JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Crying Over Spilt Oil — And Brine

OK, when technology fails you, sometimes you just have to do things the old fashioned way.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Incident database and how difficult it is to track the performance of various oil companies. I haven’t heard back from the governor yet, and being an impatient Norwegian, I decided not to wait for them to upgrade it because they might never do that. And being retired with not a lot to do on cold days, I decided to become a human search engine.

So I went and physically called up, on the website, the actual Environmental Incident Reports for the 100 worst oil spills — and the 100 worst saltwater spill — in the Oil Patch since the Bakken Boom began. I know. I need to get a life. But it really was pretty interesting.

What I found out is there are some pretty bad actors out there. The five companies with the most spills, combined, accounted for 30 percent of the 200 worst Oilfield Incidents.

The 200 worst spills were committed by a total of 87 different companies. Most had one or two, although there were a good number that had three or four.

But the bad ones spilled a lot. Remember, I’ve pointed out here just from memory of news reports that Oasis Petroleum, Continental Resources and Denbury Onshore must be among the spill leaders. Well, they were.

Oasis, which just announced it’s producing about 70,000 barrels of oil per day and had third quarter earnings of $180 million, led the pack with 15 total spills out of the top 200.

Continental, owned by Harold Hamm, the “Father of Fracking,” and Donald Trump’s No. 1 energy adviser, had 13.

Denbury had nine.

Joining them in the top 5 were Petro Hunt (the famous Hunt brothers) with 13 and Whiting, a company with almost half a million leased mineral acres in the Bakken, with 10.

Those five have a total of 60 spills among them, almost 30 percent of the top 200 (there are actually a few more than 200 in the top 200 because of ties).

I didn’t add up all the barrels of oil and saltwater they’ve spilled, but I’m pretty sure they don’t match a couple of other companies with really, really big spills. You’ve probably heard about them.

Back in 2013, Tesoro (you’ve heard of them, eh?) dumped more than 20,000 barrels — the actual total was 865,000 gallons — of oil on a farmer’s field up on the Mountrail-Williams county line.

And just about a year ago, Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of True Oil Co. from Wyoming, dumped 12,615 (more or less) barrels of oil — more than half a million gallons — into Ash Coulee Creek in Billings County, north of Belfield. So far, Tesoro and Belle Fourche are the two big winners in the North Dakota Oil Spill Lottery.

I did do some math on the total amount of oil and saltwater spilled in the 200 biggest spills in North Dakota since the Bakken Boom began. Get ready for this. In the top 100 oil spills, companies dumped 107,122 barrels of oil onto the ground and into rivers, creeks, lakes and other wetlands. That’s 4.5 million gallons of oil from just those 100 spills.

Compared to saltwater spills, which most environmental scientists tell us are worse than oil spills, that’s nuthin’. The top 100 saltwater spills recorded with the North Dakota Health Department came to 247,704 barrels — 10.5 million gallons of poisonous brine that kills everything it comes into contact with and renders soil pretty much permanently sterile and unusable. When you read the incident reports on these saltwater spills, you learn that if the spill is on land, they just dig up all the dirt and haul it to a landfill. But it is different when it spills into a creek.

There was a big one up north of Williston a couple of years ago. A pipeline owned by a company called Summit Midstream ruptured in the dead of winter and almost 3 million gallons of brine flowed into Blacktail Creek, which runs into the Little Muddy River, which runs into the Missouri River, which runs into Lake Sakakawea. That was a real mess. Dams were built to stop it from reaching the lake. Much of it froze in the creek, and then they cut it into big chunks of ice and hauled it away to a landfill. Can’t even imagine what happened in the spring when the ice melted. The incident report on this mess is 63 pages long. Take a look.

The spill happened in 2015, but samples are still being taken from the water up there, the last one as recently as two weeks ago. We don’t know what they’re finding because the results of the samples are not shared in the incident reports. Memo to Jim:  Ask for the results.

In the case of the Tesoro oil spill, they’re still cleaning up the site, almost four years after the spill. First they set fire to the oil on the surface of the field and burned it. Then cleanup involves digging up the soil impacted by the oil and treating it. At last report the pit where they were digging was 40 feet deep. Here’s that Incident Report.

And the Belle Fourche Pipeline story isn’t over yet, either. Last month, almost a full year after the spill, a Health Department Inspector visited Ash Coulee Creek and wrote this on the Incident Report:

“Sampling Date: 10/11/2017 Ash Coulee Creek was sampled at 11 locations for DRO and BTEX. Those samples were brought to the lab on Friday the 13th. Some locations produced a sheen when the stream sediments were disturbed.”

Obviously there’s still oil in the creek. A year later.

So what happens to these companies that carelessly destroy the countryside? Do they get fined? I’ve been curious about that. So I decided to try to find out. You won’t learn anything by reading the incident reports. Those are written by the scientists on the ground, whose job is cleanup. These guys work ridiculously long hours, away from home, in all kinds of weather, trying their darnedest to get these companies to clean up their messes. Unsung heroes.

Punishment, if any is meted out, goes to a higher level at the Health Department. I’m not sure how high, but I decided to ask one of the good guys at the Health Department, a fellow named Bill Suess, who supervises the scientists. Here’s the e-mail I sent Bill this morning:

Dear Bill,

I have been looking at your Environmental Incident Reports, specifically the largest spill reports of both oil and other liquids such as brine. From what I can tell, looking at the 100 largest oil spills and the 100 largest brine spills, there are five companies who have a substantial number of large spills. They are Oasis, Continental, Petro-Hunt, Whiting and Denbury Onshore.

I’d like to know how many of each company’s spills resulted in fines, and the amount of those fines. I’d also like to know if all of those fines have been paid. If not, how many have been paid, how many remain uncollected, and how much money has not been collected, and what steps are being taken to collect them. I’d also like to know if additional fines are being contemplated or pending in any of those cases, and if so, which cases.

I’ve also taken note of two very large spills, the Tesoro spill in Mountrail County in September of 2013 (EIR2056), and the Belle Fourche Pipeline spill in Billings County in December of 2016 (EIR5282). I would like to know if those companies have been fined, or if fines are contemplated and pending, and how much those fines are, and whether they have been paid, and if not, how much remains to be collected, and what steps are being taken to collect them.

