Aug 18-30, 2011: North Dakota

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Can This be North Dakota?

At this time of year, North Dakota is usually yellow and dry.  Combines are busy harvesting grains, ponds and sloughs are parched, fallow fields are dusty.  But not this year.  We have never seen North Dakota so green at this time of year.

It all started last winter, while we were still in North Dakota recovering from knee surgery.  Blizzards almost every week, with the snow just accumulating and accumulating.  No usual January thaw.  Meanwhile, in the Montana mountains to the west, record snowfall.  By spring, the melting snow flooded the sloughs of North Dakota.  Filled the reservoirs to overflowing.  Seemingly unable to assess the effect melting Montana snow would have on the streams that flow in to North Dakota, the Corps of Engineers fiddled and fuddled around too long, delaying releasing waters from Lake Sacajawea, the giant reservoir created by the Garrison Dam north of Bismarck.  When they finally awoke from their slumber, the situation was critical.  Water had to be released over the spillway for the first time in 54 years, and the result was flooding in Bismarck, with the Missouri River overflowing the permanent dikes that were thought to provide safety for city.  The quantity of excess water was so great that the spillway release was only terminated about a week ago, so all summer long the lower parts of Bismarck has been flooded or protected by make-shift levees.  Maps were published showing that just a few more additional inches above the flood stage would cover much of southern Bismarck.  Consequently, many homeowners and businesses erected sandbag barriers that ultimately were never anywhere near water.  On several occasions I attempted to venture into the flooded areas to take photos, but the roads were all blocked off, and the most I could do was document the sandbagging in areas that unnecessarily bagged.  Closer to the river, there were many homes which were not flooded, but which had to be temporarily abandoned anyway, since the yards and contained septic tanks were flooded.  Without a working sewer system, there was no choice but to move out.  Our hosts Mike and Zona (MZ) have had house guests all summer long due to just such a cause.  Mike's brother Floyd and his wife Sheila are still not able to use their sewer due to flooding of their property, even though their home did not flood.

But the greening of North Dakota has gone beyond the effects of last winter.  It has been an extraordinary summer as well, with precipitation well beyond normal amounts.  Hence, the farmers not only experienced a long delay in getting into the fields to plant their crops, they have also suffered through a wet and cool summer that has further delayed the growth and maturation of those crops.  If, as the Farmer's Almanac predicts, winter comes early, many crops will never have been harvested.  And speaking of the Farmer's Almanac, barber shops are abuzz with the prediction that next winter will be even more severe than last.  One wonders if the Corp of Engineers will do a better job of managing the levels next spring.

This sandbag dike surrounded two whole city blocks -- never got wet

Huge complex with its dike -- far from the river; never got wet

Two spots on Interstate 94 went through sloughs that overfilled and overran the highway. West lane here getting raised

Busy RR line (22 long coal trains per day) was almost entirely covered by the waters of this slough, but the trains kept running!

Interesting cloud looking east from MZ's house

Panorama looking south from the rear of MZ's house

Many sunflower fields were badly damaged in recent hail storm -- this one mostly escaped injury

Zona mowing her gigantic green front yard


Update on Barb's New Knee

During our time in Raleigh, Barb was in a lot of pain with her knee.  On our last day in Savannah her physical therapist had given her a new set of exercises to do which included using weights on the ankle.  The expectation was that she would not need to see another therapist since her progress was so good.  She was able to get her leg perfectly straight (zero degrees) and was doing well on bending it as well.  After seeing the doctor and getting her staples out, we jumped into our rental car and drove six hours to Raleigh.  She started her exercises the next morning with the weights and strained a tendon behind the knee.  She tried to continue exercising but it was too painful.  She called the Savannah therapist who recommended that she stop doing the exercises with weights but continue the stretching ones.  Things continued to get worse and she went back to using her crutches again since she couldn't straighten her leg without aggravating the tendon.  On our multiple flights from Raleigh to Bismarck she had to be escorted through the airports via a wheelchair and using a cane.  On the very day we arrived in Bismarck, Chuck's sister Zona performed a miracle and got Barb a next-day appointment to see a physical therapist.  He diagnosed tendonitis and through massage, manipulations, and icing took the pain and inflammation down at least 80% in one session.  He came up with a set of exercises that could stretch the leg without inflaming the tendon.  Unfortunately, since Barb had not been able to get her leg straight for a number of days, she could only get it to 18 degrees on that visit.  The next week she was able to get it to 8 degrees, so we are hopeful that she will continue to make progress and all will be well.  This is important, because she will walk with a slight limp if the leg cannot be completely straightened.  Time is running out; most progress is made in the first six weeks, and it has already been a month. 

Socializing in Bismarck

The weather has for the most part been absolutely beautiful this August, although the locals seem to think that anything above 80 degrees is insufferably hot.  We have had several cookouts on one of the back patios, and have also lounged quite a bit in late afternoon on the new patio just off of Mike and Zona's (MZ) new addition.  And we gathered at Jon and Kathy's home to celebrate Zona's 65th birthday.

Happy diners after steak grilled by Floyd

Barb and Mom lounging on the new deck

Barb and Mike lounging on another occasion

Katy and Cole display their captive insects

Closer look at Cole's catch

Waiting for Chuck's Savannah-style low country boil

Chuck and Floyd begin ladeling out the boil from the completely-full pot

Group crowds around to see the results of the boil

One of the platters from the boil

Chowing down on the boil

Zona w/ her birthday cake

Cole and Katy help with the blowing

Barb resting her knee at the party

Jon, Cole and Katy

Katy, Zona and Mike

Heritage Museum on State Capital Grounds

North Dakota has an impressive (and free!) museum that covers from pre-historic times up to the present.  Barb and I popped in for a short visit that didn't do the place justice -- we will need to go back to fully take it all in.

Prehistoric buffalo was found in a N. Dak. slough

Fossilized cat

Fossilized mastadon, found in eastern N. Dak.

Barb beside a Lakota/Dakota (Sioux) tepee

Bunad made by a Norwegian immigrant

North Dakota State Capital building -- statue of Sakacawea in the left foreground

Jamestown High Reunion

Chuck graduated from high school in 1961.  That was 50 years ago!  The reunion was last weekend, and since it was only 100 miles away, he had run out of excuses not to attend.  Barb came along too, and was by far the prettiest woman in attendance.  It was interesting to see who had changed beyond recognition, and who had not.  Barb ducked out after the meal at the concluding banquet.  She rushed out to the local speedway to watch her nephew race, and later came back to join me for a dance or two before we both went back to the race to watch Preston in his second race, which he had qualified for by being in the top 4 of his first.  He was doing well in the second when he was squeezed between two other cars and got his right rear wheel clipped.  That was all she wrote.  Broken suspension, a spin out, and a removal from the track via a wrecker.

Conversing with old classmates -- Billy (in yellow) wrestled in the 120-lb. class!

Senior members of the varsity wrestling team -- Chuck is second from right; the three behind him are all deceased :-(

Chuck in conversation with another alum

Curtiss and Shirley

Grand March of the Prom -- I was there w/ Suzie Schneider

Barb shot this while the official photographer was busy

Lounging at Jamestown Dam during a break in the reunion activities

We also drove by the massive concrete buffalo that Jamestown is "famous" for

Mom came along to Jamestown and visited her good friend Vivian

Preston and his race car

Repairing the damage after the wreck

Damaged parts

Trailer used to transport Preston's car


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