Tuesday, November 2, 2010

South Dakota & North Dakota - November 2, 1889

Although November and December represent only 1/6 of the year, we are left with 1/3 of the states still to celebrate! I normally do not write about two states in the same post, but since North and South Dakota became states on the same date from the same territory, since they are states that I have on my "yet to visit list", I decided to make an exception. James, however, has been to South Dakota.

South Dakota's state fossil is the Triceratops - my favorite dinosaur!

Since I have so much reading to do before the end of the year, I worked on it during the long hiatus between California day and Nevada day. I attempted to read a young-adult novel about South Dakota, A Year Without Rain by D. Anne Love, figuring, since it was short, it would help me keep up, but I didn't get very far before I put it down and started looking for something else. It seemed that most of the action actually took place in Georgia, rather than South Dakota. Fortunately, this NPR story clued me in to The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber. Set in the Badlands in 1917 (the "year without rain") readers learn about the especially harsh life the homesteaders faced that year. The DuPrees, one of very few "Negro" families to homestead, watch as their crops wither, their animals die and, their well runs dry. Meanwhile Rachel's memories of her previous life as a cook in a Chicago boardinghouse, and before that as a girl in Louisiana are jogged. Rachel faces her own prejudices against the "agency Indians", and begins to question her husband's loyalty to the land, and desiring a better life for her four daughters than an arranged marriage, she makes a difficult decision. Weisgarber describes some extremely cruel life experiences for these homesteaders, nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel a little bit jealous of Rachel's life - a hermit...with benefits.

As always, any mention of a library gets special recognition in my blog. In the case of Rachel DuPree the library passage couldn't have been more dear to the Hayes-Bohanan hearts. In a one-page passage Weisgarber manages to weave coffee, geography and libraries all into the narrative. "Every morning, Samuel, the delivery boy brought two five-pound sacks of dark beans to the kitchen door. Those beans...had traveled all they way from South America. I tried to picture South America from my geography lessons, but I couldn't place it...I took the streetcar and went to the free library. There I rounded up my courage and asked the white man behind the counter if he could tell me where South America was...He stopped at a table where there was a big globe of the world..."

The title The Plague of Doves (my North Dakota choice) piqued my interest because my daughter's name (Paloma) is Spanish for dove. It turns out that the "doves" to which the title refers, however, "were surely the passenger pigeons of truth and legend". Louise Erdrich's story has many narrators, which I sometimes could not keep straight, and the story jumped around in time, which also sometimes confused me. There were some "magic realism" moments that reminded me of some of the Latin American literature I've read. The narrators included members of the Ojibwe tribe, anglos, and those of mixed blood, giving the reader a sense of the variety of experiences. Ultimately, I was able to sort out the story and there is some resolution at the end.

There was one mention of a college library from the narrator named Evelina Harp who claimed to spend most of her time there.

Dances with Wolves (a rather long film!)
At just under four hours long, this one took us three nights to watch. We had seen it before, probably 20 years ago, but had forgotten most of it. Kevin Costner plays Lieutenant John Dunbar (a.k.a. Dances with Wolves - his Sioux name). When Dunbar is sent to a fort the Dakota territory during the Civil War he finds the post abandoned. He eventually befriends the Sioux tribe living nearby, and discovers that there is a young "white" woman, called Stands with a Fist, (played by Mary McDonnell) living with them. Through her, he is able to communicate with his neighbors.

This movie had me thinking a lot about the concept of "the other" and how the government and the media manipulate the way people feel about others. In the case of this movie, we are made to feel sympathy for the Sioux tribe, and as James points out, as anglos we found ourselves in the postion of rooting for the Sioux and against the U.S. governement. It is only recently that I have heard the word "genocide" applied to the elimination the Native Americans during the 19th century, but it is accurate. The idea of "the other" in the film was evident in two interesting ways: one was that we felt no empathy for the U.S. soldiers - they were portrayed as bullying, illiterate idiots who didn't know enough to bring paper with them to wipe their asses; the second "other" we saw in the film was the Pawnee tribe who were only seen as violent. Whereas the Sioux were portayed more multi-dimensionally, anglos and Pawnees are seen as evil. We see the Sioux mourn their loved ones, making love, and watch as the women cry as their warriors take leave. While we can assume the whites and the Pawnees expressed some of these same emotions, they are absent from the film.

