windows open (or even closed), you’ll be woken up by the thumping cha-chunk, cha-chunk of today’s diesel locomotives playing the Hi-Line bridge like an instrument. I find the noise soothing.
Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter salvaged from someone’s trash pile.
It is the weekend and projects are happening: plans have been set in motion to slow-smoke some baby back ribs, and Molly is out front of her sister’s Valley City home, toiling away at a mosaic project. I’ve busied myself with reading James Belich, The Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, The British, and the New Zealand Wars (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986 & 1989), but have set it down to do a bit of immediate chores.
So while taking the trash out from the kitchen to the dumpster, I passed by Molly’s ongoing mosaic project. Then I started thinking about how Molly’s mosaic project today reminded me of the Late Roman mosaics I saw a year ago in the historic archaeological village of Kourion, Cyprus. Then I started thinking about how historians and archaeologists — depending on what cultural settings they were born into, and depending on what previous experiences they have had — bring individual and disparate meanings to the stuff they come across. (This may be getting a bit too self-absorbed, so if you’ve noticed it, and it offends you, please stop reading here if you already haven’t. I will not take offense. But it is a line of thinking with universal application.)
So without slamming out any more dialog (we are packing up and readying to go, which is timely to end this short entry), I will upload a couple pictures I snapped a year ago in Kourion, and a couple pictures from today in Valley City. Taking massive leaps through space and time, this is what I call a global and local longue durée of mosaic history, from Kourion, the Roman Empire, to Valley City, North Dakota.
Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.
A mosaic from a Roman gladiator’s home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.
Sabir’s in Valley City, North Dakota, is owned and operated by a Kurdish family. It is an excellent place, just off I-94 (by the AmericInn motel exit). On occasions such as New Years Eve, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, a Kurdish-Levantine cuisine is rolled out, and the salads look like this:
After finishing the main course (we had seafood-stuff shrimp and calgary-seasoned ribeye), a dessert cart is rolled around so a person can gorge on sweets that look like this: