The last time I wrote about my native North Dakota, it was buried under feet of glacier-like snow and ice.
It was 1997, the winter after the Olympic Games here in Atlanta, and the comparison was stark. Winding and slithering through oceans of people in the humisery that Georgia wraps around us in late July, I was thankful for the occasional bursts of cooling mist from roadside kiosks (intended to keep us from dropping from the heat).
A few short months later, I was driving down a strip of old Highway 10 between Valley City and Jamestown, flanked by swelling waves in vast oceans of white, begging the car heater to kick in. Sitting on the rock-hard carseat, breathing between gritted teeth: Please God, I'll never delight in my sister's weight gain again if only this thing will eke out a breath of heat.
And, yet. Somehow the slap of the north wind on my face was a welcome home.
On either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, I've found weather is one of the ties that binds. How hot is it there? How much rain have you had? (Never enough. Too much. I know. I remember.)
The Weather Channel says it's as cold down there as it is up here. How are those Southerners handling it all?
Well, all the bread and milk are sold out and, at the sighting of the first few gentle flakes floating down, Storm Watch, 2001 is screaming across the evening news.
Yep. It's the talk of the rain, the snow, the cold, the wind, that offers us conversational entree, and further, perhaps, weaves something of the fabric of our character.
To echo something Jerry Richardson referred to in the last edition of this magazine, North Dakotans possess distinctive qualities.
I would take that a step further, and say the weather has something to do with that.
Forty below doesn't just keep the riff-raff out.
It may also give us a benchmark to compare the difficulties of our life struggles against. Yes, it's 6 below, as Monsignor Al Bitz e-mailed me from his parish in Casselton some weeks back. But the coffee is still hot in the cafe and friends have come to call. A lot of folks have it a lot worse.
I ran into a colleague from Grand Forks a few months after the spring floods of that awful year. So how did you and Suzette fare?
I remember well the pang of familiarity as he replied, Oh well. A lot of folks had it a lot worse
Folks in North Dakota don't like to complain about their own tragedies. A lot of folks have it a lot worse.
I guess when you routinely drive through weather that can kill you, everything kinda pales in comparison.
Politicians there aren't cartoon characters, as Conan O'Brien recently painted former President Bill Clinton in a Time magazine essay, but real people. When I was working at The Forum some years ago, then Managing Editor Terry DeVine was placing a call to Sen. Quentin Burdick. Well, Jocelyn said, he's up on the roof, putting some shingles on.
Only in North Dakota. (Of course, Minnesota is a different story )
Delsie Holmquist rapping with her pencil on the edge of her cup to capture our (always deficit) attention. Opening our eyes to the difference between regurgitating information and thinking.
Pat Beatty. Courage and compassion.
David Danbom. A sharp slice of wit and no excuses.
Lou and Jerry Richardson. Energy, grace and passion.
Catherine Cater. I wouldn't even presume to attach words.
There are so many more. Their voices have come into my head often during the 23 years that have passed since my feet last left the campus. Many thanks, NDSU. For putting people like that in my head. I've needed to hear their voices and feel their kicks in my behind now and again.
A lot of folks had it a lot worse.
Ellen K. Voss, has been on the editorial staff of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 1992, and before that worked for 14 years at The Forum in Fargo. She graduated with honor from NDSU in 1978.