17 May 2006

I thought about my last post, and decided that maybe I'm wrong. The little community we moved to did welcome us. A family with three young kids moving to town was the most exciting that happened to Medora, ND in 1987. My family is very well respected in the area. My parents made friends outside the National Park community (an ever-changing subset of liberal, environmental, transplants in an otherwise static, one-cow town) and went to all the local brandings, ropings, and rodeos. We stayed for the parties afterwards, even though we never brought the right kind of beer.

I decided I couldn't have a wedding there because I would have to invite several hundred extra people (most couples simply post an invitation to the community in the post-office). Hundreds of people who would all show-up because they love me, even if I am marrying an Easterner.

We wouldn't have been treated like outsiders if we hadn't considered ourselves outsiders. The North Dakota move was suppose to have been temporary: just a few years. We almost moved to Big Bend, TX and later to Golden Spike, UT (I guess my parents were hell-bent on living in small, conservative towns) but inertia took over and here we are, almost 20 years later. Maybe we thought we were better than the people in that town, with bigger plans, brighter dreams. I always did. I never planned on sticking around, even when I was 10 and in love with the one of the best showdeo steer riders in the state.

In the end I think my parents simply didn't find people they really connected with. People with the same interests and opinions. Becoming locals meant sacrificing too much of who they were and what they believed in.

I never gave up on the idea that I had bigger things in store than that little town. One of the most mortifying experiences of my life was getting caught, two years out of high school, waitressing the graveyard shift at Perkins. My high school classmates came home from college over spring break. There I was - in an oversized, hunter green shirt - serving hashbrowns and eggs over-easy to their drunk asses at 3:30 in the morning. I told them that I was going to Cornell University in the fall (explaining that it's a college in upstate NY), but it probably seemed like idle talk to them.

I've lived the rest of my life since then trying to prove to everyone from back home that I'm better than that.

Better than what, exactly? I'm not sure anymore.

14 May 2006

I found out yesterday about towns in North Dakota giving land to people willing to move there and stay for a certain length of time. As testament to how removed I am from the actual goings-on in that state I heard this from friends visiting from Minnesota who'd read about it in the New York Times.

You can read the article here but need to be a TimesSelect subscriber. Also check out this article for free. Of the people they interviewed from North Dakota I personally know three of them and know the family names of most of the rest.

Both articles mention a website called Prairie Opportunity. They're not giving away land (I don't think anyone is actually giving away land), but they're trying to recruit 5000 people to move to North Dakota, sort of. If you read on it sounds like they don't actually want you. They say, "Many are too far removed from the rural to ever become a part of it . . . Odds are, you are not a candidate for NW North Dakota. You have succumbed to the cities." The website reads like a poorly written military recruitment flyer. It also sounds a little cultish. "Northwest North Dakota has an opportunity for 5,000 people. Not the first 5,000... the right 5,000." A biblical recruitment of 5,000 people to, "live under clear skies, drink clean water, to worry less and enjoy life as it was meant to be enjoyed."

The best part of the website is the guestbook: the website recieved a bunch of hits and comments as a result of the NYT article. Mostly wacky idealists and a few appropriately cynical cynics. I'm one of the latter, but my post didn't show up, so here it is:

One commenter to this board asked, "Would Jewish people be accepted?" and "Would people with liberal views be accepted?" Sadly, the answer is 'no'. Not because your Jewish or liberal per say, but because you'd be an outsider.

People are nice enough in North Dakota, just as people are nice enough anywhere. And finding community is hard anywhere, even in cities when there are thousands of people and groups to choose from. In rural ND there aren't different communities to choose from. Either you're in THE community or your not. Having different religous and political views only makes it harder.

My family moved to North Dakota when I was 6. I grew up in SW North Dakota and left when I graduated from high school. I went to college in upstate New York and now live in Eastern Massachusetts with my husband, an Easterner from Philadelphia. My parents are still living in ND, almost twenty years later, and are still considered outsiders. Outsiders even though my family is Caucasian, loosely Christian, and not overtly opinionated politically.

Even if you value honesty and hard work and you believe in community and family you won't be welcome in North Dakota unless you are also a registered Republican and go to church on Sunday. I'm being glib, but not wholly untruthful. There is a man that ranches just north of us; he is an amazing naturalist and an outspoken liberal and environmentalist. He has struggled the past few years because no one turns up to help him with branding or calving or fencing.

I have moments when I'm nostalgic for North Dakota, for the wonderful youth I had there. Sometimes my husband and I think about moving back: we like the idea of living and raising a family in a small community. Even if we could find jobs I still don't think we'd move back. We'd be miserable without a community of people we could connect with.

Alcoholism and drug abuse are high among my friends who've stayed in the state. The physical isolation is difficult enough. The emotional isolation of being liberal and non-Christian would be impossible. This website almost blatantly says you're not wanted if you're different.

It's admirable in a way: the fierce pride North Dakotan's have in their harsh, dying landscape. They don't think there are many who can make it under such circumstances: the weather, the isolation, the lack of resources. Probably there aren't. This says to me that circumstances need to change. The unfortunate reality is that most North Dakotan’s don't want to see it change. They aren't ready to embrace diversity of any kind.

This state will continue to decline until its residents open their minds and hearts to more than a select 5000. To do this North Dakota must embrace the original spirit of the Pioneer. The original pioneers came from a multitude of cultures and built thriving towns and cities. Often these pioneers were laborers from the old countries, who knew nothing about farming or prairie life, but they were tenacious and they had vision. They didn't come to North Dakota to find a quaint and idyllic life: they came for the opportunity to build an empire. North Dakotans must embrace THIS pioneering spirit - the spirit of change, growth, and opportunity - if they want to see positive changes in the state.

09 May 2006

Moving to North Dakota "was like coming to another planet." But at least is puts us on the cutting edge of intergalactic space exploration. The article references Fryburg, ND - only 10 minutes from where I grew up.

I sent this link to all of my family. My brother in law wrote back with another story of ND in the news. Apparently a financial magazine recently published a list of '50 ways to improve your life right now.' Meditation, growing a plant, and quitting your job were all included on the list, as was MOVING to NORTH DAKOTA. Maybe we'll all be there soon.