Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Not Being There

I'm not sure how I didn't see this coming. Or maybe I did, and it was another good reason to leave. After all, the best thing about leaving sometimes, is missing the thing that you left. With all the madness of the flooding, the flurry of Facebook status updates regarding flood efforts, the Herald webcam I've been glued to for over a week now, the Grand Forks sandbag central being blocks from where I lived...with all that, I admit now that I miss Grand Forks. I miss North Dakota. Or at least, I miss the idea of Grand Forks and North Dakota. The idea of Grand Forks is really the people though. I miss the people. The willingness to survive. To do things that need done. The intense effort and the beer afterwards. The full-body press from Rae Ann. Well, maybe I don't really miss that.

Here's the thing: Absence creates presence. The absence of the things I loved about the northwest, mountains, forests, trails, rugged landscape, fast rivers, overwhelmed me. Those were what created my imagination. For me, mountains are aspiration, mountains take us into the sky, they provide scope and perspective. They are a crossable boundary, a struggle. The absence of those things was terrifying. But North Dakota trains you to cope, if nothing else. It is good to redefine things, to retrain your imagination. And my last two years there, maybe just the last year, I allowed myself to do that. I became, I think, present in North Dakota, and paid attention. Beauty is something else there, not absent, just different. And it has a lot to do with the people. They, you, are the mountains there, the aspiration, the boundaries, the context. When the Red rises up once more, you build walls. When you need two more feet, or else, you build two more feet. Just enough to survive it, just enough to cope. And having come to understand that, it was painful not to be there, worrying, filling sand bags, laughing at nothing, laughing because it's about the best alternative to despair, that and the work. I wanted to do the work, throw my weight against the river, to protect what really shouldn't even be there in the first place.

I'm there with you, suffering and working and nervous. Though the best I can do is wish I was.


  1. Charles Baxter: "Given the chance, people from the Dakotas will apologize for being from the Dakotas. It's a reflex."

    But there's something here. There's something there, too. There's a there everywhere.

    And you aren't gone. Did you seriously think you could leave?

    The river has thrown its weight against you, and like the slow-belt-silt-conveyer that it is, you probably didn't notice how deeply it carved. Nothing drastic. Subtler. Hidden until it wells up and swells beyond its banks.

    At least it has the decency to only presume to be meaningful once, maybe twice a decade. You've got other things to do.

    wv: orkpi, the ratio between an orc's circumference and an orc's diameter.

  2. I sense a new North Dakota poem coming on.

  3. I can admire the persistence of thriving in a place not meant to be inhabited while still questioning its practicality. Let the river take the towns, I'll take the people.