The Menace From The North
It is an odd thing but it happens that in my travels about these United States I had visited every state but two - Alaska and North Dakota. One of my little jokes has been to mention this fact in conversation and then dryly add,
"Someday I must visit Alaska."
People ask (at least they do when heavily prompted) how it is that someone born and bred in South Dakota could have missed visiting North Dakota. They understand missing Alaska - after all, it's rather out of the way. But why North Dakota!?
The answer is simple enough, I explain. North Dakota is not on a route to anyplace I have ever wanted to visit. Going east one goes through Minnesota or Iowa. Going west one goes through Wyoming or Montana. Going south one goes through Nebraska. And going north? The simple truth is that there is no reason to go north from South Dakota.
Over the years I have constructed a mythology about North Dakota. For example, in June of 2004, I wrote:
As to Baja Canada (aka North Dakota) I can't witness for its existence - I've never been there. I am told, though, that people who live near the border of that accursed land speak fearfully of "the shadow of the North". The full truth of this I do not know but I do know this: Migrating pigs that fly north into Baja Canada never return.My little mythology is not without foundation. North Dakota is, perhaps, the most socio-culturally (don't bother looking that word up - I just made it up) isolated state in the union. Mention a state's name and people know something about it, some little identifying tag. Idaho has its potatoes, Wyoming Yellowstone, Utah Mormons, and Vermont has maple syrup. Even South Dakota has a bunch of oversized carved rocks. But what does North Dakota bring to mind? Exactly. Precisely nothing.
People know that there is a North Dakota but not much beyond that. Not so long ago there was a proposal to rename the state, the thought being that a more interesting name might create more interest in the state. The wags came up with proposals such as East Montana, West Minnesota, Baja Canada, and The Other Dakota. Not much came of the proposal. 'Tis a pity; it deserved a better fate.
There are more ominous facts though. North Korea and North Dakota are both hermit states. Both were created by a politically motivated division of a larger entity along an arbitrary border. Both are nuclear powers. Granted North Korea's graduation to the nuclear club has been recent whereas North Dakota's membership has been of long standing. But are these mere coincidences? I think not. Consider that North Dakota already was a hotbed of socialism a century ago. Consider that the Red River runs through North Dakota. These are no mere coincidences; this is a pattern.
Perhaps the most ominous consideration is that North Dakota is the world's third largest nuclear power. The North Dakota prairies are dotted with missile silos and ABM radars. This has been a source of considerable nervousness on the part of the international community. In 2003 UN weapons inspector Hans Blix reported:
"Satellite photos confirm that the North Dakotans have been quietly harboring an extensive nuclear-weapons program," said Blix, presenting his findings in a speech to the U.N. Security Council. "Alarmingly, this barely developed hinterland possesses the world's most technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction, capable of reaching targets all over the world."[Source: The Onion February 5, 2003 | Issue 39•04]
The Onion report described the government of North Dakota as follows:
The man at the center of the controversy is North Dakota's leader, Gov.John Hoeven. Having risen to power in 2000 after amassing tremendous wealth in the private sector, Hoeven lives a life of comfort and excess inside the heavily patrolled North Dakota governor's mansion, a lavish dwelling paid for entirely by the state, while many of his people engage in subsistence farming.Despite the alarms, nothing has been done, and reportage of the North Dakota menace has been quietly suppressed. I do not know why, but I suspect that the United States felt it best to let sleeping nuclear giants lie. After all, North Dakota has never actually launched any missiles. We don't need to know what goes on in North Dakota as long as what happens in North Dakota stays in North Dakota.
Not too long ago Our Lady of the Large Black Dog and I were invited to a wedding in Sidney, Montana. It seems that one of her nieces was marrying a steer wrestler. Rineharts are like that. Either they're off wrestling steers or else they're marrying people who wrestle steers. The victims, er, the happy couple being united in the blissful bonds of matrimony were Jerrian Suhn and Beau Franzen.
If you look at a map of Montana (something everyone should do at least once in their life) you will discover that Sidney is in northeat Montana. They grow sugar beets there. I have no idea why. I have speculated that the US government subsidizes the production of sugar beets so that depressed Montana sugar beet farmers won't invade North Dakota. This, however, is mere speculation on my part.
This created a bit of a problem; there is no sane way to get to Sidney, Montana, that doesn't involve passing through North Dakota. I pleaded with Our Lady of the Large Black Dog, "Can't we go around North Dakota? Do we actually have to go through it?" I don't recall what her reply was, but it sounded suspiciously like, "Don't be ridiculous."
I reconciled myself; a lifetime of avoiding North Dakota was about to come to end. I pictured the border crossing in detail. We would drive up to a checkpoint where armed, uniformed guards would strip search us and confiscate our cameras. On the guard house wall there would have a picture of the glorious leader, Gov. Hoeven. After being warned not to talk to locals we would be sent on our way.
The reality was less impressive. When we passed into North Dakota from South Dakota the only thing we saw was a sign overgrown with grass that welcomed us to North Dakota. On our return from Montana the welcome sign was not overgrown. However the local cowboys had been centering the o's and dotting the i's. Since "Welcome to North Dakota" doesn't have any i's they improvised.
Some day I must visit Alaska.
This page was last updated January 1, 2008.