Tuesday morning, I worked in the cool autumn sunshine on yard chores, getting things done before the snow flies. First, I tackled the pile of limbs we had accumulated over the summer in our trailer, breaking and sawing up the branches to add to our kindling pile. Lizzie the springer spaniel happily nosed around in the fallen leaves and disappeared somewhere in the back returning with some strange thing she had found to eat.
Next, while admiring the colorful leaves on the trees and shrubs in our yard, I finished the garden cleanup and spread the straw on the garlic bed.
Liz found this somewhat interesting. I’m looking forward to fewer muddy paw prints in the house.
The leaves on the juneberry bushes are striking as are the red-osier dogwoods. We need rain. Loads of snow would be acceptable. Yes, I did say that.
The red oak tree is looking glorious today, as are the hosta. The tree is a champion.
The quaking aspen have begun to turn in the past few days. Frost has killed the impatiens, but the butterflies continue to visit the asters and the ladybugs are present here and there, with an occasional renegade in the house. The late-blooming clematis also persists.
The slate-covered juncos have made their appearance in the yard, Junco hyemalis, hyemalis being New Latin for “wintery.” According to my book, “Words for Birds,” “the Latin comes from the Greek cheimon, ‘winter’, which is related to Sanskrit hima, ‘snow.’ The Junco is often called the ‘snow bird,’ as its arrival foretells the coming of winter to its southern range. Slate-colored refers to the sooty black upper-parts and the central part of the tail.”
Last up for outdoor chores was to pick raspberries. We are completely delighted that we are still picking raspberries — in North Dakota! I converted some of these to raspberry crisp, and Jim loves raspberry pancakes above all breakfast foods.
Here’s an interesting autumn development: the arrival of dozens of mayflies on our kitchen window. I notice oddities such as these.
A big bonus to the day was the arrival of Jim’s sister, Jill, with a batch of her freshly made lefse, converted from the potatoes Jim gave to her. If you are interested, she takes orders and ships this Norwegian delicacy. Get in touch, I’ll connect you with her.
Meanwhile, this is the soundtrack of our lives this time of year.
Jim and I maintain a lifelong love affair with the Little Missouri River. It is one of the things that most deeply bond us together. We know every mile of this river intimately.
What follows is my letter of last week to North Dakota Department of Transportation regarding the Long X Bridge project. The bridge is near to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Please consider writing a similar letter. The public deserves as robust a process as is possible. Let’s bury NDDOT with pleas to hold more meetings.
October 14, 2017
North Dakota Department of Transportation
608 East Boulevard Avenue
Bismarck, ND 58505-0700
Dear Mr. Linneman,
I’m following up my comments at this week’s public meeting of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission to write urging that your department schedule a public meeting in Bismarck regarding the Long X Bridge project.
I would also remind you that in a letter dated December 2, 2015, Jan Swenson of Badlands Conservation Alliance said the following: “Finally, the significance of this proposal and impacts both detrimental and beneficial to state and federal resources demands that public meetings be held across the state of North Dakota. Two public meetings, both located in far western North Dakota, are not sufficient to the issues at hand.”
While I wholeheartedly agreed that there should be adequate public meetings in the Highway 85 corridor, this is a federal highway, and your department represents all North Dakotans, more than 80 percent of whom live east of Glen Ullin. It is an undue burden to expect these citizens to have to travel so far to attend any of the meetings and well worth the department’s time to provide a greater range of opportunity to seek public comment from as many North Dakotans as possible. After all, we all use this bridge and care about the natural resources of North Dakota.
The North Dakota Legislature approved, and Gov. Doug Burgum signed, legislation last May authorizing the use of water from the Little Missouri State Scenic River for fracking oil wells. Now our state engineer, Garland Erbele, has issued industrial water permits authorizing more than 2.1 billion (that’s 2,142,000,000) gallons of water to be taken from the river. So far.
The withdrawals are actually measured in acre feet, and the allocation by the state engineer, who works for the State Water Commission, is about 6,600 acre feet between now and next Oct. 30. An acre foot is enough water to cover one acre of land a foot deep in water. That takes about 325,000 gallons. I don’t know if the permittees will get as much as they’re authorized, but they could, if the technology is there, and the river cooperates.
