Category Archives: North Dakota

Would YOU Remember Being Spit on by a Llama?


I reported last week that my teenage writing career was jumpstarted by interviewing my nearest neighbor, a local Langdon, ND farmer who bought two llamas. Yea, that was big news for a weekly newspaper in a town so small the gossip about you arrived home before you did. While reviewing my old newspaper article, I kept getting this strange sensation to call the farmer’s daughter and ask, “Hey Liz Anne, do you remember when your Dad’s llama spit on you?" 

But that’s kinda’ lame.

After all, being spit on by a llama isn’t really big news, except in Langdon.  I bet the farmers that visit the bakery each morning to talk about crops, weather, and local news gossip are still talking about the Quam’s llamas as they roll dice to see who pays for the morning’s coffee and donuts.

Llama Spit

I double-dog dared myself so I wouldn’t chicken out.

It was easy enough to find Liz Anne after all these years. I didn’t  make a long-distance call  to information (555-1212)  or call someone from Langdon. I used a search engine, found Liz Anne, and learned she’d lost both her parents. My resolve to call grew from curious to personal.

I poked out her number on my cell phone and pushed send. Her spunky voice and friendliness transported me back 33 years in time. We chatted easily, catching up on the decades concerning schooling, marriage, kids, and careers. We both went through cancer. We’re both still writing, except she’s smarter – she’s a Professor at Moorhead State University in Moorhead teaching Public Relations Writing. In other words, she probably doesn’t stay in her jammies most of the day.

When I expressed my sympathies about losing her parents she said, “They were "an astounding couple not to be matched." Her admiration and love for her parents increased the grief I felt for her loss.  We reminisced about her parents, and she said, "Did you know my Mom shot at my Dad?”


Schills and Brauns 142

(A country road near the Little Pembina Ranch, typical North Dakota summer scene)

I hadn’t heard that story, or I would have written another article for the newspaper.  Being shot at is way more exciting than being spit on.

Liz explained that as newlyweds, her parents, Don and Geneva, had moved to her family farm, the Little Pembina Ranch. The two college-educated people were a little bored living alone on the prairie farm so close to Canada. One day Don came home after working in the field and found Geneva sitting on the front porch with a loaded .22 lying across her lap.  She was known to be a good shot, so Don wasn’t initially surprised.

Until Geneva lifted the gun and said, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot.”

Don laughed, but didn’t dance.

Geneva shot. She warned again, "Dance, Don, or I’m going to shoot!”

She shot again, “I’m going to shoot until I run out of bullets."

Don danced until the gun was empty.

Life on the farm was never boring for the Quams after that, it was filled with hard work, laughter, family, pranks, friends, love, community service, and neighborly deeds.

Liz and I caught up to the point of the call, the sheep and llama adventure.  She said her parents ventured into sheep, in addition to the grain, because they had been a money-making venture for farmers for a few years. She took off the spring quarter of college to help, arriving home to a herd of sheep and the two llamas.


Two Llamas


"Those llamas were perfectly worthless as far as predator control, because they were no good at keeping coyotes away," she said. The strategy was to have one llama on each end of the field, but the llamas always stayed together.

The llamas a failure and so were the sheep. Soon after Don and Geneva ventured into sheep, the market tanked and the Quams eventually lost their family farm. When generations have lived and farmed the land, losing the family farm is more than losing a business. It’s losing your heritage. Sometimes settlers were born and  buried on their land. It’s a tie that goes deeper than mere tradition.

But, happily-ever-afters aren’t just for fairy tales, they sometimes happen for farmers. An aunt died and left money to Don and Geneva, and they bought the farm back. Even though I heard the news years later, I rejoiced with Liz.  We both know too many families who permanently lost their farms.

Liz’s kids grew up spending the summers on the farm learning skills city life doesn’t quite teach you, and spending the time with the crazy Grandpa who once went 140 miles per hour with a college-age grandson in his little Mercedes because "someone was trying to pass me." She lost her mom, Geneva, to Alzheimer’s, and cared for Don in her home for his final four years.

She inherited the farm after she lost her parents.  With the tenacity of her ancestors, she decided to farm. A city-dwelling professor during the school year and a country-living farmer by summer, she  manages the baby farm of 500 acres of the original family farm. She hires someone to do the planting, and dreams of adding an orchard to the blank spot of canvas in North Dakota that’s hers.