I know your staff is very busy keeping up with all these spills, but I feel the public has a right to know which companies are the biggest violators and how those companies are being treated.

Thank you in advance for your help. I look forward to receiving this information.

Jim

I’ll let you know when I hear back from Bill.

And that’s about as many numbers as an English major can handle in one day. I hope I did the math right. Happy Thanksgiving.

RON SCHALOW: Dope For An Old Dope

It was a dark and stormy ni… d’oh. Wrong story. Actually, it was a cool and calm evening, with a cloudless sky and a full moon. Hardly the point but worth noting.

I and an associate were attending one or several parties in Bismarck. It’s not clear how many, but liquor, my favorite liquid at the time, was served. My associate, who was also my friend, was also not allergic to beer and whiskey but was an amatuer comparatively speaking.

On another date, I was at a party in Bismarck, associate-free, where they played “Love by the Dashboard Light” over and over and over. My brain was overflowing with Meat Loaf. You never truly recover.

At some point, pot was introduced into the mix. Except for a handful of times in the past, I had always declined when a lit joint was pushed in my face. I had enough problems. But I was in a weakened state of mind, and my associate was in a regular state of mind but was unphased. We both partook. Deeply inhaled, we did and took our turn on most passes.

I didn’t know if it was good pot. I didn’t know the strain. I had no clue who obtained the pot or where they got it. I had no expertise when it came to marijuana.

Then we decided to go to Mandan. Why? I don’t know. Why did anyone? I didn’t live there and neither did my associate, Maybe there was another party to attend that was too good to miss. There might have been a rumor of a large pack of girls gathered, a gender that motivated my associate to a degree of distraction. Did I get his drift? I easily got his drift. As Hawkeye Pierce once said, “I played left drift in high school.”

I always played it as cool as a fondue pot of bubbling Hot Habanero Cheddar.

Sidebar: Whenever someone mentions Mandan, I always think of an act in one of hotel lounges in Bismarck. The front man of the band referred to Mandarin, the little Chinese community to the west, which wasn’t funny, before singing, “You Picked a Fine Time to Leave Me Loose Wheel.” That was pretty clever.

So off to Mandan we drove. By car. I don’t condone or recommend this type of behavior, but it did happen, without a thought. That was my MO for decades. My friend had a big Buick with a huge engine. Gas hadn’t reached a buck yet in 1979. And if I looked under the hood, it made sense. It was reassuring.

Since my friend was considerably shorter than me, the bench seat was set all the way forward, which forced my knees into the glove box. It didn’t hurt. He was a short, stocky cowboy who wanted to try his hand at a city job. He knew how to grow animals and plants for human consumption. I’ve never handled a live roast, but he had. He would even sit on irritated bulls for some reason.

I doubt if we buckled up — or gave it consideration. The Buick rolled off the ramp onto Interstate 94 and didn’t merge with other vehicles, since most normal people were sleeping in the middle of the night. We headed west.

The ride was as calm as any I’ve experienced. The big car moved smoothly and quietly.

I had previously owned a number of large vehicles, none that moved smoothly or quietly. One had the same gas mileage and disposition as a poorly tuned World War II-era Sherman tank. Another had self-flattening tires, which was convenient. On one occasion, the wind whipped the air and snow into a minus-50 chill. By the time I finished switching out the left rear tire, the meat on my ham bones were frozen solid to the marrow of my femur. I had to defrost my legs slowly in a walk-in cooler for a week, like a Butterball turkey fresh from the freezer section. It was unpleasant.

My associate and I tackled some deep topics on the empty highway. We coined the inane phrase “it is what it is” and promised to never repeat it. It leaked out somehow. I don’t think Trump has placed claim on the expression yet.

Was the moon at its apogee, or perigee, or neither? We didn’t have phones that connected to an Internet to get the facts. Or any phone, since they were priced in the Howard Hughes range and were as large as a salt lick. Speculation was all we had. The dark ages.

He wanted me to explain women, since I had been in the company of several females and he assumed I had garnered some useful knowledge. I learned nothing. I’m still stupid on the topic. Perhaps dumber. He was disappointed. I suggested he stand behind one of those bucking horses and wait until the feeling went away.

If most pro and college kickers can blast the football into the end zone almost every time from the current kickoff spot, why in the hell don’t they move the line back, so fans can see a runback. Way more exciting than some dude taking a knee every time. We were in strenuous agreement. Excited utterances nearly erupted.

All was well. Then my associate spotted a giant cow on a mountain to our left. I said, I know that cow. It’s Salem Sue, a superhuge Holstein. It’s dead, as far as I know, but don’t provoke it.

Anyhow, we overshot Mandan by 30 miles, and not purposely as is generally the case. So my associate took the New Salem exit and made two lefts, to get the Buick pointed east. It was acutely untraumatic.

Not much later in my life, I climbed the cow mountain, with several different associates. I used to have a large number of associates. Anyway, the cow is definitely deceased.

We did make it to Mandan, or we kept going to Bismarck, or Jamestown. It was impossibly unimportant.

As George W. Bush rationalized his substance abuse until he was 40: “When I was young and stupid, I was young and stupid.” I suspect he retained the stupidity, and perhaps I have backslid, but not to the degree of decades past.

Now nearly four decades later, I find myself a candidate for marijuana, medical or otherwise, for several chronic maladies. Nothing on my insides seems to be operating with any accuracy, and my nerve endings don’t respect their former boundaries. There is no precision to my walking.

I would like to give it a try. But I’m still ignorant about pot.

Where do I get it, without moving to another state? Do I stand in a dark alley near downtown and vigorously wave my cane? Is there a code word to shout? Is there an app? Does anyone deliver? How much does it cost?

I know there is plenty of inventory. Every other week, some poor schlub who got paid a couple hundred bucks to transport a bale of pot down the interstate, gets pulled over for some bonehead reason.

I used to have associates across the spectrum, some who could handle touchy things for me, or at least tell me what to do. Google is worthless on this topic, and I love Google. I used to be in cahoots with the Canadian mafia for crissakes. They weren’t that scary.