I also don’t know how much water there is in the river, but I do know the river has been running pretty close to dry all summer and fall.
It’s a big number, but I am not really concerned about that. As the oil boys will tell you, if we don’t take it out, it just goes to New Orleans, and they have plenty of water. There are plenty of other things I am concerned about, though. Like the impact of all this industrial activity on the integrity of the Little Missouri Scenic River Valley, North Dakota’s only State Scenic River. And conflicts of interest.
For example, the newly elected chairman of the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission, Joe Schettler of Killdeer, is a partner in a company called Streamline Water Services, and his company, which sells water to oil companies for fracking, has industrial water permits to draw 715 acre feet between now and next August.
And Scott Kleeman, Schettler’s proxy on the Commission if Joe can’t make it to the meetings, is part of a family operation that has an industrial water permit to draw 900 acre feet and sell it to oil companies between now and next April.
There’s also one more potential conflict. At last week’s meeting, neither the McKenzie County Commission member David Lee Crighton, nor his proxy, Kit James (who also has an industrial water business), was able to attend, so they sent Kaye Nelson to represent the county. Kaye is the widow of Alvin Nelson, the former commission chairman back when it used to have meetings, around the turn of the century. Apparently she attended a lot of the meetings with Alvin, so the county felt like she could represent them well.
The problem is, a company called Select Energy Services has a water depot on her ranch along the Little Missouri west of Grassy Butte, and it has an industrial water permit to take about 100 acre feet of water between now and next May.
To be fair, all of them have been in the water business a long time, and were in it when they took their seats on the commission. I’m guessing the county commissioners in their counties who appointed them knew about that. But they’ve not taken advantage of their positions on the Scenic River Commission for personal gain. So far.
Still, it would seem like there’s a pretty big potential conflict of interest there. One of the other commissioners told me this week that the fact they are in the water business threatens the integrity of the whole commission.
Right now, the industrial permits are being given out by the state engineer under an “interim” policy allowing river water to be used for fracking. “Interim” because Gov. Burgum wants the approval of the Scenic River Commission before he makes it permanent.
At last Wednesday’s commission meeting (I wrote about it earlier this week), there was a motion to approve Burgum’s “interim” policy. It was made by Gene Allen of Golden Valley County. But no one seconded the motion, so it died. And they voted to postpone consideration of the policy until their next meeting. Schettler was chairing the meeting, so he couldn’t second it. Nelson also demurred. Maybe she thought it would be inappropriate because she has a potential conflict. Or maybe it was because she really isn’t a member of the commission, and was just filling in.
In any case, it would be good if the members who are already in the industrial water business made that fact known to the rest of the commission and to the public. Well, I guess I just did that for them. If there are any other members who are in the water business, or have a potential conflict, I don’t know about it. If so, they should ‘fess up as well.
The rest of the list of industrial water users who have gotten permits since the governor signed the bill May 2 is pretty interesting, too. Erbele didn’t waste any time. On May 5, just three days after the bill became law, he signed the Kleeman family’s permit for 900 acre feet.
The second one was even more interesting. On the 9th, he granted a fellow named Wylie Bice 700 acre feet. You might remember that name. I wrote about him last summer. He’s the guy who sold his trucking company for $80 million or so, bought the ranch next door on the other side of the Little Missouri Scenic River and then built a bridge over the river to get to it.
One side of his bridge is on federal land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management, as is a road he built on federal land to access it. And then he put in an illegal water depot on BLM land beside the Little Missouri River, a big plastic-lined pit to store the water he’s taking from the river to sell to oil companies.
The BLM has been up to see Bice, and it’s given him an application to apply for a bridge and a road, to “get things legal.” I don’t know about the water depot.
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the BLM might give him a permit for a bridge and a road after he’s already built them. I’m going to go out to Dickinson to the BLM office one of these days and take a look at that application.
