Musings, North Dakota Living

What America is Made Of

You may remember a popular old nursery rhyme about what little girls and little boys are made of. Little girls, of course, are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. I can attest to this because I was once a sweet little girl. (I’m not sure what happened — the spice is still there, but the sugar seems to be running low.) Little boys, according to the rhyme, are made of slugs and snails and puppy-dog tails. Also, Barbie dolls. Broken ones. And I’m not trying to be gender neutral: On a few occasions my brothers dismembered my Ken dolls and/or set them on fire.

Maybe that’s what happened to the sugar.

Anyway, this Fourth of July week got me thinking: What is America made of?

If you asked this question, you would get a smattering of answers. Some might have less-than-glowing words for the U.S. in its current state of debt, questionable foreign policy and bipartisan craziness. Some might supply vague and generic answers, abstract words that in many ways have become watered-down, have lost their power and meaning. Freedom. Democracy. Rights of man. Liberty. The pursuit of happiness. Those things are important, no doubt, and we owe immense gratitude to the servicemen who have retained them for the rest of us, but sometimes American culture and politics and history books cycle the words around and around, and we lose complete sight of what they mean.

Therefore, I thought some concrete objects might help. Those old nursery rhymes were good that way. If girls are made of sugar and spice and boys are made of slugs and snails and Barbie dolls, then we need concrete objects for America, too.

America is not perfect, but it’s her birthday this week, after all.

This is what I think America is made of:

It’s a sunset over a Midwest lake.

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It’s a four-legged resident of the Midwest plains.

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It’s the relics of the past that America was built on.

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And it’s the symbols of progress, and you wonder if you always have to take the bad with the good, or if there are better ways to do things.

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There are always better ways to do things.

It’s the water towers proudly proclaiming the names of the towns they belong to.

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It’s the roads that lead to nowhere, which really lead to somewhere if you don’t mind getting lost.

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And it’s the dogs that accompany you along the way.

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It’s adorable sundresses on those little girls that are made of sugar and spice.

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And inflatable hot dogs. (Sometimes, America does make me shake my head a little.)

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But the kids have fun, anyway.

It’s an outdoor concert on a hot July night.

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And if you’re lucky, it’s a Guster concert. (Seriously, check them out: Your life will be better for it.)

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And when the outdoor concert is in the outfield of a minor league baseball stadium, and it’s America’s birthday week, and you can sit on blankets in the grass and buy brats and beer and mini donuts, ย all those things make it feel even more like America at its best.

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I could keep going, because America is made of a lot of things, both good and bad. But most of all, it’s made of its people: the rich, the poor, the old and young, the teachers and lawyers and coal miners and farmers and cashiers and biologists, and most importantly, the children. That’s what matters; that’s what our countrymen have been fighting for all these centuries.

That’s what America is made of.

Musings, North Dakota Living

Multiple Modes of Mobility

I love mobility.ย I love transportation. I love travel.ย I just love getting from here to there, and back again.

I think I just love seeing everything I can possibly see.

I’ve loved it since the moment I got my license when I was 14. I’ve loved it since I learned to combine wheat and barley fields when I was 12. (Driving around in circles counts as mobility, right? In fact, I also ran cross country and track for ten years. People used to ask why I liked to “run around in circles so much?” I guess I’ve always had a thing for transporting myself in circles.) I’ve loved it since my brother and I used to push our plastic purple and red Hot Wheels trikes to the top of the cemetery hill and fly down to our driveway so fast our feet couldn’t stay on the pedals.

I’ve loved it since I realized there’s so much of the world to see and only one short life to see it.

And I think I love almost every kind of mode there is to accomplish all the seeing:

A walk down our gravel road on a cool summer evening…

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A bike ride in the North Dakota Badlands right at the set of an autumn sun…

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A road trip across the Middle of Nowhere, Montana, in a Buick that’s going to break down in about 150 miles…

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Which, after the Buick is properly checked out by a mechanic, who tells us to only drive it back to North Dakota at our own risk, which of course we do, turns into a hike in one of our nation’s most beautiful national parks…

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A jetski ride across a Minnesota lake…

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Or better yet, a free kayak ride from Auntie…

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Being on a farm, we get to vary our transportation modes a bit more…

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And just for the heck of it, why not drive a short bus around the state of North Dakota every once in a while?

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And why not ride around in a oil-can cow train, just to see the sights of the pumpkin patch on a bright autumn afternoon? (If it didn’t attract so much hostile attention from other adults, I would have been seated in an oil-can cow, too, right next to my niece and nephew. I resigned myself to taking a picture instead, sighing a little to myself. Kids are so lucky.)

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I don’t think I could pick a favorite mode of transportation. The joys of mobility and seeing all the sights there are to see are too… joyful. But if I had to pick one, I think I might have a new favorite: flying. My brother Danny earned his pilot’s license a couple years ago, and I’ve become spoiled with this new way to travel from town to town around the Midwest. Besides the convenience of cutting hours off of travel time, flying is one of the few transportations where you just have to look out the window. I usually have a book in hand when I travel, because one of my other great joys in life besides traveling is reading, but flying doesn’t allow such a distraction. Looking at the tiny cars and houses and oil flares below is too fascinating.

All of the phrases about “a bird’s-eye view”, and “as the crow flies,” and “on eagles’ wings,” aren’t false advertising. Flying in a small plane is a luxury that if I could, I would bestow upon all of you, so that you could see little farms and checkerboard fields like this:

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The checkerboard will be even prettier in a couple months when the wheat fields are gold and the canola fields are yellow and the flax fields are purple.

And you could see neat-o controlled burns like this:

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And you could see the lights of a hundred flares lighting up the sky at night, looking like little outlaw campfires from the seat of the plane.

But my camera died before I could take a picture of that.

Thanks, Danny, for the ride last week.

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Luckily, I don’t have to pick one favorite mode of mobility. Flying, and biking, and hiking, and driving tractors and combines and four-wheelers, and gliding across the water in a kayak, and even cruising down a two-lane highway in a Buick with a transmission valve going out, are some of my favorite things. They are the stuff that memories are made of. And I can do them all, as long as I have life in my lungs and legs and sometimes, a few dollars for gas.

And maybe, this year at the pumpkin patch, I’ll just say to heck with it and take a ride next to my niece and nephew in that oil-can cow.