Drift Prairie

There’s not much left of Sherbrooke, ND. It’s marked on my North Dakota atlas but no one lives there anymore. Sherbrooke was once a hub for this part of the drift prairie region in North Dakota. It was the county seat of Steele County from 1885 until 1919. On a trip through North Dakota in 1896, President William McKinley stayed at its hotel. But in 1919 county residents voted to move the county seat to a more convenient location that was on a rail line or a river. Nearby Finley won, and Sherbrooke went into decline.

Visiting places like this, I’m reminded of how the land persists as it is despite peoples’ big dreams and hard work. Somebody put a lot of love and labor into this place, planting trees, laying the brick foundations that are now bare of walls and building the wooden houses and barns, some of which have blown off their footings, building up businesses of which there is now not a trace. People have roots here. More than one loved it, I’m sure. I wonder if they come back and visit. The hour I walked through I didn’t see or hear a car, didn’t see a soul, just the steady wind blowing through.


In appreciation of Joe Biden

As with last night’s debates, so often when I hear Joe Biden talk I get happy. It’s less about his politics, with which I don’t always agree, and more about two things that stand out with him:

First, the guy has heart enough for a community of people. He lost his wife and youngest child just as he turned 30 and he responded to that heartbreak in ways that most of us could never have done. He elected to commute daily, by rail, an hour-and-a-half each way, to Washington so that his sons could stay and grow up at their home in Delaware. They had lost half the foundations of their lives; he didn’t force them to give up so much else of what they knew and could trust for the sake of his career. He has said he “liked to [walk around seedy neighborhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight … I had not known I was capable of such rage … I felt God had played a horrible trick on me.” He continues to honor the wife and daughter he lost (he never works on December 18, the anniversary of the car accident that took them). At the same time, after five years, he managed to walk on, meeting and eventually reforming his family with Jill Tracy Jacobs, to whom he has been married 25 years. There’s a bit of old wisdom that you don’t get more tragedy and heartbreak in your life than you can handle. Most people in our country could not handle the heartbreak that he’s born with a lot of grace.

The other thing I like best about old Joe is a trait that is often portrayed as a weakness: his lack of a working filter. He’s portrayed in the media as a gaffe machine. What I see is a guy who says out loud what he’s thinking, the way we expect almost anyone in our lives to do – except, for some reason, for our politicians. He’s probably a nightmare for his handlers or for the people who try to manage a consistent message and I’m sure he gives the opposition plenty to play with. If you actually listen to him, you know what he’s saying and that’s not usually the case.

Whether you agree with Joe’s politics or not, you have to at least grant him for being a bigger human being that is usually stuffed into a politician’s suit. We need more leaders like him.

Fathering, pt. 82

I came across this quote from Cheryl Strayed’s latest, Wild:

“The father’s job is to teach his children how to be warriors, to give them the confidence to get on the horse to ride into battle when it’s necessary to do so. If you don’t get that from your father, you have to teach yourself.”

I don’t usually hold with the idea that there is a necessary role for a mother or father to fill. I know enough families that break the molds: two dads, two moms, stay-at-home dads who give everything for their kids while their wives pour themselves into work. At the same time, I think this may be right. The mother provides the safe haven, the place that children come back to. The confidence from the father is to help the children set forth bravely into their futures.

And that’s the rub. In the story I’m writing, the fathers have failed at that, even though many have done it themselves. I’m not sure why or how but it’s clear the gaping hole is there. I suppose I will learn as the characters slowly reveal themselves to me.

About Writing, Part 6

“To write with taste, in the highest sense, is to write … so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write …  so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.

If there is good to be said, the writer should say it. If there is bad to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living.

The true artist … gets his sense of worth and honor from his conviction that art is powerful.”

— John Gardner

Goodbye to summer (and early fall)

The last week or so has been my favorite kinds of fall days, warm and quiet afternoons, sharp and cool mornings. Even though it’s said to be a bad leaf year, the maples are bright orange and red and yellow. The temperature is expected to drop 20 degrees by Thursday and bring with it rain. Feeling a little sentimental for summer.