What I’m not going to get a look at, my friends at the BLM tell me, is what is called a “trespass file.” I’m not sure exactly what’s in there because it’s confidential right now, but I have to guess they’re considering some kind of legal action against Bice for putting stuff on federal land without permission. I’ll find out more about that when I get to Dickinson, too.
Also troubling is the creep of fracking further south into the Little Missouri River Valley. A company called NP Resources is drilling two wells near the Little Missouri Scenic River between Medora and the Elkhorn Ranch. The wells are on land owned by two pretty wealthy friends of mine who have purchased ranches along the river to protect them from development. One is directly across the river from the Elkhorn, President Theodore Roosevelt’s historic home. In both cases, the minerals under their ranches are owned by someone else, so they were powerless to stop them. Mineral owners trump surface owners.
In both cases, NP resources applied for and was granted water permits for 58 acre feet of water from the Scenic River — bout half a million gallons each — to frack the wells. It’s troubling because the industry appears to now be making serious advances deep into the heart of the Bad Lands, in the Little Missouri Scenic River valley, not so far north of Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The rest of the permits are mostly for a couple of hundred acre feet, and ranchers are taking advantage of their location beside the river to make a little money. Maybe more than a little. Hard to begrudge them that.
But those activities are the very reason the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission exists: Our state law, Chapter 61-29 of the North Dakota Century Code, the Little Missouri Scenic River Act, says we need to “preserve the Little Missouri River as nearly as possible in its present state,” and “maintain the scenic, historic and recreational qualities of the Little Missouri River and its tributary streams.”
Let’s make sure we do that. It’s getting harder, though.
“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.
“A mosaic is a conversation between what is broken.” — “Finding Beauty in a Broken World,” a book by Terry Tempest Williams
In what has been described by many as a “soul-crushing week” in the United States, I’m trying my damnest to focus on the blessings and gifts in my life.
One of the finest gifts of friendship in my life has been that with the writer and deep thinker, Terry Tempest Williams. In the years since I first discovered her books, I have absorbed so much of her wisdom. My own aging, I hope, has brought on my own wisdom, through pain and joy and sorrow and mistakes, and that wisdom includes embracing the cycle of seasons here on the northern Plains and simplifying my life inasmuch as is possible.
I’m also deeply committed to learning something new every day. It is my hope that in the upcoming year or so, I can learn the creation of mosaics from my friend Molly McLain. Every day I can listen online or to Prairie Public Radio and choose carefully what I watch on television or read, to achieve that goal of enlightenment.
In the afternoon sunshine of Saturday, we walked over to a friend’s house, for treats and delightful conversation. Our path took us by one of the best trees in our Highland Acres neighborhood.
As I write this, I’m munching on a homemade apricot kolache baked by our friend, Tasha Carvell, who sent home with us. Yummy!
I strive to pay attention to the tiny joys in life, such as the perfect red oak leaf I found on my front patio yesterday. Rather than feel frustrated that I will have to pick up all of these fallen leaves, I try to see the beauty in the leaf and approach these leaves as a substance that will enrich our soil and protect our strawberries and garlic from the upcoming harsh winter.
In another example of finding a silver lining, earlier this week I dropped and lost an earring and could not find it anywhere on the floor or bed. As a last resort, this morning, I tore that room apart and completely cleaned it, on hands and knees. I did not find the earring and had given up but looked in one last place, and there it was. It was a trifle, but a triumph nonetheless, and the room is now clean for the winter.
On Saturday, I attended the North Dakota Yoga Conference, learning new things from masters, a blessing. I told Jim he’d be surprised by how many people in North Dakota have a yoga business.
The rooms bustled with people (yes, mostly women) who were eager to deepen their practices. My friend, Debi, experienced a wonderful epiphany at a session we attended together, Yoga Nidra and she generously shared those insights with me after the class.
I’ve also incorporated essential oils into my daily routine.Although we open wide our windows during the temperate months and live in the glory of fresh air in our house, there are many months in which the windows must be closed (although we have many large windows that we have left uncovered in order to bath the interior in light year-round). Now that autumn has arrived, in our bedroom, I use an infuser and apply three fragrant oils that enhance sleep: lavender, geranium, and sweet marjoram.