Opiates don’t do the trick, and I’m kind of glad. I would rather smoke a weed.

Tell the Feds if you wish. Maybe they’ll know how the hell it works.

DAVE BRUNER: Photo Gallery — Fall Colors In Southwestern North Dakota

Grand Forks photographer Dave Bruner was out in the southwestern part of North Dakota recently doing some bird hunting. The hunting wasn’t so good, but the fall colors were full. So, he ventured out in mornings and evenings to capture these images.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — October Trails

“But your solitude will be your home and haven even in the midst of very strange conditions, and from there you will discover all your paths.”Ranier Maria Rilke

My path this past week took me to North Dakota’s Roughrider Country.

Our first stop was a meeting of the Little Missouri River Commission in Dickinson, where we bore witness to this recent effort to bring the river’s landowners to the table in making decisions that impact the river about which we care so much. Reporter Amy Dalrymple writes about the meeting.

It was a marathon meeting, with a room full of people who care about the river. We had intended to spend the night at the Logging Camp Ranch, however, it was dark by the time the meeting ended, and we were going to be right back on the road the next morning, so we opted instead for a night at the Rough Rider Hotel in Medora, postponing our visit to the ranch for another time when we can linger in the pines.

The next morning’s drive took us south on U.S. Highway 85 to Amidon, the county seat of my home country, Slope County. Our first destination was the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman. It is a first-rate museum, with many informative displays, artfully designed. The recognition of so many familiar names among the stalwarts who work and volunteer at this museum only added to our enjoyment. Kudos to the Pearsons and to Chris Fulton, and to all who have donated or loaned items for the collections.

It is in this display that the Bowman, N.D., artist Chris Fulton’s influence is most apparent. Good for her!

Naturally, this photo caught my eye, the general being a very distant relative of mine.

The Fisk Expedition passed very nearby to the area that became my family home ranch, and the person who has written the definitive book on Fort Dilts is an old family friend, Dean Pearson, with whom I grew up playing board games like “Risk” and “Monopoly.”

The last display we lingered over featured the names and details of the area veterans. We found my father’s and my husband’s entry and many other people we have known over the years.

Outside the museum, we explored the sod house and the old church.

Onward we traveled to Hettinger, Jim’s hometown. He had been searching unsuccessfully in Bismarck for straw bales for mulching our garlic bed. As we neared the town, I suggested that perhaps the Hettinger Runnings might have some and, by golly, they did. After a little debate, we decided to rearrange our load and take two home, perhaps one of the strangest things we’ve ever hauled in our Highlander to date.

Our next stop was the excellent Dakota Buttes Museum, which is filled with interesting displays and presents a colorful picture of the lifeways of this area of southwestern North Dakota. Our cheerful guide was resident and volunteer extraordinaire, Loren Luckow, who proudly showed us some of the new acquisitions.

Last week, Jim had read in the Adams County Record that there was a new Thai restaurant, so we headed there for a delicious lunch. Who knew that someday there would be a Thai place in this small town? Not the Fuglie kids when they were growing up, that I can say.

We finished our time in Hettinger with a visit to an old friend who lives in the nursing home there and then traveled on to tiny Haynes, where there is a beautiful old school, now abandoned, and an interesting petrified wood structure in what was the city park.

Finally, it was time to head north toward home. This being fall, Jim had brought along his shotgun and our springer spaniel, so we were watchful for pheasants. The sight of my man and his happy dog always warms my heart.

Our route took us through Regent. I’d not yet seen the Enchanted Castle Hotel and Tavern, so I begged that we stop for a drink and a lookie-loo. Regent artist Gary Greff has created the sculptures found all along the Enchanted Highway and has converted the old school to this amusing new destination.

In the prairie dusk, we drove home, past Hettinger County’s Black Butte. It was time to get home to cheer on the Chicago Cubs to their late-night victory from the comfort of our living room.

Back home, Jim went to work on prepping next year’s tomato seeds he has saved and freezing the last of this year’s crop.

Oh, and I unloaded those straw bales and cleaned out the mess in the car.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Maybe The Governor Shouldn’t Send Engineers To Represent Him

“Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it,” the wise man said. And you might not like what you get, I might add.

That’s what I was thinking about four hours into last week’s second meeting of the newly reconstituted Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. I’ve been harping for a couple of years on the idea of bringing back what was supposed to be a watchdog group overseeing what goes on in the Valley of the Little Missouri River during an oil boom.

It started with a letter from Jan Swenson, executive director of Badlands Conservation Alliance, to the North Dakota DOT’s Matt Linneman in 2015, regarding the construction of a new bridge over the Little Missouri Scenic River on U.S. Highway 85. Jan reminded us “The Little Missouri River was established as a N.D. State Scenic River in 1975 by the Little Missouri State Scenic River Act.

The act’s Intent reads: “The purpose of this chapter shall be to preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state, which shall mean that the river will be maintained in a free-flowing natural condition, and to establish a Little Missouri River Commission. The stated duty of the Commission is to maintain the scenic, historic and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”

When I read that, I went looking in the North Dakota Century Code for Section 61-29, Little Missouri State Scenic River Act. I had a foggy memory of a company called Tenneco wanting to build a coal gasification plant in the Bad Lands and to dam up a tributary of the Little Missouri to provide water for the plant, and of the North Dakota Legislature responding by passing the Scenic River Act in 1975, sending Tenneco home with its tail between its legs. The state had effectively said “No thanks, Tenneco, put your plant somewhere else.” Can you imagine anyone in state government using those words today? Hah.

Well, long story short, I wrote a bunch of articles about it, Doug Burgum got elected governor, I lobbied him through his chief of staff, and he reinstated the commission, directing the six Bad Lands counties to appoint new members, and now they’ve had two meetings. And accomplished nothing.

Actually, as far as the last meeting goes, accomplishing nothing is a good thing. They could have done something bad.

A bit of background. For the first 42 years of its existence, Section 61-29, the State Scenic River Act, prohibited the State Water Commission from issuing Little Missouri water permits for industrial use (read: fracking oil wells). Little Missouri River water could only be used for agriculture and recreation. Made sense. But the 2017 Legislature changed that, to allow Little Missouri water to be used for fracking.

