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Our family in a canola field. (Photo: Amy Allender/The Dakotan)
Our family in a canola field. (Photo: Amy Allender/The Dakotan)

There's Nothing in North Dakota

Amy Allender
 August 4, 2022
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MINOT— “I just know by the time we find a good place, the boys are going to be cranky and it’s going to be a disaster.” This was my lament last Sunday, as I wove our car up and down country roads, scanning the horizon for highlighter-yellow fields. I grumbled something inaudible as I realized I’d led us down another useless road.

“The boys are fine. Right now, you’re the only one who seems fussy,” my husband said. As usual, he was right. Sometimes I tend to live ten paces into an imagined future—dreading things that haven’t happened, laying too much weight on possibilities that may never come to pass. In a clinical setting, I think this is called “projecting.” I took a breath and tilted the rearview mirror down, in order to see the back seat.

My kids were riding happily, making each other laugh with silly faces. Things were fine.

We were driving, at my insistence to a canola field, seeking an updated family photo.

When Hot Dish Land moves into the last phase of summer, some breathtaking things take place. The countryside becomes a place for slow-motion fireworks as crops come into bloom. Canola fields dazzle the horizon with a supernatural yellow glow. The green of soy beans saturates the earth until it’s so vibrant and heavy it seems like the color could drip. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble across the cool purple and blue of a flax field. Then, of course just when you may begin to mourn the end of summer; just as the nights grow cooler and the darkness closes in noticeably earlier—there are the sunflowers.

Most of the world may take these wonders for granted. Maybe if you’ve been born and raised alongside the miracle of agriculture these things are no more startling than a pigeon near railroad tracks. Maybe if you aren’t from around here, you see all this open space as simply “farmland.” Maybe, no matter where you’re from you just haven’t stopped to think twice about it—except when your social media feeds begin to fill up with advertisements for sunflower photo sessions.

To me, this ever-changing landscape that begins with vast amounts of brown dirt, seeds, and nothingness, is breathtaking. It’s worthy of marvel. I’ve gotten used to the dialect, the affinity for Dairy Queen, even the windchill has become somewhat routine. I moved to Minot for the first time ten years ago, and I still struggle to be casual about the seemingly infinite acres of crops that surround our town.

I can’t drive by without wondering about the machines that make this all possible. Then I think about the fact that there are people out there who know how to operate those machines, and maintain them. There are people who know how much seed to buy, how to nurture it, how to ensure good growth. They know when to harvest, and where to take their goods. After that, there are people who know how to turn these plants into all kinds of products with all kinds of uses that keep our world going, in all kinds of ways. I wonder about the people, and their families; if this is a trade inherited like a priceless heirloom, or it’s simply the family business. When I see a tractor on Highway 83, I think of the people who have been injured, or lost someone they love while working the land.

When people say there is “nothing” in North Dakota this is what they are referring to. The open land that has a reputation for being “nothing” is truly something spectacular. It’s something powerful, necessary, and utterly American. In this sea of supposed “nothingness” we are at the center of something extraordinary.

It's beautiful. It’s calloused. It’s sacrifice; and like so many things worth really seeing, it’s easy to overlook. Like so many things, it comes and goes quickly—if you don’t stop and notice, it’ll be gone. If you spend too much time projecting, you’ll be living in winter before it arrives—and you’ll miss the beauty waiting to meet you along the way.

On Sunday we found a field near the road. We carefully walked down a mowed tractor path. The wind whipped my hair around, my littlest did get cranky, fruit snacks are in the photo. But we got it, a physical reminder of the awe this time of year stirs in me. A reminder to take in what is blooming right at this moment, not live in anticipation of what will—or won’t—happen next.

To connect with me further and join me in a quest for positive living (and thinking) find me on Instagram, @amy_allender, or Facebook, @amyallenderblog.

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