Monday, March 15, 2010

Quick trip to NoDak

Anyone who knows me also knows full well my deep feelings for the state of North Dakota. For one thing, it gave me (and the world) Mama Iva (and many cousins that I love) but also because it is stark and beautiful remains a mystery for the majority of Americans.

Then there's the space. NoDak has one of the lowest population densities in the nation with just 9.3 people per square mile. There is so much parking, a San Franciscan's head might just explode with possibilities.

In comparison, Colorado has 46.9 people per square mile and California has 234.4. Let's put it this way, when you use your turn signal in NoDak, you end up feeling like an idiot - the chances of anyone actually being behind you are quite slim.

To honor the Paton family patriarch (Lawson Paton will get his own post), Mama Iva and I made a run for the Canadian border, to Pembina County, where all the family gathered. Though it was just 3 days/nights, it was enough to remind me to go back in September.

It wasn't freezing, maybe mid-30s, and no wind but there was still plenty of snow on the ground. During our stay a persistent dense fog hung in the air which created this unearthly, heavenly feel - ideal for a funeral, really.

In places where the snow did melt, it revealed coal black earth so fertile, it made me want to stuff some in my suitcase to replace our dry, sandy soil in Colorado. JEALOUS.

Amidst all our visiting, Mom and I swung into Neche, the tiny town (Pop. 437) where she was born. Picture it: February, 1933. My Grandma Myrtle, fully in labor, loaded herself into a horse-drawn sleigh and traveled to Aunt Edna's house, several miles away, to give birth. NoDak people do not flinch at such stories, as they are common. These people are true grit, quietly defined.

After some cousin-confirmations, we finally located the right house. I made her get out and stand in front, even though she no longer recognized the house. Even though my mother describes her childhood as lonely (she was an only child), I'm still quite envious that she rode her Shetland pony, Betsy, to school every day until she started attending school in Long Beach, about age 15. Can you imagine?

Every town worth its salt in NoDak has massive grain elevators, the skyscrapers of the prairie. (Water towers too.) The elevators also serve as meeting spots, like giant water coolers for farmers. In fact, Brent (the man who farms our land) first heard about Lawson's passing while waiting to unload some wheat at the elevator and texted me right away with the news, thus making me the new "source" for information - a new position!

I'm so glad we made the effort and endured the travel. North Dakota is like going to the moon - you always get the sense that you are somewhere the modern world and heaven. I can't wait to go back.


fyrchk said...

This will probably make you laugh, but my grandparents are farmers and I remember how much I used to love going with my Grandpa to the grain elevators. He used to get me a Coke (in the glass bottle!) and all of his friends would talk to me like I was there doing business right along with him.

Good memories!

ClizBiz said...

What a beautiful memory! I'd never heard that story. Grandpas and grain elevators - that's the makings for a great tear-jerking Coke commercial there.

Heidi's heart said...

My mother was a farm girl from Minnesota. I remember so fondly going to visit relatives on the farm. And, yes, even in the tiniest towns, the grain elevator was the hub.