N.D. – As a woman whose heart has been planted solid here in the buttes and prairies of North Dakota, but whose feet and mind have wandered with music and education and the winding road for years, I have often found myself on the other end of the question: Why here?
Before I made the decision to stay here for good, before I became a mother working and raising those children in the middle of my 30s, trying desperately to find a way to do the right thing for the legacy of this ranch, I struggled to find an answer. I used to think I had to be so profound. I used to think I had to convince them…
Because asking me why North Dakota, why the prairies, why Middle America, is like asking what it means to you to hold your last name, or wear your grandmother’s ring, or to lay down next to the man you love every night. How do you answer it?
Who are these people who hold the scent of the dirt, the push of the wind, the endless winters, the wheat fields, the small town in such regard? Who has lived here for years, or arrived fresh and unconvinced? Who comes home again?
We are rural route roads, beat-up mailboxes and dusty school bus seats. We are rides in the combine, summer sausage sandwiches, a thermos of coffee washed down with warm lemonade and faces streaked with dirt after a hot August day in the field. Two miles to a gravel road on the edge of town and we are freedom, our father’s pickup, 12 years old behind the steering wheel.
We are first loves and last loves and forever loves found on those back roads at night, on front porches, in the back seats of cars and under blankets shared in the stands at football games.
We are the stars that light up the endless sky at night, family farms, four generations of the same recipe on Christmas Eve. The barnyard light.
We are white wood prairie churches, our mother’s voice quietly singing the hymns, Jell-O with suspended vegetables and mayonnaise casseroles waiting for us in the basement when the service is through.
We are wet clay caked to cowboy boots, the black soil of the valley, the only stoplight in town.
High heels and business suits, running shoes and hoping things will stay the same and knowing, working, voting, crying out for change.
We’re number crunchers, songs that must be sung, books that must be written. Snake-bitten.
We scream for sun and pray for rain and push the river from our doors. We’ve been here before.