A Page on the Plains

A Page on the Plains: My Cultural Discovery Living in the Land of Bison, Vast Waving Grasslands, and Yes, Polka

In 2014 my husband and I were living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a nurse and we had decided to move somewhere else in the country, he started applying, well, almost everywhere. I knew there were many different states, many different regions he considered. We felt the time was right to experience a new landscape in the somewhere in the lower 48, and when I checked my email at work on my break, I knew he was telling which offer he had accepted, and where we would relocate. I looked at the text in the body, “Jenny, it is Bismarck, North Dakota”.

In the 7 plus years we have lived here, I have had many completely new experiences and as a writer, and lover of the Arts and Humanities, living here has only enriched this world for me. This place is a treasure of cultural experiences that span the distant past, the living present, and into the future and my writing, and cultural experiece has now been profoundly shaped by all that is, at least, North Dakota and the Great Plains of North America.

Below are the words to the North Dakota Hymn, written by poet James W. Foley (who was a friendly Badlands hangout buddy of Theodore Roosevelt), and Doctor C. S. Putnam (celebrated for his musical skills as bandmaster at North Dakota State University, also noted no doubt I’m sure, of his prestigious old-time, and heavily stylized beard)


North Dakota Hymn

North Dakota designated “North Dakota Hymn” as the official state song in 1947; words by James W. Foley, arranged by Doctor C. S. Putnam (sung to the tune of “The Austrian Hymn”). All State Songs

North Dakota, North Dakota,
With thy prairies wide and free,
All thy sons and daughters love thee,
Fairest state from sea to sea;
North Dakota, North Dakota,
Here we pledge ourselves to thee.

Hear thy loyal children singing,
Songs of happiness and praise,
Far and long the echoes ringing,
Through the vastness of thy ways;
North Dakota, North Dakota,
We will serve thee all our days.

Onward, onward, onward going,
Light of courage in thine eyes,
Sweet the winds above thee blowing,
Green thy fields and fair thy skies;
North Dakota, North Dakota,
Brave the soul that in thee lies.

November 2014 marked 125th anniversary of President Benjamin Harrison’s signing the Dakota Territory into statehood, North and South respectively. President Harrison purposefully signed the decrees under a paper so that no one, not even he, would really know which became a state first, there by setting up a blood feud between the two states that lingers to this very day!

At a ceremony in a small auditorium at the North Dakota Heritage Center (more on that gem later), when the clock struck the time of day of the President Harrison signing, everyone in the audience stood and applauded. That is what this community is about.

I hope to share more about the vast and diverse culture out here, west of Minnesota and just south of Canada. It continues as one of the most culturally enriching experiences of my life. Below is the first poem I wrote, shortly after arriving here, published in The Hobo Review Winter 2016:

Plains Song

Avoiding gopher dugs and digs,
I rub sandalwood oil
mixed with buffalo grease
on my bare arms. Opening
my mouth to bite at the cold,
I finally see the moon
after the membrane of clouds pass
and I try to hold on
until your love reaches shore break
inside my heart,
and shatters all geography.


Happy Trails til we meet again, where I hope to share what it is like to see a world-class musical on a stage in the Badlands, hear contemporary and classical music and theater, plains focused film festivals, feel the historical and contemporary indigenous presence, travel to something called Norsk Hostfest (think Scandinavian fest) and attend an actual rodeo that Gene Autry used to emcee back in the day! Please join me, it has been, and continues to be quite a trip!



3 thoughts on “A Page on the Plains: My Cultural Discovery Living in the Land of Bison, Vast Waving Grasslands, and Yes, Polka”

  1. linda winkler


    Really excited by this- loved it all! Even found just the title was worthy of a chuckle! gonna forward to all my bus.

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