Musings, North Dakota Living

Lucy the Terrible

I moved to the oil field and decided I needed a guard dog. Not only would the extra protection be nice, but I could use a companion, someone to run with, someone to listen to my problems, someone who would always be there for me. Living on a farm makes having an animal quite easy, so the living arrangements wouldn’t be a problem.

I began researching guard dog breeds: German shepherds? They seemed pretty neat. Rottweilers? No, not furry enough for me. Labs? Although these have always been popular in my family, they’re not the protective type. Most of our labs would welcome robbers and riffraff with a wag of the tail and probably hold the door open for them. I was pondering this difficult decision when the answer fell into my lap one August day. My dad texted me, “Rachel, would you like a dog? A German shepherd puppy has been abandoned by your brother’s house.”

I could hardly say no. This tiny, four-month-old blob of fur had been left at Jack’s neighboring farm, which had previously been an unwanted animal drop-off site. Besides, it made my decision easy. I didn’t have to search for a dog at a shelter or buy a particular breed, and I could feel good about saving an animal and giving her a home.

Lucy, as I named her, quickly became part of my daily life. When I left her in the mornings for school, she would stare at me forlornly from the yard. When I came home, she would accompany me enthusiastically on a 30-minute walk on a dirt trail before I began cooking dinner for the boys. She was rambunctious, outgoing, and irresistible. Everyone grew to love her, including Jake, our yellow lab, and Abby, my dad’s black lab (although she took a little longer to come around).


Lucy is cute, I will give her that. She has the right coloring for a German shepherd, her distinctive black-and-tan face made especially expressive by markings that look like raised eyebrows. As she grew, however, eventually becoming taller and lankier than our other dogs, it became clear that she was no purebred German shepherd. Part German shepherd, certainly, but her ears stayed floppy like a lab’s, her tail curled over like a husky’s, and she doesn’t have the body type. She looks like a conglomeration of different breeds.


Even more, it became quite clear that she is no guard dog. If I ever go out into the yard at night, Lucy is the opposite of helpful — she actually scares me more, jumping at every tiny sound and staring intently into the dark before bolting back into the garage to hide in the corner. Very reassuring when you are outside in the dark with the wind blowing eerily in the trees. I once found myself hiding in a locked house with a shotgun, and I blame the incident entirely on Lucy.

So what is Lucy good at? They say certain breeds are happiest when they have a “job,” a dog career of sorts, whether it’s hunting, herding, guarding, guiding, or policing. She’s no cattle dog: We have no cattle anymore. She’s no guard dog: That’s been proven. She loves to chase up birds, but she’s no hunter: She won’t listen. In fact, Lucy is just plain naughty. She chews up boots, eats rotten grain, drags the little barn cat Saul around the yard, visits the neighbors miles away, leaves dead birds at the bottom of my stairs, poops in the garage on a regular basis (even when the garage door is wide open), barks nonstop at the horses every morning, and wrestles the other dogs relentlessly. My family loves to tease me about how terrible she is, and I have to admit that it’s somewhat true. She’s been trained; she knows how to sit and lie down and stay and come, but life is just too interesting for her to care much about all that boring stuff. Lucy the German Shepherd conglomeration mix is probably better labeled as Lucy, the Terrible.

I love her anyway, of course.


But at last, this spring, Lucy has found a job. She has actually turned out to be somewhat useful.

Another one of our ill-behaved animals, Chico, a 12-year-old Morgan horse, has figured out how to get out of the small pasture east of our farmyard. We don’t know how. The fence isn’t down. The other horses stay put. Two weeks ago, for example, I was pulling out of the yard to go to school, when I noticed him standing in the yard nonchalantly, trying to blend in as if nothing was out of order. (I did the logical thing: Called my brother to go put him back.)

