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

Friday Rituals – In Search of Work/Life Balance

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.

Weather Report: Lost and Found

Gentle Reader: Got a sec? Yes, I know you are busy but give me 4 minutes for a Thought for the Day.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. Fall is a very busy time in North Dakota. Everyone shifts from enjoying our summers of 15 hours of sunlight to getting back to business. We are coming out of a very busy 2 months and getting caught up both in the office and at home. Life has been–do this, do that. To-Do lists. Do you notice even in our small talk how often we ask people how or what are they doing? Sometimes I think we are better classified as human doings rather than human beings.

Pause for a moment to consider the distinction between DOING and BEING. What if we re-think all that busy-ness and our need to DO things? Inside my kitchen cupboard door—all yellow and cracked, is this clipping: “I do not love you for what you do, but who you are.”

What if we create a To-Be List? BE creative, BE courageous, BE happy, and BE a stand for something. This list does not have required elements in order to happen—they are not about the pursuit of anything. They are simply choices.

Look closer at Shakespeare’s famous quote–especially the last part:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them.

By choosing, we create what we choose. I choose a perfect life. I choose abundance. I choose peace-ful. There are no required criteria to fulfill these. Once I choose it–it exists.

Next time you see a friend, don’t ask how they are but ask instead: “Who are you? What is amazing in your life? Please take the time to tell me.”

Quietly humming: “Do be do be do . . . “

Provence in my Periphery

Gentle Reader: Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend 10 days in Provence France on a wine and food tour. I knew I was entering a different world when, during the flight into Marseilles, passengers were served brie and tomato sandwiches. Yes, French bread, butter and fresh basil. From that day forward, I’ve almost always had a good brie in my house.

Our group stayed in a bucolic Gites de France called L’Ecole Buissonnière. It is a 300-year old restored farmhouse or “mas” in the Provencal countryside near Vaison la Romaine.

Each day we ventured out to visit the different vineyards such as Beaumes de Venise or Gigondas. Lunch was always at a different café then off again to villages, historic sites, and the street markets. The traditional weekly street markets, “le marché,” are held in a different village each day. A typical shopping list will take you to a different village, depending on where the market is that particular day.

Each evening we returned to the mas with a few of our favorite wines purchased at a vineyard tasting room, a few cheeses from le marché  and we enjoyed a rustic dinner prepared by our hosts. We’d recount impressions of our adventures like the famous Abbaye de Senanque, a Cistertian community of monks whose buildings date back to the 12th century.

In addition to the region’s endless fields of grape vines and lavender there are amazing stands of olive trees which are also the stuff of legends. Small and craggy, some –protected of course, date back hundreds of years. On visiting one little shop specializing in all things olive, I came home with two small bottles of the greenest EVOO I’d ever seen and a couple of olive wood kitchen utensils.

From that day forward, when I’m in need of olive oil, I search and research the internet for the best crop of the season then purchase it by the case. I keep it, cool and dark, in my wine cellar. Like a good wine, I gift a bottle here and there to friends who appreciate it.

Back home on the high plains of North Dakota, my collection of olive wood utensils has grown and I must caution myself occasionally not to let it become an obsession. However, there is something deeply satisfying about cooking with a well-loved wooden spoon and spatula or chopping olives and garlic on that lovely cutting board. Olive wood’s grain is a work of art. It is strikingly heavy and dense with swirls of rich color and markings.

With almost every use I’m reminded of the magic of Provence, the smell of lavender, and sound of Cistercian prayers.

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!

Old* McGinness Had a Farm

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.