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 Some of the openness has been replaced by drills, wells, scoria roads, flares, man camps… It’s probably not enhanced by the garbage scattered everywhere.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.