August 21, 2011

Small State of People- Large of Land and Ancestry-Lori L. Orser's North Dakota

I’m told by people from other states that North Dakota is a “fly-over” state, as opposed to a destination state. People fly over, looking down at fields and pastures, or drive across the state on I-94 at the posted 75 mph, not really bothering to look. Nobody comes to North Dakota, unless they’re coming home. And you know what? That’s all right with me. We North Dakotans like our prairie home pretty much just the way it is.

North Dakota is my home; I was born and raised here, got my BA at the University of North Dakota, and reluctantly left to get an MA in Lawrence, Kansas (where my “accent” was laughed at by all the other linguistics students. Apparently I sound more like Lawrence WELK, than Lawrence KANSAS). Actually North Dakota has two major accents: Norwegian, and “German from Russia” (not to be confused with German from Germany). We also have a small group of Icelanders, and in the west, a group of Ukrainians. Their architecture, traditional religions, and food add a, dare I say cosmopolitan?, touch to the state. After a move to Nevada, where I stayed for 12 unforgettable years, with entirely new landscapes and a lot of life’s ups and downs, until I decided it was time to go home. 
People who read about our winters here ask how anyone in their right mind would want to live in a state that has snow from October to April (in good years). My answer is, it’s home, and that’s what most North Dakotans say. I could list statistics like most of the durum wheat in the world comes from North Dakota (that Italian pasta you’re eating? Made from ND wheat!); how we have more four-year colleges (and graduates) per capita than any other state; how our state is always in the top five safest states lists, usually at the top. But that’s not why I love my state.  I could never live in a bustling city. I like clean air, and elbow room. I like people saying “hello” or “good morning” when they pass you on the street, even if they don’t know your name. I like knowing all my neighbors, and who to call when I have any problems. I’ve heard of “Minnesota Nice,” but I think “North Dakota Nice” is nicer (OK, I’m biased).
 
I’ve also heard that we have no scenery, and I’m reminded of a joke. Ole and Lena went to Colorado (Ole and Lena figure in most North Dakota jokes, just as they do in Minnesota, but outs are Norwegian and theirs are mostly Swedish), and when they returned, Sven asked them what they thought about the scenery. “I don’t know,” said Ole. “You couldn’t really see it with all dem mountains in da way!”

The plains have a subtle beauty all their own. In late spring, when the grass moves with the wind, you can see why settlers called their wagons “prairie schooners;” the grass does move with a current like the sea. Even the National Forest here is a National Grassland. When flax is in bloom, there appear to be beautiful blue lakes, albeit oddly square, across the state. In the prairie pot-hole regions of central North Dakota, the wetlands, you’ll find teeming wildlife, including waterfowl of all kinds, and small animals you might not even see unless you get out early and stay very quiet. Beavers, mink, and other small former victims of trappers share the land with deer and antelope, not to mention a garden of wild flowers, including orchids like yellow ladyslipper, and a rainbow of penstemon varieties. Turtle Mountain, a glacial remnant in north central North Dakota, rises like a fortress over the prairie, and is home to the only state forest in the state, as well as one of the four reservations located here. 
West of the Missouri, there are the Missouri breaks, an area of stream-filled ravines and buttes,  green in the spring, and golden by late summer. Keep going west and you’ll reach the badlands, a geologist’s dream of stratigraphy exposed by thousands of years of winds. There you’ll find bison – both “domesticated” (ha! Like you can domesticate a buffalo!) -- and running wild in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Mule deer and antelope thrive, despite predation from mountain lions. The bighorn sheep are hard to spot because they’re good at hiding, and can nimbly hop up the side of a butte that no human would try to climb. Prairie chickens, pheasants, wild turkeys, ruff grouse, and other birds dot not just the west, but the entire state. Watching this land change with the seasons fills my heart.  And believe me, you haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve seen a prairie sunset. 
My writing reflects my home, I hope. We are a small state in terms of people, but a large state in terms of land, ancestry, micro-environments, history, and myth. I try to incorporate landscape and myth in all my work. My first book, Spooky Creepy North Dakota is a collection of ghost stories, mysteries, and myth and legend from across this state. My fiction in progress attempts to include the land and the weather as characters, or at the very least, a constant presence throughout the book. And a good dose of nice, too.