This is where Lucy comes in. Ever since we brought the horses to winter in our yard pasture, her obsession with them has been almost unhealthy. She cannot leave them alone. Every morning, she barks at them for long periods of time. Some mornings, she herds them into a group or chases an individual horse just for fun. I shake my head every time I notice it. She’s going to get herself killed someday, I think. But through this obsession, she has become Chico’s personal sentinel. It’s wonderful. He gets out; she barks like crazy and keeps him at the fence. He gets out; she chases him across the yard to where he is supposed to be. The other day, Danny was trying to get him back into the gate. Chico wouldn’t budge. Danny called Lucy. Chico took one look at her flying across the yard full of fury and decided he would be better off in the pasture after all.

If only she would spend as much time guarding me as she does keeping Chico in line.

Chico, of course, doesn’t appreciate Lucy at all. But she’s turned out to be quite useful in this one regard. I can finally say, Lucy the Terrible may actually not be so terrible.

On a side note: Does anyone have a guard dog for sale?

Lucy the Terrible keeping a close eye on Chico.
Lucy the Terrible keeping an eye on Chico.
Musings, North Dakota Living

Oil Field Dating Service

This morning, I had a rather unusual commute to work. I was only a few miles away from home around 7:45 a.m., waiting to make a right turn onto Highway 85. The long line of semis and pickups with a car or two sprinkled in trickled by slowly in the early morning light, cautious on the layer of ice from last night’s snowfall. I sipped the coffee from my travel mug and vaguely noticed a large cherry red pickup with dark tinted windows suddenly make a sharp left onto my road. I perked up a little more when it pulled up next to me. A young man got out and swaggered confidently toward my vehicle. I assumed he was asking for directions, but I didn’t like the looks of him much, so I rolled down my window only a crack, ready to throw my coffee in his face and barrel through the ditch in my little Ford Escape if necessary.

It turns out he was not asking for directions. Ohhh, no. Our conversation  went something like this:

Him: “Hello, miss? May I have your number?”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Him: “I said, may I have your number?”

Me: Stunned silence. Isn’t it too early in the morning for this kind of thing?

Him: “My friends said they would give me 100 dollars if you gave me your number.”

Me: Stunned silence with raised eyebrows. “Uh…” I am not very often speechless.

Him [starting to sound more desperate]: “You can have half of it! I will give you 50 bucks right here for your number!”

Me [inching my car forward]: “Fifty bucks?” [Sadly, I considered the money for a moment, then thought better of it.] “I don’t think I believe you. Actually, I have to go to work.” [Inching my car forward some more, wishing there were a gap in the traffic line.]

Him: “Miss, please — it’s fifty bucks! Aw, c’mon, please!”

At this point, I would have loved to make a dramatic exit by pealing out onto the highway in a squeal of tires on pavement. Unfortunately, the steady line of trucks still trickled by, not allowing me an exit of any sort, dramatic or not. I think I said something like, “I’m very flattered, but I really have to go to work!” I attempted a smile to make my harsh rejection a little easier. “It was a nice try though!” I added as an afterthought. I rolled up my window in what I hoped was a firm gesture.

He made his way back to his red pickup where I am sure his friends were laughing uproariously, his swagger a little less confident.

I got different reactions to this story from the people I told. Some thought I should have taken the money. Some thought I should have given him a fake number. Some agreed that I did the only thing I could have done: leave. My brother, however, pointed out that his approach was all wrong. “He made a mistake,” he commented. “He SHOULD have said, ‘My friends offered me a hundred dollars to ask for your number, but I don’t care about the money. In fact, I will give you the hundred dollars because all I really want is your number.'” It’s true; that would have been a much smoother attempt. Should I be insulted that he offered me money in the first place, or that he only offered me HALF of the money?

Jokes aside, this incident made me think a little. We have some serious issues in the oil field: housing, traffic, infrastructure needs, you name it. Dating is a whole new ball game, and while it may not seem so serious as these other issues, doesn’t everyone need just a little affection from the opposite gender now and then? But there is a problem: men outnumber women here by A LOT. The few available girls that are not married are either 1. dating someone or 2. tired enough of the obnoxious male attention to be a bit cold and standoffish to the males providing the attention. (For some additional background, see my previous post titled “There Are Plenty of Fish in the Sea, but Mostly Sharks Where I Live.”)

