Gentle Reader: Our weather frequently demands North Dakotans keep things simple. Easter on the 47th parallel often means the juxtaposition of winter coats worn over frilly frocks and snow boots replace Maryjanes carried to church in a plastic bag. With Easter being early this year, we’re glad for 40-50 degree weather and most of our snow is gone. Thankfully, grilling the racks of lamb outdoors will not require a shovel.
The menu is decided and the table is set. Flowers are in place. I’ve just made a mental note that decorating for Easter is far less stressful than Christmas. For Easter, I tend to use what is on hand or readily available–a welcome alternative to hauling endless tubs of decorations out of the garage. Here I’ve used grocery store tulips and carrots –and my summer dishes which work perfectly from now through fall.
Reminder to self: Take a lesson in simplicity for next Christmas. Enjoy!!
Gentle Reader: My recent participation in the Facebook Page for Fans of U.S. Route 83 has caused me to reflect on the important touchstone that stretch of road has been for me and its vital role as corridor from North Dakota to Texas.
For virtually all of my life U.S. Highway 83 has been my pathway into respite and recreation then back to civilization. I’ve watched it grow from a rolling 2-lane, barely paved road to a straightened and widened 4-lane with turn lanes at congested junctions and even bypasses around city centers. It is the place where I get a pulse on north south commerce and fresh shrimp trucked to my city from near its southern terminus. I’ve watched the growth of energy development with electrical transmission lines crossing the highway and now wind farms and countless turbines are within easy view. Coal plants, oil wells and water diversion. From my house, I can hear the high-pitched hum of tires on its pavement.
More importantly, Highway 83 is the place where I connect to my roots. Family homesteads and family graves are within a few miles in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska. From it, I keep watch over fields and flocks and migratory birds in the Central Flyway, planting and harvest. I watch the sloughs for how much rain we’ve had or haven’t. I see the seasons and the years come and go and I simply watch life. Grandpa Scott never called it Highway 83. It was just the Main Artery. Indeed.
Over this past summer, I’ve composed several haiku on and about Highway 83. Come take a ride with me:
Churning charcoal clouds
Spill red rain on dusty buttes
Tail lights ribbon ahead
The long shadows stretch
From fields and trees and fence posts
Sun pools in the West
Kept by mile markers for each
Life’s blood through the corridor
Spans the continent
Here on the Upper Great Plains and the 46th Parallel, work/life balance comes easier in the warmer months. Being nearer the Land of the Midnight Sun gives us almost 17 hours of sunlight in June. As a result, the scale tips heavily to business during the colder/darker months but come spring, there is an unwritten understanding: lots of flex time to enjoy the best summers on the planet. We be gone!
Until then, we (meaning: some of us—more than others) need to find ways to break out of that work routine. For those of us (moi?) whose office is in their home, the act of leaving the office can present a blurred line.
Insert departure rituals. Come 5:00pm, some of us have resorted to shutting the lights off on ourselves or literally closing the door of the office as a reminder that the day is done. Personally, even more helpful is a business/accountability partner who also has a home office and we have agreed to “be a stand” for departing at an appropriate hour. Of course, a glass of wine never hurts.
Friday rituals are a bit more elaborate to signal the end of the work week. My routine starts with deliberate switching gears: making declarative statements relating to a successful week with missions accomplished, turning on jazz music, and focusing on weekend activities.
This afternoon, the jazz is playing, cabernet sauvignon is poured, and activities with friends and family are planned. The best part is the chokecherry tree outside my office window has leafed out to the point where I can’t see down the road anymore. Summer is just around the corner and we be gone.
Gentle reader: After 6 inches of powder fell today there has been a lot of chatter about snow removal equipment and tractors of various sizes. I was reminded of this converastion of almost 25 years ago.
I had taken my daughter, about age 5, to the clinic for the usual URI. The pediatrician on call that day was the locally famous and well-loved, Dr. Pieter Smeenk. That particular day he was wearing a toy John Deere tractor clipped to his necktie–as only a clever pediatrician would do. The conversation ensued as follows.