I did like the film, it gave me a lot to think about, the scenery was beautiful, and that Kevin Costner sure isn't hard to look at.

Jesus Camp
Becky Fischer is a children's pastor who runs an evangelical camp for kids in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. This documentary follows Pastor Becky as she works to create a Christian Army of children, some as young as six years old. She does not deny that she is "indoctrinating" the children, rather she defends it by saying that our "enemies" (other religions) are doing the same. She is trying to save America from itself. Footage from inside the camp shows dozens of children driven to tears when confronted with their own sins. I was especilly disturbed by the discussion of abortion with children so young. The film follows a few of the children closely. Levi, a 12-year old boy, is being groomed for the ministry by the adults around him. He is clearly charismatic. The film also goes to Colorado Springs to visit Ted Haggard's "mega-church". This film came out in 2006, just before allegations that Haggard had paid a male prostitute for sex. The allegations proved to be true, which make his comments in the film against homosexuality all the more troubling.

North Dakota "short"
Evidently, I have a lot of company among those who have not yet been to North Dakota. Back in the 1990s Michael Moore (of Roger & Me fame, see my Michigan post) had a television show called TV Nation. In which he explored some quirky things. In one segment he questions why North Dakota is the least visited state in the country. Watch this YouTube video to find out. I am surprised that there are not more people going to visit Rugby, North Dakota, which has the honor of being the geographical center of the country. I will definitely be going!

I imagine the Bauernmomlett (Farmer's Omlet), our North Dakota meal made with potatoes and bacon, was never intended to be made with "fake-in", but in deference to our vegetarian daughter we made the substitution. It was pretty good, and simple to make, and our oven, which has been malfunctioning regularly of late, behaved long enough for me to put the broiler on in order to cook the top of the omelet. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, I recommend buying one immediately. They are essential for making fluffy, non-burnt omelets. I cook the omlet, covered, on low heat for about 7 minutes, until it is mostly set, then put it under the broiler for one to two minutes. Perfect every time. We also enjoyed nice cold glasses of milk - the North Dakota state beverage!

Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned oven malfunction we have to defer our South Dakota food choice until tomorrow, when, hopefully we will have it fixed. We will be preparing kuchen - the official South Dakota state dessert. We will write a supplemental post, and James will write about his trip to South Dakota as well. He is among the ranks of the many who have not been to North Dakota. We can't wait to become some of the few!

An interesting article about North Dakota agriculture from the New York Times:  North Dakota cattle get a new home. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/us/13cows.html

North Dakota's press release on the occasion of its 121st birthday!

1 comment:

  1. Great post -- a two-fer! As Pam mentioned, I did have a brief visit to South Dakota: an end-to-end drive in 1985. It was beautiful, but even my undergraduate self could not handle the so-called coffee. (A two-liter Thermos fueled our 8,500-mile trip, apparently before some parts of the country were aware of liters.) My simple SD traverse is at http://webhost.bridgew.edu/jhayesboh/counties/sd.htm; its northern and southern neighbors are among the four United States I've not yet visited.

    Reading Pam's post about Dances with Wolves, I can't help but think that the one-dimensional portrayal of the white soldiers was deliberate; an antidote to hundreds of films that have done the opposite.

    The Jesus Camp movie hit close to home -- literally. I used to attend weekly rallies of a very similar "mean-for-Jesus" organization when I lived in KCMO.

    Finally, Pam is absolutely right about the necessity of cast-iron skillets!