The Most Boring State To Drive Through

“Look at how pretty the grass is.”

“You’re the only person who consistently comments on that,” he said.

I thought about it.

That’s because I’m always startled and then momentarily consumed by the nuanced beauty of the prairie. It’s like déjà vu every time I experience this feeling behind the wheel, as I’m blasting through hundreds of miles of country. Picking out tints and threads of tufts and noticing larger smudges of rich color that stretch across the whole field or sky. It matters not whether I’m creeping up over a mountain pass or flying through the plains, but I do have a special, and maybe even somewhat unique affinity for North Dakota, unique in that it’s one usually reserved for natives of the state.

I revel in the reverie the prairie awakes in me because once, it was not known to me. When I was a child, I thought the country brown and tan and dead. Barren, sun-scorched, brittle, dry, and ugly. The enormous wind would knock me about. The wind would burn my cheeks and tangle my hair. My mom concurs; that’s the way she saw it as a kid, too. But something happens over time that turns it to treasure.

As I grew older, sunsets serenaded me. The sunset would hold me captive from so far away on the other side of the car window. My friends and I listening to some long ago song in an old car would wind down the road together, letting the golden hour cast warmth over our tender faces, emblazon strands of hair that bobbed along in the atmosphere of adolescent meditation. In the backseat was me: always imagining ways to paint the cathedral windows I saw in the kaleidoscope of bare black tree branches and the surreal sky that lay behind, sometimes catching with a start the whites of my own upturned eyes reflected in the window as I looked out.

Maybe next it was the slow promenade of clouds dragging massive shadows in their wake across the pale fields. Then dissipating and regathering wisps of white on a sky blue day. Then pure, raging electricity that was palpable when a thunderstorm arrived. Or a myriad of colors in a single field, a whole rainbow in tones.

I guess I can’t help commenting on the beauty of this place we get to call home.

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Oh, North Dakota

Ever since I can remember, I thought, North Dakota is not for me. I want to be in the big city. Chicago. Yeah, Chicago sounds big.

When I wanted to go to college out-of-state, that wasn’t really going to happen. Too expensive. And being from North Dakota, I stayed in the favor of saving some bucks.

I desperately wanted to live on the California coast, still kinda do. But no, the economy isn’t too great out there, blah blah blah. I stay.

Well, here I am, 27, still living here in North Dakota. I have lots of friends and family in the city I grew up in, Bismarck. But, currently, I live in Grand Forks. I’m getting some experience as an English teacher and I just started an LMIS Master’s program.

I still say I want to go. And maybe I will. I joke that our bumper stickers should read, “North Dakota: Why the hell do we live here?” If you have ever spent more than two weeks in negative sixty with windchill, you’ll understand.

People who aren’t from the plains don’t get the beauty. “There aren’t any trees,” they’ll say. “It’s so flat!” (Yes, the eastern part of the state is incredibly flat. The poor children sled down the man-made dyke.) But, as you venture westward, you’ll see rolling hills. And the lone tree, so symbolic in itself, is a hauntingly beautiful sight.

The haunting beauty. You can almost feel our ancestors in the presence of a great wind. I get lost imagining just how the homesteaders made it through their first winters and summers, equally oppressive, here on the plains. I imagine the native people and how they withstood the blizzards and thunderstorms for so many years.

The grasses come in the colors of the rainbow, subtly. Waving like a million hands that collectively make up the sea of amber with dashes of burgundy. Little splashes of deep green. In the distance, a hazy blue. Little yellow flowers and champagne colored straw. You may have to look for it, but it is there.

And then there’s the sky.

The sky here is expansive. It’s pervasive and the infinity of it is contagious. I think we make daydreamers here in North Dakota. We make introspective sunset-watchers. The beauty of this place isn’t in-your-face like a jungle waterfall. It is a creeper. It lulls you into a state of imagination. Turn your face up to the sky here and see the massive clouds and the palette of the day: maybe a renaissance peach and smoky blue.