Musings, North Dakota Living

My Top 7 List

The holidays are a great time to count your blessings, so I started counting. Here is my little humble list titled:

The 7 Best Things About Living in the Oil Patch in No Particular Order

(Top 10 seemed cliché)

7. The activity: Rather than a ghost town, which was the direction we were heading, we have a boomtown. Several boomtowns across this side of the state, in fact. The oil field radiates with a constant hum of activity, sometimes better described as a roar. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Dakota’s growth percentage is three times the national average and has increased 2.17 percent in one year alone. It’s like a swarming nest of wasps – fast-paced, exciting and dangerous.

6. The financial successes: Our oil patch is single-handedly helping out thousands of struggling individuals and families from all over the country, as I’ve mentioned before. The U.S. is staggering under recession and high unemployment, but North Dakota has 22,000 more jobs than job applicants and a 2.4 percent unemployment rate (the lowest in the nation), according to the Bismarck Tribune. Maybe our far north sliver of the U.S. is giving people a second chance. At parent-teacher conferences last October, I talked to two fathers who came here from western Montana. Both used to be loggers and had been out of work for two years or more. Maybe they’re living in campers and missing the mountains, but they’re finally making ends meet again. I love success stories, even if they’re not exactly fairy tales.

5. The increase in small business: Is there any other place with this many food trucks outside of state fair grounds? Food trucks scattered around – where it’s legal for them to park, at least – make burritos, burgers, and anything in between. Pizza Pie on the Fly in Watford City has the tastiest breadsticks with ranch on this side of the Montana state border. (I’m still waiting for a mini donut truck, though.) Independently owned hotels and laundromats appear like magic. We still have a lot of growing pains and a lot of needs yet to cover, but it’s also a place where small business owners get a chance to make it happen.

4. The music: Unfortunately, we don’t have a huge music scene here, but my brother Danny, our cousin Adam and I play occasionally in a bluegrass-folk group called the Dwaylors (a combination of our last names). With the growth and activity, we have had more opportunities to play for people, and along with that comes some pretty enthusiastic crowds. We also have jams on Wednesday nights and have played with guitar players, fiddle players, bass players, songwriters and even music producers from all over the country and from all musical genres who are happy for a chance just to play a little music.


3. The cool scenery: Ok, I admit I complain sometimes about I-Spy-All-the-Wells-Drills-Man-Camps-and-Especially-Trucks, but there is something impressive about it all. The landscape that I love is still there, hidden underneath, but now I can even see it eerily at night with all the flares everywhere. And the flares will never be able to extinguish the incredible sunsets. In fact, they probably only add their own colors.

2. The special treatment: Ok, I also admit I have written less-than-flattering things about some of the local oily men. And I was not exaggerating. However, I think any girl would be lying to you if they said they didn’t appreciate at least some of it. Men open doors for us, pay for our drinks, and allow us ahead of them in line at the grocery store; and when we leave town for other “normal” cities outside of the oil field, the sudden lack of overbearing male attention is, well, weird. Suddenly I’m forced to accept my general mediocrity in the outside world.


1. The people: I have never met so many interesting people in one place. My teaching job in the heart of the oil field can be frustrating at times, but it’s also challenging and enriching. Almost on a weekly basis, we receive new students from the West Coast, East Coast, Deep South and Midwest. Some have never moved and some have moved 12 times. Some are grumpy about living in campers, sharing bunk beds with little brothers, and some are just relieved their dads are working again. Some leave as quickly as they come. Few teaching jobs boast the opportunity for so many students from so many different places to sit and learn together in one classroom. The class dynamics are interesting. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It reminds me to appreciate my own family and our deep roots here in the Midwest.

What is your favorite part about the place you call home?

Merry Christmas!

Musings, North Dakota Living

Defending the Homeland

One thing I have noticed in the last year is the chasm between two separate attitudes regarding our physical surroundings; one, a love and appreciation for the landscape of western North Dakota, and two, dislike or even loathing of the landscape of western North Dakota.

Attitude #1. I admit, western North Dakota is not for everyone. It’s for me, though. When I was growing up, I soaked it in. I loved the rolling plains, the whispering breezes, the clouds. Every night was a different painting, equally as beautiful as the night before, whether the blazing sun dipped down in sweeps of pink and blue or great thunderheads loomed flashing on the horizon. But it’s a lonely beauty. Trees do not crowd the horizon here, which is why we are able to see every detail of every sunset. In some places, badlands jut out of the ground abruptly in baked cliffs of clay. In others, prairie grass rolls gradually down into foliage-filled breaks and coolies. Creeks are rare; lakes and ponds are rarer. It’s not quite breathtaking like the mountains in Montana, nor a lush, green, tree-filled landscape like our neighbors to the east in Minnesota. But I love it. Something about the loneliness has always spoken to me.

I think a lot of locals here feel the same sense of pride for this area. As for the badlands, for the most part both locals and visitors to the state appreciate their stark dramatic beauty.


Attitude #2. Some do not so much agree with my loving sentiment. I have seen or heard the phrases “desolate wasteland” and “barren wasteland” used several times to describe the area. The descriptions “ugly,” “treeless,” and “no lakes,” come up now and then. One night, I asked a man named Charles where he was from.


Does he go by Chuck or Charlie?

No, only Charles. Not Chuck. Hate the name Chuck. Chuck sounds like a name for a moron. And where does a young lady such as myself hail from?

Well, I grew up here in North Dakota and spent summers in the area.

Wow, I’m sorry.


Because this place looks like a horrible, ugly, desolate wasteland.

Oh, that’s ok. As long as we’re being blunt and rude, you look like a Chuck. Did I say that out loud? (I did. I was joking, but it turns out Charles does not have a sense of humor.)

It’s true that our landscape has changed some. Some of the openness has been replaced by drills, wells, scoria roads, flares, man camps… It’s probably not enhanced by the garbage scattered everywhere. It piles up in the ditches as fast as volunteer groups can pick it up. Either way, whether it has changed or not, I can’t make people love western North Dakota any more than I could decide to not love it. That’s ok, though. People just see things differently. Maybe here, it’s more about seeing the little details in the landscape that the big, open picture as a whole.

Let me illustrate. Where some might look out of truck windows to see this:


Some of us see things more like this:




I love this place. I can’t help it. Pictures like these, and the ones in my mind, are all I really need to defend it.