For many years I have loved to take drives out into rural North Dakota, my home state. Fortunately for me, United Blood Services needs volunteer drivers to transport blood products from town to town. They called me today, to make a 185-mile round trip through the snowy landscape under a leaden afternoon sky. While there is nothing nicer than a sunny day nearly anywhere (come to ND in June!), I prefer to make long drives under cloud cover or in the dark.
We are having a reprieve, after sub-zero temperatures last week, several inches of snow since then, and the upcoming stormy weather that is forecast. Skimming down the interstate at the posted 75 mph, I was still able to do a little of the proverbial ‘smelling of roses’ as I drove along. And as usual, I couldn’t keep my mind from wondering how those early pioneers to the area left known civilization for this harsh climate to survive on our northern prairies.
They are only a couple generations back, those hardy souls who inhabited the land with only a sod house or shanty for protection. Some, understandably, couldn’t take it and left. But enough people from all walks of life, poor immigrants to French aristocrats, answered the singular lure of the vast plains and settled in their fashion these empty but haunting lands.
As I drove by, I gazed upon several gray old abandoned farms visible from the interstate and wondered about the lives that were led there. I took in the snowy, sweeping hills and endless gullies bisected by modern highway and wished I could stop time. I imagined I could wander into the bowls of land out of sight from any human eyes, and hear nothing but the wind stirring our long prairie grasses.
Romantic? Yes, but not realistic. I wonder if I, who prefer to hide out the heat waves of July and August in air-conditioned comfort, would have been one to stay and fight to make a home or to leave on the next train back east. Mosquitoes come after me as if I have a thousand red bull’s eyes painted on my skin.
Give me jacket weather, I always say, in temps of 25 to 65, and I am comfortable.
One more word about today’s drive. As I climbed a gradual hill near the exit to Lefor, my eyes rested on the magnificent Geese in Flight metal sculpture that contrasted the gray sky and brought a big smile to my face. Could my immigrant ancestors ever have guessed one of their farmer-descendants would discover the creativity to produce giant works of art out of scrap metal, honoring the poetry of nature and nature’s God? Cousin Gary, I’m proud of you.