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TRAVELING JACK

Posted 8/08/17 (Tue)

By Jack Dura
Farmer Staff Writer

In my home, office and Jeep are maps of North Dakota.
I’m a bit obsessed.
Maps are my favorite. Atlases, globes, road maps, plats, I love them all. When I procured a table-sized foldout of the Little Missouri National Grassland (the last in stock at the Medora District office), it was Christmas come early.
And it really was, because it also snowed that day in late April. But I digress.
Propped up on my office safe is a mounted map of North Dakota with sewing pins dotting the towns and destinations I’ve been.
At home is the other map with Sharpie ink on all the roads I’ve traversed.
It’s my pride and joy and the butt of my dad’s jokes.
“Wow, you’ve been everywhere but nowhere,” he said as he traced a Sharpie line to where it ended, inexplicably, northeast of Selz.
“What happened there?” he said.
“I turned around.”
“Huh.”
On empty winter weekends, I’ll dive into my 60-page North Dakota atlas and mark it up like a preschool coloring project. The real destinations aren’t on the state’s official highway map.
Like the Ice Caves near Grassy Butte. Or Old Marmarth Road.
Or every forgotten rural church.
On a foray home from Fargo, I dipped south into Grant County and steered my ship of the plains into four churchyards within 15 miles of each other, century-old houses of worship, locked and lonely on the west river prairie.
They’re marked on my map.
My sister finds this odd. No one uses physical maps anymore, she said, watching as my grassland map swallowed me whole as I folded it into sixty-fourths.
“Well, I do,” I said. How else will I find the tallest juniper in North Dakota? It’s marked right here.
My favorite map of the state is one I do not own. It hangs in an unlocked, historic schoolhouse, depicting 1930 North Dakota before interstate highways and reservoirs.
How romantic.
I suppose my affinity for maps is in my blood. My grandmother was also a cartophile, and for years my father kept half a dozen or so lake charts balled up in his boat’s glove box.
“Why don’t we ever go to Black Tiger Bay?” 9-year-old Jack asked his dad one day.
“Waste of gas,” said Dad, snatching his Devils Lake map from me, eyeing it in the wind and sea spray.
Today he uses a GPS mount to find his way. Gone are the years like summer 2003, with Mom, two kids, a Lab and a general sense of direction.
I’ve followed my gut before too. A few wrong turns and I found my way, like when I tried to drive west into Minnesota from Fargo.
There’s a map for that.