In my landscaping of our yard, I have striven to create beauty for every stage of the year. It has taken years to achieve this goal, helped by the fact that I started with a good palette, a large and private backyard bordered by mature trees.
Today, the firewood is stacked, the kindling box is full, the garlic is planted, and a hard frost is in the forecast. Jim brought in the last of the bell peppers, and these are now in brown paper bags for a final ripening.
In the night sky this week, the harvest moon has been bright. Jim has been busy in the kitchen today making 11 pints of salsa, from my sister Beckie’s recipe, with the last of the tomatoes and jalapenos. I took Lizzie for an afternoon walk through the coulee and while she went swimming, I stood completely still and watched a flock of the sandhill cranes migrating over the Missouri River Valley, the first I’ve seen this fall. I did not move until the flock had disappeared on the horizon, into the blue.
From the book “Words for Birds ,” crane is an English word derived from the bird’s cry, which has its origins in the root for “calling” or “crying out.” The sandhill crane is grus canadensis. Grus refers to the bird’s call and canadensis is a Latinism for “of Canada.”
The coup de grace for the day will be my homemade apple crisp.
Rather than bemoaning that summer is over, I try to focus on all of the projects I will be able to tackle inside during the winter. Bring it on!
It was inevitable and is an integral part of the life cycle. On this chilly and breezy Tuesday morning, Jim and I harvested the last of the vegetables — that is everything but the Brussels sprouts, which are left out until they produce. We’ll see.
Together we dug the parsnips, the leeks and the meager sweet potato crop. On his own, he picked the jalapenos, the peppers and the last of the green tomatoes. On Monday, he tilled the garlic bed, and it is now ready for planting, as soon as our order from The Garlic Store arrives.
In the afternoon he tilled much of the rest of the vegetable beds. He has tested the soil, and all is in good shape after years of countless wheelbarrow loads of compost from a huge pile at the city landfill. Jim’s rototiller is a prized possession, purchased by his father at the Hettinger (N.D.) Coast to Coast store many decades ago.
All I will have left to do outside is pick up the fallen leaves. These we will use to cover the garlic and strawberry bed before deep winter arrives.
Our larders and freezers are full. All we have to go to the store for is milk, eggs, butter, seafood and fruit — oh and chocolate!
On Saturday, I began a nine-week meditation on nonviolence. Monday morning, the anniversary of the birth of Gandhi, a leader who taught the world so much about nonviolence but died by an assassin’s bullet, I awoke to the horrible news of the carnage in Las Vegas. Although my grandparents saw great hardship in their long lives, I feel certain that did not awake to such horrific news on an alarmingly regular basis. My heart is heavy. I grieve.
Sunday, I took a saunter in the autumn sunshine with my companion, our dog, Lizzie, down the trail near to our house in Jackman Coulee.
Everywhere I turned the fall foliage was lovely. My city is everywhere as beautiful as any in Vermont or New Hampshire. One just need pause and look.
“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.” — Edith Wharton
This chair belonged to my great-Aunt Marie, who lived with us in El Paso, Texas, when I was a child so that my mother could work outside the home. She homeschooled my younger brother for his preschool years and taught all us children the Norwegian table grace, which she had learned from her parents, immigrants from Norway. We can all say it to this day. This was Marie’s chair, purchased by my parents. Later, my mother reupholstered it and used it in her apartment. Eventually, I inherited it, when my mother was downsizing.
This photo is of Mother and Aunt Marie, who is sitting in her chair. Marie had been a schoolteacher in various country schools in western North Dakota and South Dakota and eastern Montana. I used to watch her comb out her long hair each day and wind it into a bun. Of course, I remember her whenever I look at the chair.
Later Monday, I walked across the Memorial Bridge, breathing in fresh air and reveling in the view of the river. Yet again, the flags are at half-mast.
As I walk across the bridge, this song called “River” by Tish Hinojosa goes through my mind.
