NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
November 2, 2000
Iíve been reading a new history of Australia by David Day entitled Claiming a Continent. Itís a book for our times, as it brings race relations--the history of the troubled relationships between Aborigines and Europeans--to the fore. In many ways it follows up on Geoffrey Blaineyís great book of about twenty years ago, Triumph of the Nomads. (As you may know from watching the Olympics, Aboriginal issues and reconciliation have become matters of high public concern in Australia only within the past few years.)
A grimly humorous part of such books is the story of starvation by European explorers in the great interior deserts of Australia. Here in America weíre preparing grand celebrations for the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery. Would we be celebrating if the expedition had failed, and Lewis and Clark had perished in the wilderness? Hardly--but Australians, perversely, love to tell the stories of starving travelers and desiccated corpses in the desert.
The funny part of such stories, as writers like Blainey and Day point out, is that those same deserts where the white guys starved, Aborigines had traversed for thousands of years, eating well the whole way. If youíre native to the country, it is not barren to you.
I was thinking along these lines last week, as in the course of keeping lecture dates, I traveled the diagonal length of North Dakota. People from other parts of the country, Iím sure you know, dread driving the plains. Truth be told, many plains folk see nothing of interest in the landscape. William Stafford wrote, "Once you cross a land like that, you own your face more."
A hand-painted sign on the north side of Alexander, North Dakota, says, "Welcome to Americaís Outback." I think that sign is supposed to encourage us to think of the country as a place of romance. More revealing of our in-grown attitudes, though, are the many mammoth billboards for tourist attractions, girly bars, chain restaurants, and yes, Cabelaís, that line up along our interstates. Why do we permit such garish obstructions when other states do not? Because we donít think there is anything of interest in the Great Plains landscape, nothing to be obscured or spoiled by the billboards.
I donít know about you, but I find something of interest wherever I go. Iím still on the prowl for the best knoepfla soup in the land (watch this space for a report on Friedtís Family Restaurant of Mandan). Every country locker has its sausage specialties, every bakery its ethnic items (like those fold-over kolaches in Lidgerwood). And of course, thereís the never-ending, ever-fascinating search for the perfect bar and grill, where the hamburgers are formed by human hands and grilled with onions, the French fries are made from potatoes, the beer is cold, the barmaid is seasoned and irreverent, and the stories are layered.
Like Lewis on the upper Missouri, I am prepared to collect specimens from the field. My red kit bag contains a digital camera to immortalize all those people and buildings I wish would last forever; a digital recorder to capture their voices and make notes; a calculator, a tape measure, binoculars, a magnifying glass, and whatever else I need to take the measure of things; and a GPS unit so I can find them again next time.
Somebody needs to do this. Who knows how long the WBFA (Western Bohemian Fraternal Association) hall is going to stand in Morton County? Itís in an isolated location and may never find community use again. At least it is of record that it stood at N46į38.731', W101į18.537', and my photographs show its features and condition exactly as they were on 28 October 2000. They also document every Monday-morning quarterback who sat in the coffee klatch at the Chuck Wagon of Watford City on 20 October 2000.
If I bring home a pike or a ringneck in the ice chest (or, as in the most recent case, a whole chest full), thatís extra.
Source: Tom Isern, (701) 799-2942
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865
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