In about two weeks, I’ll be moving back to my hometown on the Iowa/Illinois border. I’ve been all over the country (and world too, I guess) for the last dozen or so years, and in most of those places I wasn’t there long enough to call them home. Some of them I miss, and and some of them I don’t. As I wrap up my time up here in North Dakota, where I’ve lived in a couple towns for the last two years, I’ve been thinking about what I’ll miss and what I won’t.
What I’ll miss about North Dakota:
- First, it’s damn beautiful up here, once you get into the middle of the state and away from the flatness of the Red River Valley corridor. I’ve spent the past year taking pictures around the state, and the empty hills of the high prairie are sometimes breathtaking. My absolute favorite part of the state is along Hwy 1804, driving along the Missouri River towards South Dakota. There aren’t any towns, just a few scattered farm houses and a lot of cattle. The jutting buttes make farming difficult, so most of the land is covered with prairie grasses. I’m sure some of it has never been farmed, in the history of the entire planet. Kinda makes you think about your own existence, driving along there.
- There’s very little humidity up here except in late July and August. Coming from the South, where the heat and humidity sapped your energy from April through October, it’s a welcome change for someone with curly hair. It’s already into June and it’s still 65-70. It’s the prefect weather for sitting in the sun with a book and a beer.
- Being that it’s the Midwest, everyone here is friendly, of course. But it’s not the fake friendliness of the South. It’s an honest, “I’ll help you when you need it and leave you to your business the rest of the time” friendliness. As someone who’s not a people person, I appreciate this.
- Building off of this, North Dakota has an overwhelming sense of community. I grew up on the Mississippi, so I’ve experienced floods before. It makes the news, the people affected sandbag, and everyone else just goes along with their daily lives. Up here, however, it’s different. The flood affects the community, so the community pitches in. The whole community. They set up Sandbag Central, where volunteers come and fill sandbags. Thousands of volunteers (from communities of 60-90,000 people). Churches donate food to them. It’s a sense that even if your house isn’t affected, your community is, and so you pitch in. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but a lot do.
What I won’t miss about North Dakota
- I’m currently in the capital. It’s roughly 100 miles in any direction to the next town with a stoplight. Yes, you read that right. With a stoplight. Remember that scene in Lilo and Stitch where Stitch runs around trying to leave and Lilo informs him that he’s screwed because they’re on an island? Yeah, that’s North Dakota for you. There’s nowhere to go unless you drive through the sea of farms and ranches to the next island, 100 miles away. And chances are there’s nothing to do on that island either. Now, I’m not the most exciting person. I’m fine staying home with a book. But I get bored. I want to know that I have options in case I want them. I’m stuck on an island with no options.
- Being that we’re all stuck on islands, most of them small (Bismarck has about 60,000 people, I think), we get used to our island’s quirks, and that includes driving. Holy shit. I would rather drive in Chicago rush hour traffic than in Bismarck. The prevailing traffic rule here is this: Mentally challenged f***tards have the right of way, unless you want to die. Fourway stops are difficult for many here to understand. Left turn arrows in conjunction with big red “No turn on red signs” too. The only reason that there aren’t more fatalities is that everyone goes under the speed limit and anticipates that jackass who runs the stop sign. Yeah. Give me Chicago traffic any day.
- North Dakotans are for the most part farmers and ranchers. To keep up their strength in the fields, they’ve developed a diet heavy on meat and potatoes. This is great except most of their restaurants are all about heavy comfort foods. Or chains. I’ve overheard people raving about the best restaurant ever: Golden Corral. Now, my idea of comfort food is Asian-based rice dishes. Japanese or Thai, preferably, but Chinese’ll do. You don’t find a lot of ethnic food here in Bismarck, where even Mexican is still considered exotic (although up here where they call sauce “gravy,” it’s referred to as Mexiwegian). Fargo is an exception; it has a huge refugee population from Africa and Eastern Europe, so you can at least easily get the ingredients for yummy stuff like shawarmas. Bismarck and the rest of the state though, not so much. (Note: I moved up here from Durham, NC, which objectively has some of the best restaurants and variety in the entire country. I realize this is an unfair comparison, but still, the food here sucks for the most part.)
- And then, of course, there’s the weather. For 25 years I’ve gone out in the morning with wet hair and never been bothered, but this winter my hair would actually freeze, it was so cold. Yes, freeze, leaving me feeling like Medusa. Snow lasts from October-ish until April. It gets cold, with weeks of temps below zero. We have white-out blizzards. It feels like winter will never end. But the worst part? I’m the only one who seems to notice!! Maybe it’s because I don’t have a big-ass 4WD truck, but yes, it irks me when there’s 6 inches of snow on the roads and no one plows, no one comes in late to work, school isn’t cancelled – it’s just accepted and you go about your business. No thank you.
So, obviously, good and bad. I’ll miss it up here – I love the scenery, love my job – but I won’t miss it too much. :)