Just last week Raul and I were driving a rental car on the backroads of Mallorca, a small Mediterranean Island off the coast of Spain. Not gonna lie, my nose may or may not have been pressed hard against the window admiring the stone walls lining the road and noting the red earth from which the olive trees grew. Once we reached our destination we found ourselves at a pristine cliff-lined beach. The water a color that I’ve only seen in the public swimming pools I grew up swimming in.
As we sat on the beach I wondered out loud how it would be to grow up in a place with such beauty. Do the youth have the same “I hate this place complex” that we have in Fargo? Do the elders lament the fact that they never left? Is the grass always greener on the other side? When the beauty of the land is brought up do they downplay it because it’s something they wake up to everyday?
I brought up these same sentiments to a friend of mine once I got back, a South Dakota son transplanted in Houston Texas.
"The bottom line for me is that northern plains beauty is austere," he said. "It takes time and depth of thought to appreciate. The beauty of somewhere like Mallorca is obvious and easy to appreciate. The other side of the argument is that you just love the place that you're from, even if you think you hate it while you're there.”
I had another good friend from Hawaii who went to college at VCSU in Valley City. One can’t help but wonder why, but he was fascinated by the idea of wide open spaces. Growing up on an island he felt isolated by always being surrounded by water. The very idea of being landlocked and looking out across a sea of land rather than water was exotic to him.
Though, I imagine it would be surreal to look across the prairie and to see the rippling prairie grasses in the wind after being surrounded by water your whole life. I’ve heard stories of homesteaders coming through the valley in their Red River carts and getting seasick as they rolled across the prairie because of the swaying tall grass prairie.
My grandmother’s first experience with the wide open spaces wasn’t as well received as my Hawaiian friend’s. Once she came to the Hornung family’s farmstead in the mid 50s, she and my grandpa arrived at night and she was completely unaware of her surroundings. Once she woke up and saw the expanse of plains she tearfully penned a letter to her mother in Germany writing, “This is the place where the foxes and the rabbits say good night to each other.” She still considers herself more of a city mouse than a country mouse, used to dances with a dress code and cobblestone streets over dirt roads.
The day after we got to the states from our vacation, my grandpa and I headed out to Robinson for their annual tractor trek. A parade of tractors cruising Highway 36 affectionately referred to as the “Carefree Highway” raising money for the rural fire department. The day before we left Europe I sat in bed reflecting on our experiences and dreaded leaving. How would we adjust to Fargo life again after experiencing the walled city of Toledo, the romance of Madrid, and the pub culture of Dublin?
These “whatifs” soon disappeared as we drove down the Carefree Highway and various township roads in rural Kidder County, I took in the lushness of the rolling hills and wildflowers. I looked at the marsh birds and Russian olive trees with fresh eyes and it only re-established that every place has its own cultural nuances and beauty. It just takes a well rounded individual to appreciate it.
Jan Syversonstandupjan@gmail.comThree hundred miles northwest of Fargo, ND I find myself at the back of a small bar in a small town surrounded by nothing but snowy fields and darkness. I take a drag of a cigarette and go through my…
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