While I’m writing this, I could be listening to the endless array of news on the radio or the internet, but instead, in the sunshine that bathes my office, I’m listening to Ravi Shankar’s “Sounds of India.”
When I am in silent meditation these days, I close my eyes and visualize the Missouri and Little Missouri rivers flowing quietly by the autumn cottonwoods covered with citron-colored leaves and my prayer for peace is ongoing.
Autumn beauty continues to emerge in my yard, including peak hydrangea color, hinting at the frost that is nigh. Jim complains that he has about 500 green tomatoes still on the vine, and the folding table is back in the dining room in preparation for bringing those in for ripening, ending the cycle that began with the seedlings in that same spot last spring.
The other day, he smoked some of the duck breasts, the bounty of his hunt of last week. Today I started cutting back the perennials, composting the greenery, leaving only the mums, asters, coneflowers and Dark Towers Penstemon for the winter, to catch the snow on the beds. Who knows how many days I have left to accomplish this. I have to steel myself to do this as the beds will look so bare, armed with the knowledge that the foliage will be mushy to deal with in the spring if I postpone. I have five backyard beds, and so I work my way slowly through these. Not long after I started, I had to shed my hoodie as the temperature climbed. It is so satisfying to work in the autumn sunlight on this beautiful, still day.
The Painted Lady butterflies were swarming on the Purple Palace aster today, and there is russet in the vine that covers the boundary fence. Soon I hope we will be eating Brussels sprouts, but for now, they are a very lovely color in the vegetable garden. The broccoli and basil have gone to seed.
Midafternoon, Jim arrived home with four more ducks, and he patiently plucked one for roasting. Lizzie the Springer Spaniel got to accompany him this time. She settled in and napped away the remainder of the day in the sun.
By the end of the afternoon, the perennial beds in back looked like this. I will leave the front yard hosta garden alone, as it needs the yellow color the leaves will turn as the fall progresses or it would look too barren.
In other news of the cycles of our lives, during the predawn hours this morning, I put our daughter, Chelsea, on a flight to Colorado, where she will be attending dog grooming school for the next three months. In the car, I played this song for her to make her smile. Then, we switched to “Morning Edition” because we are NPR folks.
It was great fun to watch her go through security and leave her in the company of all of the others bound for Denver, the first time she has ever flown without me. This is a big step for her, a dream she’s had for years, coming true. We know she will fly high! Bon voyage, dear one.
Later I got the text that she was safely at her destination and with her new mentor, and the prayers and good wishes of many good people in our lives are with her.
While I worked in the yard, I listened to the squirrels gamboling about in the crabapple trees, and I am grateful that I have the blessings of a quiet day, while so many others bustle about. I made mental notes about garden chores I will add to the spring list, such as moving plants to different locations or dividing perennials or making new purchases. I listened to a nearby blue jay’s raucous call.
A month ago, I took a very hard fall, landing on my knees on a concrete curb with full force. Today, I am grateful that after a few weeks of physical therapy, I can again bend and stoop and kneel. Many of the things on my late summer gardening chore list got pushed to next summer, but, so it goes. Mostly I scoot around on my derriere, dragging my garbage can behind me.
I also fertilized our strawberry bed, while golden ash leaves fell upon my head. There is a hint of color this morning in the red oak tree, and the backyard burr oak is beginning to turn. I look forward to the bright yellow leaves of our aspens trees, a tree that my daughter saw in full color as she flew over the Colorado Rockies today.
Now are the days when we will eat hearty stews and chili and lasagna and soups. The young man who delivers our firewood will bring two loads and Curt, the nice man who maintains our sprinkler system, has come and blown it out for the season. I’ve even staged the snow shovels in the garage and stored away the patio umbrella.
Can you tell that my siblings and I were Scouts and my mother a den mother, when we lived in El Paso, Texas, while my father was stationed at Fort Bliss? This photo was taken in the late fall of 1969. For some reason, my younger brother did not wear his Cub Scout uniform that day but rather his miniature Army uniform, unaware that someday he would serve a career in the U.S. Navy. I was envious that my older sister got to wear nylon stockings. What a happy crew we were.