The men at my second job at a local hotel lounge have shared plenty of these woes with me, and I feel for them. Just last night, a middle-aged man lamented, “It’s not easy being a single guy in the oil field.” Another one, this one a bit younger, said to me, “You’re a nice gal. But I bet you’re married or got a boyfriend or something, don’t you?” A man next to him added ruefully, “There aren’t ANY single girls around here!” I found myself wanting to help these poor lonely souls, but what can we do? Should we start a mail order bride service? Lure fellow females here by some other method? Last year, a man even planned to have a “Party in the Patch,” a singles dance in Williston to attract dateable girls to the area. To my knowledge, the party never happened, but I think it illustrates a pretty desperate need for better balance of gender. (Read the article here.)

These ideas are extreme, but there just might be another, simpler way. A few months back, my friend A, another teacher, thought of an excellent plan: An Oil Field Dating Service. I think this could be a new calling for us. “Just think,” she said, “how much better off some of these men would be if they even just knew how to ask a woman out!” She wasn’t thinking along the lines of a matchmaking service, but more of an… etiquette workshop of sorts. Lessons on making a first impression on a woman. How to be a gentleman. How to woo the few available ladies here with your charm and wit. How to show manners and therefore have the upper hand over all your rivals.

It’s not a bad idea. I think we could do some good here. Maybe even charge a fee and make a little extra cash, without having to give out our phone numbers on random highways. I have heard a colorful array of pickup line since moving here, and I’m sure other females in the area would concur. Some situations are humorous, others not so much. But what if we could give these men a few tips from a local woman’s point of view? Here’s a start: Don’t offer money for phone numbers in the middle of a highway.

Just don’t.

Ok, I should put in a disclaimer: I think there are plenty of courteous, well-meaning men here. Just a couple weeks ago during my hotel shift, a man in his mid-30s observed as two other, rather forward men made an uncouth comment or two in my direction. It didn’t bother me, but apparently it bothered the observer. After they left, he stood up, quite tipsy, and threw down his napkin, proclaiming gallanty, “I just want you to know that although I think you are beautiful, I’m just going to leave it at that! I’m not coming on to you, and I would never say those things to you!” He left, head held high, stumbling just  slightly to his hotel room. I had to smile to myself a little at that one. But his manners actually DID impress me more than the other two men next to him. Maybe this guy could be a coach at our Dating Service once he sobers up.

Yes, times are tough in the oil field. Women are scarce. Men are lonely. Both are working hard to make a living, but humans need a little more than just survival. Hopefully as our boomtown continues to adapt to the growing pains, the lopsided numbers will even out a bit and love will flare up all over the oil field (pardon the pun — I admit, it was bad).

In the meantime, I’ll be working with my partner A on our Oil Field Dating Service so we can provide a valuable service helping our community… one unfortunate pickup line at a time.

Musings, Teaching

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Repeat after me: “We do not have hurricanes. We do not have hurricanes. We do not have hurricanes.”

I saw that little quip online this morning and I thought it was funny. Blizzard conditions are currently raging outside. It is the middle of April. There has to be a positive, even if it’s acknowledging that hey, at least in the Great Plains we don’t get hurricanes, too. I’ve mentioned before that I love winter, and I do, but that’s when it stays inside the confines of winter. We are almost a month into spring with only a few warm teasing days, and I think I speak for everyone when I say a little break would be nice. The kids are getting antsy at school. The farmers are getting antsy for spring’s work. Even the tractors look antsy. Outside my window, our big red is sitting in the snow, ready for seeding. But he’s not going anywhere. Just like me.


Until winter decides she is ready to release us, we wait. And keep repeating, “We do not have hurricanes.”

