Growing up North Dakotan

This Sunday I will be in Fargo participating in a panel discussion for the Why Radio Show.

The subject?

Growing up North Dakotan.

I will take a seat next to individuals who have a handle on their identities, who may have wandered, explored their world and asked the questions that need to be asked. And one of those questions is “What does it really mean to be North Dakotan?”

As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road, I have been asked this question in many forms. It’s like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night.

How do you answer it?

Not everyone can speak about it. Not everyone can explain.

Not everyone needs to.

I was talking to my good friend  on the phone yesterday afternoon. As I stood right in the middle of our home state she was in Oregon, a place on the map she picked with her husband. She had been there for nearly three months after years of college and graduate school they were looking for adventure, new opportunities, valuable experience before they settled into their lives. She is loving the ocean and the coffee shops and the eclectic culture. She loves the rain and the flowers and the new scenery and the people.

But you know what she said to me between breaths about her plans and her new apartment and the photography show she is putting together?

She is missing something.

“I miss that prairie. I want to lay in my grass and smell my lilacs and plant my garden and breathe in that sky. I miss my home.”


Her home.

Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard?

Who tends their grandmother’s garden, brings in the baby calves into the basement in the dead of a blizzard? Who works the teller line and serves your morning coffee? Who has owned the Implement Dealership for years?

And who roams all over the world for years on end, traveling over seas to live and work in foreign languages, who are leaders of cities and  major corporations? Who serves in the military,  climbs mountains and rafts raging rivers only to find themselves pulled back again, to be haunted by the memories of sunsets and 4th of July Celebrations no matter how how far they have traveled or how long they’ve been gone.

Who is North Dakota?

We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and  faces black with dirt after a hot August day.

Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s truck, twelve years old behind the steering wheel.

We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those backroads at night, on front porches, in the backseats of cars and under a blanket shared in the stands at a football game.

We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve.

The barnyard light.

We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, jello with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.

We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the stoplight in town.

High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same…knowing that they need to change.

Number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written.

Snake bitten.

We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.

Chokecherry jam, misquote bites, country fairs, one station on the radio, too young for our first beer, FFA and 4-H steers. Too young to leave here.

We are race car tracks and power lines, hockey rinks and barbed fence wire.

Drilling rigs and endless fields of wheat…September heat.

We are bicycle tires in the middle of Main Street, fireworks in May, popsicles and swimming pools and a stop at the Tastee Freeze please. Rodeos and American Legion, football heroes, lead singers in the band, the ferris wheel in town.

Pow wows, three legged races, familiar faces, dances in the street.

Fishing in the creek.

We are “Pete’s kid,” “Edie’s granddaughter,” and  “Your mother wants you home right away!”

We are pushed to go and pulled to stay, we are leaving this place as soon as we’re grown.

And we are the sky we can’t explain, predictably unpredictable, colorful and full of rage and gentle hope that it’s all ok.

We’re the wind, relentless.

The snow, endless.

Sharp and hard and steadfast and certain like the winter and the change in weather.

We are the dirt under our nails, our wind tangled hair, the cattails and bluebells and big white tail deer.

We are all of these things that make up a home, but home is not ours to take.

It is in us and we have been claimed.

Join me for:

“Growing Up North Dakotan”

A panel discussion featuring Joshua Boschee, Kathryn Joyce, Jessie Veeder Scofield, and others. Moderated by WHY? host Jack Russell Weinstein

Prairie Public Television Studio
5-7 pm
207 5th Street North
Fargo, ND
Facebook Event 

The event is free. Come be a part of the audience, ask questions, make comments, and engage philosophically with this most important issue.

If you can’t be in Fargo, please share with me here how North Dakota has claimed you.