Mom to Daughter: Look, Dr. Smeenk has a John Deere tractor too!
Dr. Smeenk to Daughter: Do you have a big green tractor?
Daughter, shyly: Yes, it’s really noisy.
Dr. Smeenk: What does it sound like?
Daughter abandons her coyness, proudly fills her lungs and says loudly: Bup, bup , wheeeeeeee . . . BUMP , BUMP, BUMP, WRRROOOOAARRRRRR!
Dr. Smeenk: Oh My!, that sounds like a diesel engine with an gasoline starting motor!
Mom: Yes, indeed. It’s a 720.
Finale (after much giggling and laughter):
Daughter says matter-of-factly to Dr. Smeenk: Grampie says naughty words when the big noise doesn’t go.
Gentle Reader: The table is set. Tom is bathing in the sink and will be cooked on the Weber rotisserie grill—regardless of the ambient temperature (yes, the snow shovel is close by). A few things have been prepared in advance like Drunken Cranberry Fruit Conserve (port and rum) and Parmesan Thyme Crackers.
Today’s advance work includes Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Lime Crema, prep for Potato and Parsnip Mash, and Jumbo Mushrooms Stuffed with Dressing. Tomorrow morning it’s Swiss Chard and Chevre Chipotle Spread. I’m in my glory and Tom will make his debut about 4:30pm.
Most importantly, we will have a family gathering to enjoy the assembled food and each other. We celebrate a life swimming in blessings and friends and family with whom we are united in spirit. We send you our boundless love. This is a time we remember Our Source and loved ones who have taught us how to be thank-full!
Gentle Reader: We’ve had incredible weather this fall here at the 46th parallel. Last weekend the temperatures were in the upper 60’s and even lower 70’s. But we have also had a couple of good snows –dropping enough white stuff to bring out the shovels.
As we head back to more seasonally normal temperatures and prepare for winter, I’m consoled by the fact that I will have access to fresh, organic produce grown right here on a local farm. You read correctly, right through the winter. Riverbound Farm is located south of Mandan along the historic Highway 1806 and I’m a shareholder in this CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). Angie and Brian McGinniss have added a winter CSA subscription. So each week shareholders now have the bounty year ‘round–even in North Dakota.
In addition to pastured poultry and free-range eggs, the bonus opportunity is my family’s Thanksgiving turkey is coming from there as well. Time to fire-up the rotisserie grill.
* Angie and Brian McGinness own the farm but are far from old. They are a delightful young couple with a passion for growing high-quality produce on the land homesteaded by Angie’s great-grandparents. About 40 miles upriver at Sanger ND, was my great-grand parents’ homestead.
Gentle Reader: Here in North Dakota we have the privilege of four distinct seasons which clearly helps her citizens mark time and the passage of years. Still the days drip, drip, drip through that hourglass and evaporate at an alarming speed. While we attempt to pack our lives full of dreams and aspirations, too often we find ourselves living for some future mystery like, “once I get ____, I’ll be happy/successful/fulfilled.”
Consider the reverse. Living in the past is nothing more than rewinding the DVR and wastes today while watching the re-play. “If only I could do _____ over again.” Mourning the loss of time in squandered lives is also about as productive as shoveling smoke.
Being a 9-year survivor of breast cancer, my concept of time has simplified. The notion that “every day is a gift” is one of the more profound realizations one can absorb and has become my mantra. The recent news about a friend’s serious illness has her cohorts reeling from the shock. I, among them, find myself reflecting again on the intrinsic value of each day as more than just a commodity or something to be managed and plugged into my Outlook program.
In the current issue’s editorial Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, wrote,
“My guess is that whatever we think we’ve lost we never had, that waiting to find it again is as stupid as expecting trout to rise to the same dry fly two days in a row, and that life is best lived between the lost and the found, just this side of hope and on the other side of nostalgia.”
Distilled to its essence, all we have is today.