Lori offers an autographed copy of Spooky Creepy North Dakota to one lucky person to comment here during her week. 

18 comments:

skystne said...

Hey Lori, what a wonderful description of your home state. It sure makes me want to visit. I've never seen a true prairie sunset and I bet it's spectacular. Thank you for your wonderful piece on your state.

Cat Pleska said...

I can't wait till you read my post, Lori. Ahhh, love of land. We have that in common (I'm sixth generation West Virginian). Before my mother passed away, she visited ND and was enchanted, particularly by the Badlands. You could feel a strong spirit there, she said. She meant the people who were lucky enough to be born in ND, with all its diversity. Yes, that's right. My mother told me of the diversity and urged me to visit. I will, I promised her, and myself.

Nora said...

Hi Lori, Spooky Creek, what a great name. I love legends and ghost stories. And you're right about driving through North Dakota. My dh and I drove through many many years ago, but I still remember the look and feel of North Dakota and haven't forgotten it. It was different in a good way. There aren't many places like that. Best of luck with your writing.

Debbie Kump said...

Loved your post, Lori, especially the part about 8 months of snow! (And who said it's winter for only half of the year?!) You paint a beautiful picture of your state, one I have driven through many times on my way home to neighboring Minnesota. Wishing you lots of success with your writing!

Lauri said...

Lovely post! I've been to ND (have an uncle and family in Jamestown) and do agree it has some spectacular scenery!

Debbie Kump said...

Oops! Sorry, Lori...guess I miscounted. (We had snow May 1st & 2nd this year, making it 8 consecutive months with white on the ground. Since we always get your weather, I figured you did, too!) Thanks again for sharing your post :)

Fran Shaff said...

Lori, Lovely post. ND is truly beautiful. I've been there a number of times.

Best wishes from your neighbor to the south--South Dakota, that is. :-)

Fran Shaff
http://sites.google.com/site/shaff

JackieW said...

I learned more about your state than I think I've heard in ages...I grew up in Arizona and seems like it's always in the news...I say to my sister who still lives there..."Why can't North Dakota or Kansas be in the news, you never hear about those states...doesn't anything ever go on there?" Would love to read more about your home state. Thanks for the info.
JFWisherd(at)aol(dot)com

Fran Orenstein said...

Thank you for that lovely blog on ND. I think it's only fitting that buffalo should roam free through T. Roosevelt park, since he unwittingly tried his best to wipe them out for sport. Good luck with your writing.

Debby said...

Your feelings for you state are expressed so wonderfully. I have only been through ND. I would love to spend more time there.
debby236 at gmail dot com

Diane Scott Lewis said...

Lori, loved your description of ND. It's one of the few states in the US that I haven't visited, but as soon as my husband retires we plan to scoot on up there and see it all.
Beautiful pictures, I'm even more interested in visiting.

Pauline B Jones said...

So much I did not know about North Dakota! Thanks for a fun and informative post. :-)

jrlindermuth said...

Having lived most of my life surrounded by mountains I find it difficult to linger long in any place where they aren't blocking the view. Still, you offer plenty of incentive for a visit to your state--though that long, long winter definitely isn't one of them.

Heidiwriter said...

Lori, we were once "neighbors," as I grew up in eastern Montana--very similar in many ways to ND! Great article. Loved the Ole & Lena joke. Good luck with your writing!
Heidi
http://www.heidimthomas.com

Linda Yezak said...

Lori, you sold me when you mentioned the different cultures that make up your state's heritage. I'm a culture junkie. I'd love to visit!

Thanks for the wonderful article!

Velda Brotherton said...

What a wonderful morning tour of you great state of North Dakota. We too have driven through and were amazed at the distances. Thanks for sharing.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

Lori, I was in ND this past June, driving from the Montana line to Bismarck and I loved it! It was peaceful, green "cowboy country" that part of it. I'll return if I ever get a chance, for more of ND.

Lori Orser said...

Thanks to all who left comments. I did my best to express the beauty of my state's land, and the diversity and welcoming spirit of its people. Come by anytime! Winter will test you, but spring (which may not come until June...) is worth the wait! And don't miss the Pembina Gorge in the north - one of the longest un-dammed stretch of water in the country!