On Monday, I saw a large flock of pelicans migrating. Soon there will be sandhill cranes. True story, while I watched the pelicans, I was listening to this Joni Mitchell song on the car stereo. I’ll be playing it on repeat in the coming days.
As I sit down to write this, I’m listening to thunder and hoping that regular rain will return to the northern Plains.
Today I’m reflecting on the Theodore Roosevelt: the Naturalist in the Arena Symposium that Jim and I attended at nearby at Dickinson (N.D.) State University last week, the 12th annual. We attended the first and several others in the intervening years. This year’s opened on the anniversary of the day that TR took the oath of office as president of the U.S.
Upon our arrival in Dickinson, we joined a friend for lunch at Badlands Brew, which is a restaurant located in what was once St. John’s Episcopal Church. TR is said to have worshiped there on occasion.
The overarching theme of the symposium was how much TR cared about nature and how he was mindful about what would be left for future generations. Scholar Clay Jenkinson convened, telling us that within 10 to 15 years, the digitization of TR’s papers should be complete, a project of the TR Center. To this, I will add that the Center has an amazing website, full of materials that were unavailable but to those fortunate few who could travel to sites that held these papers, such as Harvard University and so on. Sharon Kilzer and her staff have created what Clay described as a “widely modeled project.”
A “museum more than a library” is now in the works, the first exhibit being the cottonwood logs stashed near the DSU stadium for a replica of TR’s Elkhorn Ranch, to be built using 19th-century techniques. These logs are “authentic heritage cottonwood trees from the Little Missouri River Valley, cut on more than 30 ranches,” said Jenkinson.
Thursday night’s keynote address, “A Field Guide to Roosevelt the Naturalist,” was given by Darrin Lunde, who told us it was his first visit to North Dakota.
TR’s evolution as a naturalist, starting with his time as a boy, began when he spotted a dead seal on display in a New York store. TR wrote “that seal filled me with every possible feeling of romance and adventure…”
Lunde, who is a Supervisory Museum Specialist in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, reported that the seal skull is still in the museum’s collections. TR’s father was a founding trustee of the museum. Lunde recounted that “TR’s brother Eliot complained that he really didn’t like sharing a room with someone who left the guts of animals in the wash basin” and that TR was more of an outdoor naturalist, rather than a laboratory scientist. Thus, he came a politician but “never shed his interest in natural sciences” and his time in the west was “pivotal,” said Lunde.
As president, he protected 230 million acres of land and “after he finished in the White House, he led a museum expedition, depositing some 23,000 specimens from Africa that are studied to this day.” As president, he signed the authorization for the creation of the National Museum of Natural History.
Day two opened with another excellent presentation by Char Miller, a professor at Pomona College entitled “Kindred Spirits: The Remarkable Partnership of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot.”
In a fascinating overview of this friendship, participants learned that Pinchot wrote portions of TR’s autobiography, and they “worked together well because they also recreated together,” swimming in the nude in the Potomac River. “TR used Pinchot as a lightning rod and he understood that they (he and TR) believed that the future had the same right as they had.” Gifford Pinchot wrote, in 1910, “It is a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good Republican or a good Democrat.”
Next up was children’s author Barb Rosenstock, who talk was “Friendship Under Five Inches of Snow: Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite.” Much of what we know about the camping trip TR and Muir took in Yosemite came from the accounts of the man who accompanied them, Charles Leidig, whom some claim to be the nation’s first “park ranger.”
John Burroughs and John Muir.
Introduced by former TRNP superintendent Valerie Naylor, North Dakota native Duane Jundt gave a talk entitled “‘I So Declare It’: Roosevelt’s Love Affair with Birds,” telling us that TR said, “I’d much rather discuss ornithology than politics.” As a birder myself, I found this talk particularly engaging.
Valerie Naylor introducing Duane Jundt.
Melanie Choukas-Bradley ended the afternoon with a beautiful talk about “President Roosevelt’s Explorations of Rock Creek Park,” which is in the District of Columbia and now administered by the National Park Service. She also spoke about Roosevelt Island in D.C.