Meanwhile, I thought I would occupy my time indoors by reading through some of my most recent freshmen essays, and I thought I might share with you some of the wisdom out of the mouths of babes. In this essay, I asked my students to address a problem in our school or community and propose a possible solution, using both their own wisdom and outside sources. While they are not exactly “babes,” freshmen in high school are fairly new to exploring and writing their ideas clearly and logically. It can be a real struggle, let me tell you. Why shouldn’t they be able to demand that school is canceled forever for all students? Why shouldn’t they be able to ask for a Six Flags amusement park in their small town in western North Dakota?

We spent some time in class discussing feasible topics. Once we eliminated the topics that were a little too unrealistic, many of my students really embraced the project with alacrity. Whether they care to admit it, they are concerned about their community. In reading through the essays, I discovered that young teenagers can be remarkably perceptive in understanding the real issues surrounding them. They addressed everything from the dangers of our roads to the need for more emergency personnel in the oil field, and less serious topics such as adding more restaurants or community activities in our small boomtown to improve the overall quality of life. Some of their arguments:

  • “[Our community] should hire a full-time fire department because our local firemen are overworked. Our fire department is run on a volunteer basis, which means in addition to all the hours these men are on call, they also have to maintain full-time jobs.”
  • “If major highways like 85 and 23 were four lanes, there would be less congestion, which would make people feel less likely to pass.”
  • “I want our high school to start a recycling program.”
  • “If we built a new Civic Center, it would be a great place for kids to hang out… Right now, our town has few places for us kids to get together, so more kids are getting into trouble.” 
  • “Having a bowling alley in Watford City could involve all ages in the community. Having leagues would allow kids and adults to compete and have fun at the same time.”
  • “Fixing and repaving the roads will be very beneficial… Drivers will have less of a chance of hitting an obstruction, such as a pothole, and going into the ditch or other lane.”
  • “Having more restaurants with different types of food would make it easier on our travelers and truckers.”

They had some decent ideas, actually. The state of North Dakota is scrambling to keep up with the massive demand of an increased population: housing shortage, services shortage, and higher rate of crimes and traffic accidents, among other things, and it’s obviously not an easy job. However, the fact that my students were able to identify some of the serious and the less serious problems in their community and propose meaningful solutions made my chest puff up a little with, well, pride. 

But lest you go around amazed at my teaching skills and ability to coax well-written essays out of previously clueless students, something like the English teacher in the film Freedom Writers, let me share that it’s not quite like that. Not all of my students are so, well, eloquent. Here are some from the other side, some that help keep me humble as a writing instructor, so my head — and my ideals — don’t get too big.


  • “It would benefit our community by having the speed limit set to 65 instead of 45 close to town and will help the people on the bus so we can GET HOME FASTER.” 
  • “When the roads are in bad condition, a lot of people complain about it but don’t do anything. When people get blamed, a lot of fighting starts to happen. So better roads would reduce the number of fist fights.”
  • “I think it’s horrible the smokers got our open lunch hour taken away. We are all teenagers and we like our freedoms. If we can make a deal with the school board, we will!!!”
  • “If you wear something that isn’t dress code you get in trouble. Kids don’t like to get in trouble. It makes them sad and agitated. In conclusion, dress code makes children unhappy. It brings unhappiness to the world and needs to be stopped.”

And my personal favorite: This student had found a hair in his food at lunch one day, so he based his entire essay around this apparently traumatizing event:

  • “If a lot of hair is in your food it could make you constipated. If you get constipated, you will have to go to the doctor for medicine and the bill can be more than some people can afford. [Also] I puke after I find hair in my food, so you know that hair can’t be good for you. If the food tasted better, we would probably eat more and the school wouldn’t have to buy as many garbage bags. With the money that we saved from the garbage bags, we could buy even more hair nets.” 

Dramatic? I would say so. Although I had a hard time appreciating the logic of the arguments in this essay, I admit finding that unknown hair is never fun. (In this particular case, I suspect some of the student’s friends as the hair culprits.)