Turns out the Legislature was only legalizing something that had been going on for 30 years or so. See, the Water Commission staff had been ignoring the law (it claimed it didn’t know about it, a story I bought until just a few days ago — more about that on another day) and the commission had issued more than 600 industrial water use permits from the Little Missouri, all in violation of the State Scenic River Act.

What the Legislature did was make legal what had been going on for decades — at the request of the Water Commission engineers who had been breaking the law. Burgum signed the bill. But in either a show of uncertainty, or just a show, he slapped a moratorium on that industrial use. That was in May of this year, just after he signed the bill. But then only a month later, he steered the State Water Commission, which he chairs, into lifting the moratorium. But in doing that, he said this was just going to be an “interim policy” because he wanted the newly appointed Scenic River Commission to “weigh in” on that action, to let him know how it felt about industrial use of Little Missouri River water. You still with me here?

Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for that commission to “weigh in,” permits for use of Little Missouri River water for fracking are being issued.

So at this week’s Scenic River Commission meeting, Water Commission engineer Jon Patch, the man who issues water permits (including those 600 illegal ones) brought the interim policy to the commission and spent two hours pleading with commission members to ratify it. Commissioners were skeptical, which in my mind, was “weighing in.”

In fact, when a motion was made by one commission member to approve the policy, it died for lack of a second. Only one of the nine commission members wanted to approve it. When newly elected commission chairman Joe Schettler announced the motion had died for lack of a second, there was a stunned silence at the commission table and among the 50 or so audience members.

Patch had just spent two hours fending off comments from audience members in opposition to industrial use of Little Missouri River water for fracking and pleading with some skeptical commission members, going on and on about how it would keep trucks off the road, making the roads safer and eliminating dust, although with no mention of how the oil companies were going to get the water from the river to their oil wells.

Patch brought along a power point slide to that effect, (as you can see, visible and audible disruption of the Little Missouri River Valley is not really a problem!), and when Jan Swenson rose from the audience to make a well-reasoned plea to delay action on approving the policy, Patch rudely put the slide up on the screen behind her for the audience to see. Frankly, I was surprised that no one booed, but audience members apparently had better manners than Patch.

Well, nether the audience members nor the commissioners were stupid enough to buy Patch’s argument. Finally, in an ironic twist, commission members and State Engineer Garland Erbele, Patch’s boss, made a motion to postpone action on the policy, a motion that was quickly seconded and passed unanimously. Erbele’s motion staved off further embarrassment for his staff engineer, who had just wasted two hours of everyone’s time, and also staved off the possibility of a motion to reject the policy, which likely would have gotten a second, and maybe would have passed.

By this time, the meeting, which had been billed as a two-hour gathering, was more than three hours old, and it took another hour and a half to finish, thanks to some silliness on Erbele’s part (or more likely his staff).

See, when Erbele’s staff was putting together the agenda for the meeting, there was really only one item to discuss — approving Patch’s policy — so to fill up the two hours, whoever did the agenda, with Erbele’s approval, had scheduled a bunch of bureaucrats to brief the commission members on some pretty much irrelevant stuff.

First, an assistant attorney general spent about half an hour, with a fancy power point presentation, going painfully through all the nuances of the state’s open meetings law, including changes made by the 2017 Legislature, when all she really had to do was say, “Hey, you guys, all your meetings are open to the public, and all minutes of your meetings are available to anyone who wants to read them.”

Then another engineer, this one from the Department of Transportation, repeated everything he had said at the group’s August meeting about the proposed new bridge over the Little Missouri on Highway 85, beside the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It’s important for the commission to “weigh in” on that one, too, but there was no new news at this meeting, just a rehash of the previous meeting. The commission might decide to weigh in after it sees the Environmental Impact Statement in a couple of months. This presentation, and its power point slides, could have waited until then.

And then a fisheries expert from the state Game and Fish Department got out his power point slides and talked for a long time about “endangered” fish in the Little Missouri. Duh. He could have just said, “There are no fish in the Little Missouri because it’s only 6 inches deep in most places in the summer and it freezes to the bottom in winter.” Yeah, that might endanger the fish.

It was a really bad miscalculation on the part of the Water Commission staff, and it is time for Parks Director Melissa Baker to wrest control of this board from the engineers, the way three Parks directors — Doug Eiken, Bob Horne and Gary Leppart — before her did. There were no meetings during the most recent Parks Director Mark Zimmerman’s term, and only one or two during his predecessor Doug Prchal’s term.

But give those ranchers on the commission credit — they stuck it out for 4½ hours, even though there were a hundred things they could do at home, and most of them just wanted to get into the bar for a quick Jack and Coke before heading back to the ranch.

The three Bismarck bureaucrats on the commission — Erbele, Baker and Dave Glatt from the Health Department — are probably used to long government meetings, but I bet two of them called Erbele the next day and said, “No more of that.” The meeting, which had begun at 4 p.m. Bismarck time, ended at 8:30 p.m., and they still had to drive home from Dickinson.

Here’s the bottom line: Gov., Burgum wants the Little Missouri River Commission, whose members are mostly Little Missouri River Valley ranchers, to tell him how they feel about the interim policy adopted by the State Water Commission, which allows temporary industrial water permits to be issued to draw water from the Little Missouri river for fracking. A reasonable approach by the governor. It might have been a good thing for the governor to come to the meeting, sit down with the commissioners and talk about it. That’s the way to find out how the Commission members feel.

Instead, he had his state engineer bring in one of his staff who, frankly, came off as a bit of a schoolyard bully, with a statement, all written up, and just asked them to approve it. It read:

“The Little Missouri River Commission has received and considered Temporary Water Permits Revised Interim Policy in the Little Missouri River Basin developed by the office of the State Engineer and presented to it at the August 19, 2017 meeting. The Little Missouri River Commission concurs with the policy and recommends that the State Water Commission adopt it as a permanent policy of the State Water Commission and the State Engineer.”

The Commission said no, we’re not approving that. At least not today.

