N is for North Dakota

One of my favorite posters during my college days was a white background with a single black line drawn across it from left to right. It wasn’t a straight line, but almost. It ran parallel to the bottom of the poster for about two thirds of the way and then bumped upwards and back down again, returning to parallel the bottom again. Something like this:


Across the bottom were the words “Ski North Dakota.”

For so many years, North Dakota seemed to be the butt of jokes.

I was born in North Dakota. I never lived in North Dakota. And I’ll admit it. Most of the time I considered it space I just had to get through to reach where I was going.

But that’s changing. Slowly but surely people are beginning to hear of another side of North Dakota.

There’s the Bakken Formation, the geological structure holding oil and gas deposits that offer the promise of wealth and work. The deposits have been known for decades, but getting the oil and gas out hasn’t been technically and financially feasible until recently. And considering the controversy around hydraulic fracking, I had better stop saying anything more since some will claim the risks of fracking outweigh the benefits which calls the feasibility conclusion into question.

But the Bakken Formation put North Dakota onto the map of some, including television producers who decided to set a prime-time soap opera theoretically set there last season, Blood and Oil.

And that wasn’t the only North Dakota TV series last winter. Fargo, the TV series, ran its second season at the same time.

North Dakota is also making headlines in other entertainment areas as well–the North Dakota State University Bison football team is the only college football program ever to win five consecutive NCAA national championships. I know this not because I follow football; I know this because I am on Facebook and my friends and family from back in North Dakota and Minnesota make sure I know how well the Bison are doing.

Am I trying to get you to consider North Dakota for your next vacation? Probably not. I just looked over the list of 73 things to do in North Dakota with free admission on the North Dakota Tourism website, and I can’t say that any of them screamed “Come here right now. You can’t miss this one.”

So what I guess I am trying to convince you is that next time you hear a joke where North Dakota comes off looking pitiful, stand up and say “Now wait a minute. Don’t you know . . .” and then follow up with one of these little known facts about North Dakota:

  • In 2012, North Dakota had the lowest unemployment rate in the United States. In 2016 it dropped to third lowest, but it is still below three percent.
  • Also in 2012 North Dakota was the fastest growing state in the United States.
  • North Dakota has the highest percentage of church-going population in the country as well as the highest number of churches per capita.
  • Milk is the official drink of North Dakota.
  • North Dakota grows more sunflowers than any other state in the United States.
  • Most of the pasta in the United States is made from durham wheat grown in North Dakota.
  • North Dakota is the third highest producer of sugar in the United States.
  • North Dakota is the nation’s highest producer of honey.
  • North Dakota is the only state that has never had an earthquake.

Does that sound like a place to make fun of? Really?

F is for Fargo

I arrived in Fargo by way of St. Luke’s Hospital, my birthplace. While I never lived in Fargo–my family lived across the Red River of the North in Moorhead, Minnesota–there is no denying that Fargo had a big impact on my life. And initially, all I wanted was to get away from it.

Fargo may be the largest city between Minneapolis and the West Coast, but it was still too small to be called a big city. And I knew I wanted to live in a big city.

My first foray outside of the reach of Fargo was the summer of 1968 when I spent seven weeks living in Union City, New Jersey, while I volunteered at a church in Weehawken, New Jersey, in an arts, crafts, and recreation program. Each weekend I traveled to the biggest of the big cities–New York City. And that’s where I wanted to be.

But the summer ended, I returned to Minnesota, and I continued to dream of ways to get out.

At the end of college, I headed as far as I could get from Fargo without having to get onto a plane or a ship–Berkeley, California. A couple of years later, I traveled even further west to San Francisco. And that’s the big city I chose for the rest of my life.

But that didn’t work.

Instead, I’ve been traveling ever since, spending a few months to a few years in different countries, on different continents, in different cities.

Still, there is no denying that I come from Fargo. If it weren’t for the cold and snow of winters, I’d probably be back there now. Over the years, Fargo got a little bigger. It got a little more cosmopolitan. It got more diverse. And I got a little older so that I don’t need so much variety. And Fargo is still one of the best places in the world to come from. People in Fargo trust one another and anyone else who comes to town. And that just plain feels good. I probably wouldn’t have been so successful at moving around from place to place and culture to culture if I hadn’t had the solid grounding that just comes with living in Fargo and Moorhead.

But don’t take my word for it. Marc de Celle brought his family to Fargo from Phoenix and found so many examples of how people in Fargo made him feel at home that he wrote a book about it: How Fargo of You