On the prairie, you get a clear look at home turfSam Cook column: Sun-up in North Dakota. I’ve got McClusky in my rearview mirror, just over the dog kennel where a yellow Lab sleeps.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
Sun-up in North Dakota. I’ve got McClusky in my rearview mirror, just over the dog kennel where a yellow Lab sleeps.
I’d rather be staying. I’d rather be striding across the great wide-open full of cattails and grass. I’d rather be close on the heels of the yellow dog as she snakes through the cattails, obeying her nose. I’d rather be startled by the sudden clatter of a rising rooster pheasant.
But I’m not. I’m headed home.
It is not altogether bad duty, driving this empty two-lane on a crisp October morning. The sun has just cleared the eastern horizon, spilling rose-colored light across the land. Frost whitens the grass on the tidy farmstead lawns.
Standing water from recent rains bears the fall’s first skim ice. It’ll be gone by mid-morning, I suspect, but it’s there now. If you were a mallard or a gadwall or a redhead, you’d have to be thinking about your next move.
Every three or four miles, I meet a white pickup, headed for some job site. There is work to be done out here. Not everyone can slip away for something as frivolous as a pheasant hunt.
The recent rain has halted the soybean and corn harvest. Gleaming John Deere combines sit idle in half-harvested bean fields, waiting for the ground and the beans to dry. A quarter of a million bucks each, looking for work. It could be a couple of days. Pickups and semis and grain wagons are parked alongside the combines, also biding their time.
The farmers who own them had to wait to plant this past spring. Wet weather was the culprit then, too. It’s been a crazy year. A farmer has to know how to wait. And, I suspect, pray.
The farms I pass look good. Fresh paint. Big buildings. Shiny grain dryers. Lawns are well-kept. Pickups are mostly new. Corn and bean prices have been high the past couple of years. The world is hungry.
The sun climbs. The highway swerves to dodge potholes. Nearly every piece of water holds ducks. They dabble in the shallows, tipping bottoms-up to feed on goodies in the muck below.
A wavering strand of Canada geese moves low over the land, headed out to feed. I watch them as long as I can, until I see their wings cup over a bean field. I want to be there, watching them glide down, hearing their raucous conversation, black feet outstretched, touching down lightly. But I put them in the rearview mirror, too.
There are some who would say that North Dakota is not inherently beautiful. Maybe they have not traveled the quiet backroads at sunrise in October, watching the light work through the rolling landscape. The land is tawny and russet and a hundred shades of brown. Big round hay bales rest on fields like shredded wheat. Black Angus graze the endless pastures where bison once roamed.
Part of this country’s appeal for me, I know, is that it’s so different from the north woods. I’m as happy as anyone on a chunk of Canadian Shield, dropping a jig for walleyes in a wilderness lake. But the only way to make an honest appraisal of one’s home turf is to leave it for a while.
Go. To the desert Southwest. To Cabo San Lucas. To Alaska’s Brooks Range or Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands or New York City.
Or North Dakota.
Would I want to live here? Probably not. I may not be tough enough to handle that open country on a January morning with the wind screaming down from Moose Jaw.
But, gosh, it’s lovely at sunrise in October.
Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer and columnist. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/samcook outdoors, or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”