Well, good for them. Meanwhile, the “interim” policy continues to allow issuance of fracking water permits from the Little Missouri. I don’t know if that’s what the governor wants. But it’s what he’s got, without the blessing of those who matter most — the ranchers in the Little Missouri River Valley. I’m not sure what will happen if the Scenic River Commission says “No” to the governor. Will he back off on issuing fracking permits?

There’ll be another meeting of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission in a couple of months. Maybe commissioner will discuss the policy then. Or maybe next time the governor, if he really does want their input, will come and sit down with them ask them what they think. Wouldn’t that be something?

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — The Cry Of The Pheasant

One more time around for pheasants and Paul Southworth Bliss, in honor of Saturday’s 2017 Pheasant Season Opener.

This will be my 59th pheasant season. Actually more because before I was 12 in 1959, when my dad bought me my first shotgun, I had tagged along since I was able to keep up with him in the field, probably starting at age 8 or 9. And actually less because I missed a few seasons in the ’60s and ’70s when I was away in the Navy and migrating between California and North Dakota.

And then there was last year. An early October bout of bronchitis turned to pneumonia, and I was sick the whole month. Then November came, and the weather got good, and Jeff, Wayne and I fished pretty much every day, telling ourselves there’d be plenty of time to hunt when it got cold. So we fished right up through Thanksgiving weekend, when we got hit with the terrible blizzard dumping feet of snow on our hunting grounds. We hunted pheasants once in December, in waist-high snowbanks , and I didn’t get one bird, the first pheasant season I’ve gone without shooting at least one in many, many years.

Well, anyway, I’ve chased pheasants for a lot of years, and it’s an eagerly awaited time of year for the Fuglie boys, thanks to a dad who literally decided where he wanted to live after graduating from optometry school in 1950 based on pheasants. He had offers from three North Dakota towns — Grafton, Ellendale ad Hettinger — and chose Hettinger because of good pheasant hunting. Thank you, dad, from all of your boys.

So, starting Saturday morning, and for the next eight or 10 weeks, I’ll join about 90,000 or so of my best friends in one of North Dakota’s favorite pastimes, hunting pheasants. In honor of the season, thought I might rerun a post from a few years ago with some of the poetry of Paul Southworth Bliss, my favorite North Dakota poet.

* **

Paul Southworth Bliss was no outdoorsman. Born in Wisconsin in 1889, educated at Harvard, a World War I veteran, where he rose to the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army, Bliss began his professional career as a newspaper reporter and music critic. But sometime in the mid-1930s, he found himself driving the back roads of North Dakota during the darkest days of the Great Depression, as front man for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Works Progress Administration relief program.

He traveled the state with with pen and paper in hand, and he used his gift as a poet to describe what he saw and felt on those long, dusty, sometimes freezing cold, sometimes sweltering hot, roads. From those North Dakota travels came three of his seven published books of poetry, three volumes full of poems about places in North Dakota. And what makes Bliss’ poetry so enjoyable is that he identifies the time and place where each poem happened to him, and in many cases, you can say “Yeah, I’ve been there.” But generally, Bliss throws a whole new light on those places.

Bliss has been dead 75 years, but I’m still a fan of his poetry and short essays. He spent as much time in the Badlands as possible, and loved what he saw there, and in his unique style, found ways to describe the countryside that I have never seen before. For example, this line from a poem called “Blue Heaven”:

Under the torture of 47 degrees below.

The air of McKenzie County

Is pure as the soul of Christ.

Bliss comes to mind as October — Pheasant Month at my house from the time I was old enough to jump into the back of Dad’s station wagon — begins calling me from my warm bed on those first few cold mornings of late fall. His seasonal poetry is some of his best, and it’s clean and clear and shows an obvious love for his adopted state. Two of my favorite Bliss poems — one about pheasants, the other about dogs — are the reason I’m thinking about him right now.

But now, for me, in retirement, October is much more diversified.

When I was a student and then when working for a living, hunting and fishing were done pretty much on weekends, and so choices had to be made, and in October I most often chose pheasants. But now, it is not unusual for me to be sitting in a duck slough or a goose blind or a fishing boat on a Wednesday in October, sometimes more than one of them in a day, because in retirement, every day is Saturday, and there’s time to do everything.

What I don’t do much of in October is read, especially poetry. Now, my reading is pretty much left to those winter days when the wind is blowing too hard to go ice fishing or summer days when it is too hot to sit in a boat. But on those days, I often turn to Bliss to remind myself what a great place we live in.

You can probably find Bliss’ books in your local public library, or buy them online at Amazon.com, or your favorite used book website, or you can just Google Paul Southworth Bliss poetry, and you’ll find a place to buy his books. They’re all out of print now, so they might be a little pricey, but if you shop around a bit, you can probably find one in your price range.

Without further ado, let me share a couple of his best poems with you. Both are from a volume titled “The Rye Is The Sea,” printed right here in Bismarck, in 1936, using recycled farmers’ burlap bags for the covers.

In the introduction to this book, Bliss writes “Attention is invited to the physical appearance of this book. ‘The Rye is the Sea’could be produced from a farm village. The burlap binding is the gunny sack of agriculture. The bag of which this binding is a part has held in its time wheat and corn. The paper used is ordinary wrapping paper.”  The book is about 7½ inches by 10 inches and is so intricately printed and bound it is a joy to hold in your hand.

The first poem is titled “Pheasant Cry.  I love it because Bliss tells us what color pheasants are, like no one ever has before. My friend Dan Nelson says, every October, “Let’s go get some of those big red birds.” And we usually do. But Bliss adds a few more colors to his description.

Pheasant Cry

Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

Thus spoke

The pheasant,

Walking the rowed wheat

In the morning.

 

North of the way,

A cottonwood;

South of the way,

A willow;

The sun shone upon them all.

 

Said the pheasant:

“Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

It was afternoon:

A crag

Of white cumulus

Lay in the north;

Nimbus

Hung in the east;

The south

Was pearl —

The sun shone upon them.

 

The pheasant cried:

“Sun,

Shine on me —

Make me glorious!”

 

All day

The pheasant called

Incessantly.

