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Sauerkraut Triangle, North Dakota: Prairie Places Festival (Day 2)

June 6, 2012

Sunday, May 20, 2012: Napoleon, Wishek, Ashley, and Lehr, ND

By my second day in North Dakota, I had a realization, obvious to probably everyone but me, that this is an important time for historic preservation in North Dakota. The oil boom is bringing a kind of prosperity to small towns in western North Dakota, like Williston, and at the same time, “new roads, pipelines, and drill sites are slicing the prairie” (see “Growing Pains: Scenes from the North Dakota Drilling Boom” in onearth magazine, May 21, 2012. [Also see “Bad News for the Badlands,” a New York Times article that came out the day after I published this post]). Beyond the strain of a population boom, new wealth, and environmental pressures, it occurred to me that cultural and historical treasures are threatened in the stampede. This makes the work of Preservation North Dakota even more critical, and worthy of support (donate here).

Day 2 Highlights

Dinosaurs on the Prairie. I woke up early enough to be able to visit Dinosaurs on the Prairie, a collection of old threshing machines arrayed in a parade up a hillside about 4 miles or so out of Napoleon. Birds galore sang in the fields all around as I stood there contemplating the miles and miles of prairie those machines and their drivers had traversed over the many years of their working lives. It was peaceful and awe-inspiring in that very solitary, almost desolate, way.

Dinosaurs on the Prairie – outside Napoleon, ND

Arriving back in Wishek for the morning’s events, Janet Wolff of Wishek Public Schools taught us to sing local German hymns, fueled by a breakfast of tasty doughnuts. Afterward, the end of the silent auction meant helping with packing up and then…

Modern prairie caravan

…More caravanning!  To Lake Hoskins with a monument to early settlers, to the Ashley Jewish Cemetery with graves of 21 settlers mostly from the Ukraine, and to George Station German Baptist Cemetery, tucked away off the highway, off a gravel road, down a dirt/grass road, and behind a couple fences and cattle guards. Our trusty tour guide was Tom Isern, Professor of History and University Distinguished Professor at North Dakota State University, a big, tall, fatherly sort of man and a fount of knowledge about local history, geography, and customs.

Tom Isern at the George Station German Baptist Cemetery

Suzzanne Kelley shares her warm smile with me

By the time we arrived, it was already time for me to leave. But I had to get to the Lehr Tabernacle to say goodbye to Suzzanne, who had gone ahead to meet the caterer for lunch.

After stepping in some fresh cowpies (not once, but twice) as I opened and closed gates of the two different enclosures on my way out, and losing valuable time cleaning it off, I sped on to Lehr. I had no idea where the Tabernacle was, but a friendly local who must have had better things to do escorted me in his truck some distance to the outskirts of town where I found Suzzanne and the others. I was obliged to stay just long enough to wolf down a lunch of roasted chicken, baked beans, potato salad, and (yes!) jello dessert (made with sour cream and blueberries—I’ll admit I had been skeptical but it was quite tasty!). In a rush, I hugged Suzzanne goodbye, and then Debbie Marquart approached me to go out to her car and give me a copy of her book, which she autographed for me. I waved goodbye to everyone and took off as fast as I respectfully could on the church and Bible camp grounds. As I got to the highway, the caravan I had left at the cemetery was approaching, and I waved goodbye to each car as it turned into the drive. What a perfect ending to a moving and memorable two days!

What I Learned Today

The power of service to create connection. I really became aware of how my tendency to sit back and relax, except when I have an assigned role or am called upon to do something, at times prevents me from connecting with others as deeply as I am capable of.

The value of giving and getting. Of course, the conference organizers had already planned everything as much as it needed to be beforehand. It wasn’t as if they were just waiting for me, a totally unknown quantity, to show up and somehow save the day. I was able to make myself useful, yet in the end, I know I got much more out of the experience than anyone else, despite being thanked profusely (and even being told at one point I was a “lifesaver”). I received so many praises, kind gestures, stories, and even the gift of Debbie’s book—not to mention all that I received as a conference participant. Why did I start out thinking that I had to prove my value by providing some “essential” service? Indeed, why was I thinking that I had to prove myself in the first place?

Does receiving benefits through giving diminish the act of giving in any way? Is it ever possible to give without receiving, or is the question just a mind trap? Is it better to give AND receive?

From → North Dakota

  1. Liz rosaaen permalink

    Love this blog. It’s so inspiring to “tag along” on your adventures. To challenge old habits and hit the “refresh” button every so often, I think, is a key component of remaining youthful. Your questions about giving are interesting. For me, the act of giving provides a sense of meaning and purpose in life. I definitely get a lot from giving – but I don’t think it (the giving) is diminished at all by what I receive. It’s a totally win-win situation.
    Excited to read about your next adventure!

    • Hi Liz–thanks for the positive feedback! I’m also interested in suggestions for posts (other than my travels) or ways to improve. I’d like this to be useful to as many people as possible. I too think giving is a win-win. Sometimes it’s not really clear who is the giver, and who is the receiver (and sometimes this can have troubling implications, particularly when there are large power imbalances between the parties). More to explore… -Davis

  2. Tracie B. permalink

    Great post! I grew up in Wishek, and love hearing outsiders’ perspectives. I want to go visit all the places you talk about here. And yes, your question is a mind trap. 🙂

    • By the way, I loved the Wishek Civic Center building–beautiful. And I agree, the question is a mind trap–one that I fall into sometimes–and it’s helpful to put it out there and hear your reaction. Thanks for reading.

  3. I am from Wishek, my husband was born in Lehr. My grandfather is buried in Napoleon. Live in CA now. I know all these places and I am so glad there are people working to preserve this little known history. I love the people and how they are so supportive of each other.

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