What Eric Sevareid experienced so long ago has been repeated many times over by anyone who defines themselves by their root-statehood, North Dakota. Anger or denial has some merit here, but it’s hard to deny the raw devastation reflected in National Geographic’s recent photo journey and the resultant transitory tale of “Dakota North” by two top-soil poets, Charles Bowdon and Eugene Richards. They should be respected for their documentation in spite of its limitations.
But dig a little further, beneath the prairie grasses and the farm structures devastated by time. Dig beyond this selective picture that reminds one once again of what was Dakota after the Depression. Dig deeper into native soil, where too many missiles lie buried, making even the native meadowlark stop his singing.
This state has allowed itself to take on a powerful military flavor over time, beyond even its ability to honestly comprehend, in order to survive? There is enough terror buried on these prairies to blow up this sweet globe 10 times over. Now that’s not anything that makes me proud.
Chemical leaks — anhydrous ammonia — from a railroad car almost wiped out the people of Minot a few winters ago … well, it at least damaged the lungs of a few, but the national press wasn’t listening.
Was it a simple switch in silo loading when base personnel at the Minot Air Force Base loaded the wrong warheads on their warplanes, when nuclear bombs were suspended on planes crossing this nation surreptitiously, carelessly? Until someone discovered the error?
The real Dakota psyche
Now that’s the real devastation buried so desperately into the Dakota psyche that they fail to see what their survival depends on, which just may in the future initiate its own destruction? At least somebody should think about it.
Dakotans are searching again for oil and possibly other minerals in this land, which sometimes still respects its prairie emptiness. And one could say rare openness is hard to adjust to nowadays by many who live in tailored communities. In their closeness, they rub elbows into calluses or callousness and demand or passively accept living spaces that stack people like cordwood.
No thumbs-in-bib-overalls here, but Dakota is a land blessed also with its lush coulees rolling down between plateaus, which, relatively speaking, become mountains in comparison.
The economy boosters will be planting trees, wind trees, soon. Maybe they already exist. These trees are the manmade variety, energy resources to control the wind. Now that’s a positive. That’s economic-revival recognition necessary to develop some, but hopefully not all, of this sweet land.
Then, I hope, all those missiles can be planted elsewhere so “The Peace Garden State” can have some legitimate meaning again.
Devastation can ravage prairies and urban core
Be it be prairie or urban decay, devastation in this nation does occur. A sign of the times or a cyclical phenomenon, it is blatantly evident in some boroughs of New York (the Bronx, for instance) where the remains of damaged brownstones often rest in their own rubble with no life visible, except a stray cat, or a rat, or a homeless person wrapped in yesterday’s news. Other photo essayists have recorded it.
And wise men have called Washington, D.C., the crime capital of the nation. Pockets of devastation exist where no one walks safely anymore in our nation’s capital. “Crime capital” is a title that marks the beltway, on the streets, in the alleysand in many of our highest-in-the-land administrative institutions lately. That is another form of emptiness and devastation and denial, too, exhibited daily when following the news as photo essays.
Thank you, Chuck Haga, too, for your ongoing coverage and, earlier, for your essay journalism at the Star Tribune. It always made me feel proud of my Dakota, respectfully recognized by another Haga story. In Grand Forks now, Haga simply proves, you can go home again.
Beryl John-Knudson is a book collector and former columnist for the Duluth alternative newspaper Reader Weekly.