 

And at evening

The sun

Hearkened to his cry;

And the sun

Bestowed upon him

All his colors:

Pink, violet,

Honey, salmon,

Thistle,

Persian rose,

Copper,

Peach,

Daffodil,

Tangerine,

Citron,

Tile,

Lapis blue,

Wine,

Emerald,

Corn,

Old gold,

Lavender,

Ginger,

Henna,

Sandalwood,

Turquoise,

Sea green,

Fern,

Cinnamon,

Heather,

Wild aster,

Chartreuse,

Carmine,

Lavin red,

Scarlet,

Vermillion,

Purple,

And white.

 

And the sun said:

“From the early

Morning,

When you walked

The rowed wheat,

You have asked

Incessantly…

Henceforth

You shall

Be glorious—

And

A little bit

Ridiculous.”

May 17, 1936

Minnesota-North Dakota border, south of Wahpeton-Breckenridge

Now you know what color a pheasant is. Then read this one, and see if you don’t recognize you and your dog.

 

Just Another Old Dog

Just another old dog with sorrowful eyes,

Peering at me from the rug where he lies;

Watching me always, calm as a sphinx,

With two aging eyes, neither one of which blinks.

 

Knows I’m no company — not for a dog

Dreaming of meadowland, forest and bog;

Dreaming of pheasant, partridge and quail,

And curious things by the aspen-leaved trail.

 

Wond’ring why men stay so long in one place,

Chained to a desk — when there’s plenty of space.

Just a run out of town and the fun might begin —

I know that he reckons such sitting is sin.

 

A law would be passed if dogs had their way —

That men must go out in the open each day —

Out to trees, brushland or prairie remote:

Ah, that would win every honest dog’s vote!

Old fellow, stop looking so sadly at me;

If only you knew it, we agree to a “T.”

 

Come, we’ll just chuck it! These papers are trash —

Let’s go where clean, cool forest streams splash!

There, you old rascal with sorrowful eyes,

That far-a-way look was a crafty disguise.

 

Now you jump up, wiggle tail, wriggle ears,

Shedding like water a half-dozen years.

You’ve waited so long, but you knew you would win;

You scoundrel, I see that you’re hiding a grin!

 

So off we go, leaving no trail, and no track —

I hope they don’t miss us; let’s never come back!

May 19, 1935

Williston, N.D.

To a venerable red-eyed springer spaniel, 11 years old, who keeps faithful and friendly watch.

How many times have you seen an old dog jump up and “shed a half-dozen years?” Yeah, me, too. Isn’t that a marvelous line?

After traveling the back roads of North Dakota for a couple of years, Bliss was convinced by his new North Dakota friends that he must take up hunting as a sport.

And so he did, and he recounts some of the adventures of that first year in a short essay titled “Hunting Begins at 40” in the back of “The Rye is the Sea.”

Interestingly, the account is kind of what you might have read in an old issue of Field and Stream or Outdoor Life of the same period. Yeah, me and Joe did this and this and this. But at the very end, Bliss recounts for us how much money he spent on hunting that year (something I’ve always considered too dangerous to undertake — there are some things you just don’t want to know). Here’s his tally. Check out his note at the end.

LICENSE

Hunting License No. 28634 N.D.                                 $1.50

Federal Duck Stamp                                                          1.00

$2.50

EQUIPMENT

Take-down Repeating Shotgun                                   26.95

Gun Case                                                                           4.95

Box of Shells                                                                     .98
Additional Shells, 3 boxes at 98c                               2.94

Ramrod Set                                                                      .39

Oil Can                                                                              .25

Khaki Hunter’s Coat                                                    3.50

Wading Boots                                                              4.50

Decoy Ducks                                                                2.25

Duck Call                                                                        .65

$47.36

TRAVEL EXPENSE

Oil and Gas                                                              $10.00

Broken Auto Window                                                2.50

$12.50

DOCTOR’S BILLS

Visits and Office Treatments                             $18.00

Medicines                                                                   2.85

$20.85

CAMERA EXPENSE

Films, Developing, Extra Prints                         $5.00

GRAND TOTAL                                             $88.21

            Author’s Note:  From this you will see that it cost me $88.21 for one sharp-tailed grouse, one partridge and one duck. Rather expensive — but I will never forget how yellow the cord grass was on the duck pass, how the reeds waved their plumes and how the dawn turned the ice into pink sherbet.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — ‘Quit Farming? Heck, What Would I Do?’

I want to tell you a story today about a really remarkable woman, a true North Dakotan, a real character and my favorite relative: my Aunt Deloris.

Deloris Boehmer is my last living aunt. She’s the only remaining member of my parents’ generation in our family. She’s 88, and lives in Edmore, N.D., about 40 miles northeast of Devils Lake. She’s got a pretty nice house in Edmore — used to be the Lutheran parsonage. She and my Uncle Leonard — my mother’s brother — bought it about 40 years ago and moved off the farm into town.

But they didn’t quit farming. The farm’s just a few miles out of town, and they kept the machinery there and drove out there to work. They drove together, until my Uncle Leonard died about seven years ago. She buried him and kept on driving to the farm to work. She’s still doing it. At 88.

Aunt Deloris is a little spitfire, about 5 feet tall if she stretches up on her tiptoes, a bundle of energy who weighs less than 100 pounds. Aside from a chronically bad back, she keeps pretty fit, and her work uniform in the summer is cutoff jean shorts, T-shirts and tennis shoes. In the winter, she substitutes blue jeans for the shorts and puts on a sweater.

She farms with her son, my cousin, Jimmy. Together, she and Jimmy farm 13 quarters. They raise wheat, soybeans and canola. When I talked to her Tuesday afternoon — Oct. 3 — she had just gotten off her combine, getting pretty near the end of the canola harvest. She was taking a break because a hunter from Minnesota had made his annual pilgrimage to their farm to hunt ducks, and he offered to drive the combine for the afternoon.

Usually, by the time he arrives, the combines have been put away and the grain is in the bin. Not this year. And so the city boy is getting a special treat this year, driving a big old combine. And Deloris was getting an afternoon off.

“I’ve never seen two years like the last two,” she told me. “So much rain. We can’t get anything done.”

