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TRAVELING JACK

Posted 2/28/17 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

Like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” so is the road in North Dakota.
If you fall down the rabbit hole of a highway here, you’ll meet some interesting characters.
The ones in the car with me are intersting enough already, but to meet an 83-year-old man in Hillsboro whose appendix was removed by my great-grandfather, Dr. R.C. Little of Mayville, was both bizarre and wonderful.
On a day in Mountain, I was photographing America’s oldest Icelandic church and perhaps the only Main Street cemetery in North Dakota when a man drove up who shared a mutual friend in my editor at the High Plains Reader.
He told me to come back for the deuce of August that year, and so did the caretaker of Thingvalla Lutheran Cemetery near Milton. The church burned in 2003 with all its original artifacts. Flames reached 1,700 degrees, the caretaker said in a side note.
As a lonely sunset sparkled in Appam last spring, a man getting his mail told my friend Sabrina and me that the town used to be a hopping place 100 years ago.
Not so much anymore.
On a fall color tour of the Denbigh Experimental Forest, Sabrina and I met the residential ranger, who took us through her 85-year-old cabin built in the days of sand dunes at the site in upper central North Dakota.
“Trees are your friends,” she said, and what a feat that North Dakotans could transform a treeless tract of wind-blasted prairie into a thriving forest.
A Border Patrol officer from the Pembina port of entry greeted me on the west bank of the Red River one spring when I came to photograph North Dakota’s lowest point, where the river drains into Manitoba.
He didn’t know the significance of the spot, but he knew who I was because I called ahead to avoid arrest on illegal entry into Canada.
Last spring, Sabrina and I were walking around abandoned buildings in Balfour when a man named Tom showed up in his pickup with a black Lab in the backseat.
Tom regaled us about Balfour’s museum and old cigar factory before slipping a towel off the passenger seat to show us his .52-caliber rifle weighing 42 pounds, of which he’s immensely proud.
On a grouse hunt to Goodrich with my family, we learned of the passing of Hazel Erdmann, who kept up the town’s park. Mom believes Hazel Erdmann is a shining example of the active citizens small towns need.
At a bar in Rugby, Sabrina and I met a man who manufactures pool cues and bought us a round after we all exchanged business cards. He wondered if we were “liberal mainstream media” since we’re reporters, but nah. We won him over.
In another bar in Marmarth, another man gave me his jukebox credits after I unknowingly played his favorite Johnny Cash song.
He also went to buy me a Long Island tea, but apparently passed out by the door a little later. I hope he made it home OK.
And at brunch one warm February day in Medora, our hostess was a former military interpreter who spoke seven languages, including French.
Ah, les gens qui vous rencontrez dans des petits endroits.
The world is a small place. Even smaller and chattier in North Dakota.
C’est vrai.