The downpour and cold temperatures Friday continued Saturday morning as participants gathered at the Rough Rider Hotel in Medora for the final talk by Clay Jenkinson, “Intersecting Genius, 1886: William Hornaday, TR and the Saving of the Buffalo.”
At the same time that TR was in Dakota Territory hunting for bison, Hornaday was at nearby Miles City, Mont., hunting for bison specimens for the Smithsonian, where he served as chief taxidermist. He had the inspiration to save the species from the threat of extinction. Hornaday created an innovative 360-degree diorama for the Smithsonian that became a model for many others, and this “became the centerpiece of the Smithsonian’s exhibits from 1888-1957,” according to Jenkinson. “TR and Hornaday formed a partnership that played a huge role in the saving of the bison,” and “now there are approximately 500,000 pure bison in the world.” Under TR’s leadership, in 1902 Congress passed an act to protect the bison and in 1907, TR and Pinchot created the National Bison Range in Montana.
The last event of the morning was a wrap-up of the panelists with audience Q&A. Panelist Duane Jundt encouraged everyone to “identify the place you really care about and work to save it.” Melanie Choukas-Bradley encouraged everyone to think of their address not just in terms of street name and city name but also as a “watershed address,” thinking about home in terms of the streams and rivers near to where you live.
After lunch, the symposium ended with a bus tour of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as the planned tour of the southern Bad Lands was relocated due to the muddy roads.
All in all, it was an excellent symposium, rich with informative programs and conversations with very interesting people, and the folks at the TR Center are to be highly commended. Videos of the presentations will be available online at the TR Center web page.
If you’ve not attended one, I strongly urge you to do so, as there are fascinating topics planned for the future, and I fervently believe you will find it time well spent. The symposia’s caliber of scholarship is first rate!
Finally, it rained. A two-day soaker Friday and Saturday. We were in the Bad Lands for a four-day trip, an immersion in Theodore Roosevelt, where we attended the 12th annual TR Symposium at Dickinson (N.D.) State University.
Jim and I have attended a number of these (including the first), and this year’s topic of TR the Naturalist was irresistible to us. I’ll recap my thoughts on the symposium on a later blog and today write about autumn in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora. Our trip dovetailed nicely with the Sixth Annual Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival held in the park, so we luxuriated in three nights at the Rough Rider Hotel.
Western North Dakota has been in the grips of a severe drought this year, and most everyone was smiling at the sight of the downpour and the puddles here and there.
On Saturday, rather than joining the symposium tour bus through the park, we volunteered for the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt, selling rockets to (mostly) kids who were attending the festival. In spite of the cold rain, many families came to enjoy the activity, and the intrepid park rangers helped the kids assemble 23 rockets under a tent at Chimney Park.
After supper, we walked over to the Visitor Center, where the evening program on the “Bats of North Dakota” was being held due to the rain, and we learned that the state has 12 known species of bats. I had no idea!
Some years ago, I worked at the park as the museum technician. Curious, I wandered into the museum to look at the current exhibits. My duties included climbing into this case to clean the glass, which was not easy, but it is a good memory nevertheless. Later, as we walked around Medora, our conversation was filled with dreams of a future TR Presidential Library in western North Dakota.
This morning (Sunday), we were eager to drive through the park to see the autumn colors, as the ash trees have begun to turn and the day dawned blue sky again. The gumbo buttes were shining and wet, and the shrubbery glistened. We were rewarded with a sighting of four bison, one porcupine, a mountain bluebird, and two coyotes. The coyotes were a special treat as they were not their usual skittish selves, and we watched them hunt very near to us, even seeing one do the “pounce” on prey. Both were beautiful specimens, very healthy, with thick, glossy coats and puffy tails.
After a few more stops to take photographs of fall colors, it was time to drive home. We were pleased to see how many people were in the park enjoying the day. Driving eastward, we observed many fall migrating hawks and were reinvigorated, once again, by our visit to a beloved landscape. Thank you, National Park Service and TR.