Published March 11, 2022

NDistinct Chatter: I Saw the Sign

Written by
Kelly Hagen
| The Dakotan
[Photo: Kelly Hagen]
[Photo: Kelly Hagen]

Do you believe in signs? I suppose I do, and I’d like to tell you about a few of them I’ve seen in the recent past if you have the time.

We start with a sign I saw on the side of Interstate-94, just outside of Jamestown. It was a billboard, and all it said was this: “Courage, you unremarkable snake.”

If you understand what that means, I’d say that’s your sign you’re smarter than me. Or at least you’re better at solving riddles than I am.

Possibly, you’re the person who paid to have that sign put up. Anyway, kudos.

I saw the sign (and it opened up my eyes) while I was driving to Fargo for my work job, and it was cold and icy. Driving on slippery roads always causes me anxiety, among a great many other “triggers,” as they say.

In the interest of interactivity, here’s a quiz. Which of the following causes me anxiety?

a. Winter driving


c. South Dakota license plates

d. Gas prices

e. War in Ukraine

f. Writers who call people “folks”


It’s all of the above. I’m an anxiety guy, due to my mom, Sandy. That was her gift to me, and for this gift, I feel blessed.

As I’ve told my kids, anxiety isn’t entirely terrible. In some ways, it’s a gift. Stress and anxiety keep you on your toes. Your mind stays active and aware to whatever threat it is you perceive.

It’s good to keep your brain guessing, I would guess. So, whomever put up the billboard near Jamestown, I thank you.

Of course, I did more than guess to its meaning. I googled. And all I came up with was a thread on Reddit with a bunch of random folks guessing what it meant.

For this column, I’d like to tell you what I believe that sign meant.

Starting at the ending, I’m being called a name. Probably not me, specifically, but any of us random folk reading the sign will perceive it as calling us unremarkable snakes.

Name-calling is not effective, nor is it kind behavior. That’s what my mom taught me, along with all the anxiety and how to be scared of things.

Incidentally, snakes are not unremarkable creatures. Most of the people I know who see a snake out in the wild will remark on the experience, at least to say something like “Yipe!” or “Mommy!” or “Look out, folks, there’s a snake ahead of us on the trail! Don’t make eye contact with it!”

If the sign is not speaking to a literal snake, I can accept the criticism. I don’t think I’m all that remarkable. But you didn’t have to call me a snake.

Another lesson my mom taught me was that I’m not special. But everyone is special. If that makes sense. To me, it meant that I shouldn’t carry myself as entitled or deserving of special treatment, but that all of God’s creatures are unique, different and possess value.

After my mom’s mom, Grandma Ruth, died, it was my mom who told me that every time I noticed 11:11 on a clock, randomly, or repeating numbers in any form, it was a sign from someone we love who has died that they’re okay.

My mom died last year of cancer, which has affected me in so many ways. One of which includes a feeling of being unsafe. I’m 43 years old, and still looked to my parents as protectors in a scary, uncertain world.

I like to believe that my mom acts now as a guardian angel for me and my family during times of distress. And I’m always on the lookout for signs that Mom’s looking out for me. Whether it’s a sign so simple as noticing it’s 11:11 on the car radio, or it’s a gigantic billboard outside of Jamestown, urging me to be courageous. I know my mom’s okay, and so am I.

But you didn’t have to call me a name to get my attention, Ma.

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