U.S. Highway 83: A Plumb Line of Pavement

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

Nature’s metronome
Kept by mile markers for each
Seasons’ symphony

Asphalt artery
Life’s blood through the corridor
Spans the continent

The Long Green Line

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.

Blessings Abound

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!

Like Sands through the Hourglass, So are . . .

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.

Tomato Sandwich Social

There are tomatoes and then there are Tomatoes. In this part of the country and especially the sandy river-bottoms along the Missouri River, we grow some of the best. Yes, we have the boring greenhouse-grown and hydroponic offerings in the grocery stores—which I avoid unless it’s between November and June. There is a big difference between the luscious, sun-ripened, garden tomatoes and ones from which the stuff runs out in a pool of seeds and mysterious liquid. Ish!

When you can get over-the-moon flavor and moistness that is similar to a juicy beef tenderloin, then it’s time to eat until you can’t eat any more. Rest up a bit and eat some more . . . or in my case, have a party.

Yes, a party. I’m talking about my first Tomato Sandwich Social. The timing was perfect: I had a free day and the tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market were, indeed, over the moon. I set out all the component parts and let everyone make their own sandwich just the way they like them.

Footnotes on the buffet: Yes, those are radishes set in a bed of coarse sea salt. They made great visual appeal and no work involved. The bacon was done on the outdoor grill in a cast iron pan to keep the house from smelling like Perkins. 

Party Recipe: send emails to all my friends, create a Facebook event, gather up all the fixin’s people usually like and then just start answering the door. Friends without email or FB simply missed out because the turn-around time was so short. The goal was to make a simple party to prepare and host. I think people enjoy themselves more when they know you did not kill yourself getting it together. Besides, there is nothing like messy food to put guests at ease—provided the host is also at ease and enjoying the fun.

Desert? Marshmallows from the gourmet section of TJ Max. They were a hit and a conversation piece. Score!

My “Fiddler” Moment

Gentle Reader: I was just about to toss the last two fading, pistachio-green, spider mums plucked from wedding bouquets when I recalled the entire wedding panorama as a whirlwind of activity and vignettes of poignant moments. While I have many mementos to recapture those moments, these mums rewound time– past that week –back to her going off to college, recovering from a brain tumor, getting her driver’s license, school projects, brownie scouts, tricycles, first steps, and a first tooth.

She was married in that same prairie place where I discovered her first tooth, where I carried her through my pregnancy while taking care of the trees and the land. Now she and her husband plant a Wedding Tree and take care of that North Dakota land . . . and their marriage.

Weather Report: Cool Days in North Dakota

During cool days in June we ask if summer will ever arrive. During cool days in July we are thankful for a respite from the heat. During cool days in August, we feel fall in the air.