I do enjoy my students and their various colorful ideas, even the not-so-eloquent ones. In my classroom, we’ve had many discussions over issues like these, inside our small community and across the state and even the country. Students keep our jobs as teachers interesting, and as long as we stop to hear what they have to say, we may be surprised, even pleasantly surprised. Try it sometime. Listen to a kid. Heck, listen to another adult. In our crazy piece of land called the oil patch, it’s worth hearing some of the stories that people have to tell, some of the places that people are coming from.

This April storm outside my window, however, is not much of a pleasant surprise.

We do not have hurricanes…

Musings, North Dakota Living

One of Our Own

I wrote last time about the dangers of driving on our roads. A few days later, in a sad irony, those very roads took one of our own. It’s different then. When I see in the newspaper every week the accidents and deaths on the oil field highways, I feel sympathy, but a distant sympathy. I don’t know them. They don’t know me. They usually hail from states like Arkansas and Washington and Wyoming. I feel bad for their families for a fleeting moment, and then I move on to the next story. It’s hard not to become a little numb to all the accidents when they happen so often.

This time, it’s different. This time, it hits close to home.

On March 23, a sunny Saturday morning, my cousin Rory was killed in an accident with a semi on a major highway only miles from our farm. Rory was 30 years old, a young 30. Sometimes he seemed more like 22 or 23. He had lived in the oil field for the past two years, originally hailing from Reno, Nevada, but always connected to western North Dakota and especially his Grandpa Tom, an Irish farmer who was a lifelong native of the area. Rory came here to stay in 2011, the same year I did, and quickly made a name for himself with his love for action and persistence to engage anyone and everyone around him in a debate. Locals began to recognize his boisterous laugh and crooked hat. He lived in his little four-room cabin in the bottom of a tree-filled break, drove around a dusty Dodge Neon or one of two old pickups — depending on the day — and took his dog Holiday with him wherever he went. Rory was especially close to two of my brothers. I have to admit, Rory wasn’t always on my good side. He liked to push my buttons and more often than not, I allowed him to, but in the end Rory was a loyal cousin and friend. We had a couple good conversations that last week when he came in visit during my shift at the hotel, the last time I talked to him before his accident. Of course, he didn’t leave that night without one last debate between us: this one over the pronunciation of Phuket, Thailand. (Our debates, as you can see, often involved matters of little to no real importance.) I don’t think we ever figured out who was right… Oh well.

I wish I could write everything I want to write about Rory. I spoke some words about our friend-foe relationship at his family service, and I think that’s where those words will have to stay. For now, I have had my fill of memories and sad farewells. But I don’t feel I could continue to write a cheeky blog about the oil field without recognizing some of the harsh realities, the losses that we experience in the untamed face of progress. The oil field is bringing our area a lot of possibilities and exciting opportunities. But sometimes… sometimes it takes just a little too much in return.

Rory is lying at rest next to his Grandpa Tom in a small western North Dakota cemetery, only yards away from my own Grandpa Tim and Grandma Marjorie. They lie there under granite headstones, memories of the past homesteading days and casualties of the current energy-producing madhouse. They lie there as reminders to give what we can, remember those who have gone before us and most importantly, appreciate the ones still left around us.

Because sometimes, we don’t think about those things enough until it’s one of our own who reminds us.

When my Grandma Tim died in 2005, I wrote a poem that was inspired by his life in western North Dakota and, more specifically, the small cemetery where he is buried. I thought it was fitting for Rory too, so I’m sharing it below.

Prairie Winds 

The meadowlark is singing, singing sweetly sad its song
Its melody is simple, caring not for right or wrong
How can it know of mortal pain
When singing sweet its song?

The prairie wind is blowing, breezing softly by the bales
The grasses dip their heads before its never-ending gales
What does it care for life or death?
Its forces never fail.

The endless sky is stretching, sunlight sinking to the west
It glows upon a graveyard where beloved lie at rest
It shines there but a moment
And it gathers to the west

A man is but a memory, a twinkling of the eye
His time is like the prairie wind, a softly fading sigh
Only he can sing his song before he passes by
And goes to meet his Maker in the endless prairie sky.

Rest in Peace, Rory. Here’s one last North Dakota sunset for ya.