The wheat finally got combined, in mid-September, “but it isn’t worth anything,” she said, mourning this year’s low grain prices. She’s hoping the canola, a relatively new crop for her, puts some money in the bank this year. And she and Jimmy still have soybeans to combine.

“I can’t remember combining in October before,” she told me. “I remember one year we finished on Sept. 21 — I remember that because it was my mother’s birthday — and I thought that was late.”

But by the end of last week, she’d finished cultivating the wheat stubble — four quarters of it — and was ready to start on the canola fields, probably later this week. Before she’s done this fall, she’ll have cultivated 10 quarters, “black and pretty.”

Aunt Deloris farmed with Uncle Leonard all of their 59 married years. She grew up on her parents’ farm, not far down the road from my Grandma Sophie and Grandpa Pete Boehmer’s place, which became hers and Uncle Leonard’s farm after Grandma and Grandpa died. She grew up driving machinery and milking cows. She married Leonard after he came home from World War II, and she was an active partner in the farm.

During some lean times on the farm, she took a job as a security guard at the ABM “pyramid” down the road in Nekoma, and she later worked as an aide at the Edmore nursing home, just down the street from her house. But through all that, she still found time to be active on the farm.

Uncle Leonard had a long battle with cancer, spending his last months in 2010 in a nursing home in Grand Forks while she ran the farm. When he knew he was dying, he said he wasn’t worried about the farm — “She has always been a better farmer than I am,” he said with a smile. When he was in Grand Forks, she put up a new steel building on the farm for their machinery and didn’t tell him. “I didn’t need him worrying about things like that,” she said.

Uncle Leonard was a John Deere man, believing that if it wasn’t green, he didn’t want it. Deloris wasn’t so sure. After Uncle Leonard died, she decided she’d had enough of that green stuff. “I drove that old John Deere for too many years,” she told me this fall. So she bought herself a great big red Versatile tractor, and decided a new combine was in order, too, so she bought a big gray Gleaner. Neighbors said Uncle Leonard was rolling over in his grave. She paid for them in just a couple of years, when crop prices were good, and still drives them. Jimmy runs the green stuff.

With a new swather and a new sprayer, she’s got about all the equipment she needs. Oh, and there’s the new semi, too. She drives that in the fields but doesn’t take it on the road, leaving it to Jimmy to haul the grain to the elevator.

Uncle Leonard had a pretty nice pickup, but it wasn’t quite what Deloris wanted, so she bought herself a new Dodge Ram four-wheel drive a couple of years ago to get back and forth to the farm and to drive to Devils Lake for groceries. It takes her a little work to climb up into it, but when she’s sitting behind the wheel with a smile on her face, he’s the Queen of the Road.

My cousin Jimmy, a REALLY good farmer, a strong man with an easy smile who handles the heavy work of the farm and who has land of his own and his own machinery (the green stuff), is happy with the arrangement he and his mom have worked out. They’re steadfast partners, day in and day out, making decisions together about what and when to plant, when to fertilize, when to sell and the dozens of daily choices that need to be made on a successful farm.

He’s been farming nearly 40 years, first with his mom and dad, and now just with his mom, and runs a snowmobile repair business in the winter. That, and chasing after grandkids all over northeast North Dakota, keeps him plenty busy. He also looks in on his mom most days — she is 88 after all, and lives alone — and reports in to his sisters, who have moved away and have families of their own.

Tuesday, he was fretting a bit about the canola — it was just a bit too wet.There was a big wind blowing, and the elevator man said, “Just wait a couple of hours before you combine it and it will dry out.”

Jimmy replied, “In a couple of hours, it will be dark.” So he and the duck hunter got on the combines and took it just a bit too wet, but Jimmy thought that would be OK.

Aunt Deloris found some odd jobs to do around the farm. She wasn’t going to quit and go to town before the men did.

In fact, she says she has no plans to quit farming any time soon.

“My neighbors all say I should quit. Heck, what would I do?”

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Hurricane Donald

A big wind made landfall last Wednesday in North Dakota, and when I woke up the next morning, North Dakota was great again.

A KX News morning show anchor giddily recounted her excitement about President Trump’s visit and how she and her family had gone out to “show our love for the president.” I was a little surprised her objective report didn’t include the phrase “glorious leader.”

Perhaps I woke up in North Korea. I missed it, did anyone kiss his ring?

Not everyone was happy about the president’s invitation-only visit to a refinery in Mandan. I know I’m part of the Fake News and Liberal Agenda that Rush Limbaugh blames for overhyping Hurricane Irma just to make a point about climate change, but it is a statistical fact 41 percent of North Dakotans don’t support the president.

Eleven percent of them have actually been groped by him. The other 30 percent have been goosed by Limbaugh.

This may explain why folks are increasingly desperate for medical marijuana to get here. “Please help us forget.” Anyway, don’t tell me the president’s not on something. He must be smoking covfefe during those 3 a.m. tweet sessions from the bathroom.

We should legalize covfefe, too, once we figure out what it is. The downside of building The Wall is we’ll no longer have easy access to covfefe pouring across our borders from Mexico. But we’ll have jobs picking tomatoes, if we’re not too busy mining coal, the energy of the future.

Once we get rid of people who are different from us, things will be grand. I think a raid at Norsk Hostfest would be a good start. And, yes, Jethro, we’ll call you for that Google programming gig once we send Ravi back to New Delhi.

And did you hear? A Dickinson company is in the running to build a prototype for The Wall. I hope they’re better at it than the folks in my neck of the woods. Every time I drive to Lehr, there are cows on the road. We need better fences. Or more-obedient cattle.

Naturally, there were protesters and counter-protesters in Mandan. You could tell them apart based on the spelling errors. I don’t think racists should be against “Muslins.” What would they do without sheets?

Noted white supremacist Craig Cobb was there to show his support for the president. David Duke couldn’t make it because he was rallying support to defend statues of Colonel Sanders, Ashley Wilkes, The Dukes of Hazzard and Foghorn Leghorn.

Some of the president’s supporters yelled at Trump protesters to get a job. Silly. Everyone knows liberal protesters work for George Soros. I personally feel he should get more credit as a job creator.

Meanwhile, the Trump supporters were apparently multitasking, working, while supporting the president. That’s the sort of gumption that made America great before Obama made it un-great. To be fair, he did make Kenya great again.

Pretty much everyone was mad about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp riding on Air Force One with President Trump. Liberals already think she’s too far right. Republicans don’t think she has enough deferments to even qualify for high office. Kevin Cramer was especially displeased. Not only did Heidi get the window seat, she made him go to the galley three times for salted almonds. You know how Leftists are when it comes to free stuff. They’re always pulling themselves up by other people’s bootstraps. Then, to top it off, the president actually said nice things about Heidi when he spoke because he wants her to vote for tax breaks for the rich, to help out the poor.

North Dakota is a shining example of giving tax breaks to rich guys. That has taken the pressure from North Dakota property owners, who are more than happy to absorb the cost of tax breaks for Big Oil. Because having too much disposable income can get downright confusing.

I mean where do you invest — Wall Street or Russia? The easy answer is always invest in tax breaks for billionaires.

This time, it’s sure to trickle down. I’ll bet oil typhoon Harold Hamm, who thanks to North Dakota Republicans, could finally afford to fly in from Oklahoma to greet the president, threw dollar bills out the window of his Lear Jet.

Technically, that could result in a $500 fine under stiff new littering penalties passed by Republicans to protect the environment. However, if you spill a few thousand barrels of oil in North Dakota, all you have to do is write, “I was a bad boy,” a 100 times on the blackboard. You have to ease into these things.

I’m not saying we’re easy, but all the light bulbs in Bismarck are being swapped out with red ones. It’ll be purdy at Christmas.

© Tony Bender, 2017

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Another Trip Around The Sun

Sometime after I went to bed last night, I completed my 70th trip around the sun. Today I begin my 71st.

They’ve been interesting trips. I’ve enjoyed most of all of them. They’ve all been different. If I could do them over, there are probably a few different roads I’d choose, a few different off-ramps I’d take, a few different corners I’d turn. But for the most part, they’ve been pretty good trips. If I viewed them as just different parts of one long trip, I’d agree with Jerry Garcia — it’s been a long, strange trip.

But I like looking at them as separate trips. The first few were in Chicago, where I learned to walk and talk. The rest, for the most part, have begun and ended in North Dakota, the place I love. My parents made the decision to bring me here for my fourth trip, looked after me for the next 15 or so, and then I made the decision to spend most of the rest of them here, with the exception of minitrips outside the state to make life a little more interesting, and the four trips my Uncle Sam took me on around the globe.

I’ve made about eight more trips than my dad did, but I’ve got a ways to go to pass my mother’s record. That would be a good goal, I guess. She made 85. And by God, she made the most of them. If you’d have asked her as she approached the end of her last trip, she’d have said every one of them was a good one. She was the most positive and optimistic woman I’ve ever known. Maybe that’s where I get it from.

I was reminded over this just-passed long weekend of the value of family and good friends. My siblings and I all gathered for a couple of days in the North Dakota Bad Lands, and they all said nice things about me at supper Saturday night. I am grateful for all of them, and to my parents for giving them to me.

And in a little gathering on my patio yesterday, a kind of a spontaneous rally around a cake and a jug of lemonade, friends gave me little gifts and encouraged me to make a whole bunch more trips.

I think I will. And I think I’ll follow Neil Young’s advice: “My, my, hey, hey, it’s better to burn out than fade away.” Lillian gave me this T-shirt yesterday. I’m going to wear it once a week for the rest of my trips. Until I burn out.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — North Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

“The sun is round. I ring with life, and the mountains ring, and when I can hear it, there is a ringing that we share. I understand all this, not in my mind, but in my heart, knowing how meaningless it is to try to capture what cannot be expressed, knowing that mere words will remain when I read it all again, another day.”Peter Matthiessen

Everyone I see these days asks me if I saw the solar eclipse, and Jim and I eagerly share our experience with one another. Last night, I looked at the moon over my backyard with different eyes than ever before. What glorious orbs in this universe!

On the top of the list of “glorious”: North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park is one of the most glorious places in North Dakota, if not the most. I’ve stood on the rim of the canyon there, at River Bend Overlook, with my father, and he has said, with some authority, that it is as beautiful there as the Grand Canyon.

I’ve camped there 50 times or more. I’ve hiked all of the trails and bushwacked plenty of my own trails. The solitude is one of the elements that make it special, even more so than the more frequently visited South Unit. It is off the beaten path, off the interstate.

Juniper Campground is very peaceful, and the scenic drive is chock-a-block full of stupendous views, wildlife, prairie vegetation and stellar examples of the geological forces that shape the Bad Lands.

The conservation group I founded, Badlands Conservation Alliance, keeps a close watch on this place, along with the Dakota Prairie Grasslands as a whole. The North Unit is an important refuge for North Dakotans, and all visitors.

So it is with consternation that I absorb the news that yet another oil and gas lease sale is proposed that will impact the boundary of this relatively small place. You can read more about that proposal here.

I’m also furious about the North Dakota Department of Transportation proposal to build a new bridge, replacing the Long X bridge on U.S. Highway 85, right up against the North Unit. The sound of only the birds and the cottonwood leaves stirring will be invaded by the maddening hum of a bridge.

NDDOT could do it differently, and many excellent suggestions have been made, by BCA and others, to preserve this treasure. The evidence to date is that NDDOT is ignoring this input.

Watch for notices about public meetings to come this fall and attend these meetings, to let them know that you also are concerned and to tell them that they must do better. Call or write NDDOT and request that it schedules one of the upcoming hearings in Bismarck.

Full moon setting, dawn, autumn cottonwood, TRNP North Unit.
Full moon setting, dawn, autumn cottonwood, TRNP North Unit.

Another action item you can choose is to become a member of BCA. This is easily done on the website.  Another tiny, ridiculously easy thing you can do is to share this blog posting widely, with the knowledge that each voice speaking for TRNP makes a difference.

Cause, folks, when it is gone, it is gone.  Poof.  How will we explain to future generations that we just let it go without a word of protest?