And for the finale you’ve all been waiting for, yes, 33 years later she did remember the spitting incident and said, “It was vile!” She hadn’t provoked the animal, she only walked up to it, but went down in Langdon history as the only person spit on a llama.

After catching up,  I think she’s wrong thinking her parents are “not to be matched.” I see the spunk, brains, and beauty of her mother, and the work ethic and humor of her father. 

She’s Don and Geneva, minus the llamas.

The Man Who Waved Away My Loneliness

I thought I was alone with my thoughts in the early morning North Dakota fog. 

I’d left my brother’s farmhouse early in the morning
to make it to Montana before sunset. 

The 40 mile stretch south of my parents’  home is dotted with white crosses,
symbols of lives lost on the treacherous stretch of highway. 
I didn’t want to be driving that road too late in the evening.
I was eager to be on my way, but dreading the journey of the day.

My nine year old daughter dozed in the back seat,
quickly recovering from waking too early, as children do.

I was sorry to leave my birth state, but not sorry enough to move back. 
My husband and I had been Pacific Coast residents for eight years and
had adjusted to the big city life. But not enough to stay there forever.

We feel caught between the two worlds.

The loneliness of driving down that highway
in the middle of a prairie
in the middle of a lonely county road
in the early morning hours
was no different
than the loneliness of living
in the middle of a busy city
in the middle of busy roads
with people who never sleep.

I was painfully alone with thoughts of past, present and future.

Heart achingly alone in infinite emptiness.


The open prairie was my loneliness, my loneliness was the open prairie.

In a second, I spotted a figure in the fog.

The Road Walker

Because I drive my camera on my lap, I  captured this moment.

Confidant I caught the perfect shot,
I put down my camera and  missed the real photo op

But, the scene is imprinted on my heart and soul.

Like any good North Dakotan who passes someone on the road,
he lifted his right arm
and waved
without turning his head.

He never saw me 
or  the tears on my cheeks.

He didn’t see the fresh resolve 
from  the simple revelation.

It only took
one person
in one second
with one action
to remind me ~

the cure for  loneliness
in the middle of a prairie
in the middle of a lonely county road
in the early morning hours 
is  no different
than the cure for loneliness
in the middle of a busy city
in the middle of busy roads
with people who never sleep.

North Dakota Sunrise

If there’s anything  I miss about North Dakota,
it’s sunrises and the sunsets.

I don’t miss the snow, frost, and the biting wind.

I don’t miss the muddy roads, soggy hems,  and the damp, cold wind.

I don’t miss the humidity, mosquitoes and the hot, dusty wind.

I don’t miss the late freezes, early snow and the leave-rattling wind.

In case ya’ didn’t notice,
I just described the four seasons of North Dakota.

Don’t get me wrong,
I was born and raised in North Dakota,
and have a fierce loyalty to the prairie state.

I just didn’t want to live there forever.

But every time I go back,
I wonder for a little while, why I wanted to leave in the first place.

Because there are some things I will never stop missing.


North Dakota Sunrise


I miss the glorious colors of our Creator that burst over the horizon with the hope and promise of a new day.

I miss the brightness of this golden orb that followed
me throughout my entire day, even on the coldest winter day. 

I miss the the sun on my face.

I miss knowing exactly when the day began by watching the sun greet it.

I miss knowing that as glorious as each sunrise was,
there would always the distinct possibility that tomorrow’s
could be brighter and more colorful.


To a Son-loving woman, the sun holds spiritual awe, glimmers of heaven that leak through the canopy over the earth
give me courage and strength for the day.


Because one day, when I finally leave the sorrows of earth for heaven,
it won’t be the sun lighting my world, it will be the Son.
I think He created it to remind us of He is the Light of the World.


And that’s what I miss the most about North Dakota.

What Are The Signs Saying?

Billboards and signs along the Interstate can preach a mighty message.
The person paying for the advertising wants results.
They want you to buy the right product,
participate in the right activity,
or show the right moral character.
Advertisers know well how to appeal to the thoughts, beliefs and priorities of a region.
We saw various signs along our journeys this summer.
The Montana Department of Transportation had a serious message
for my carefree Beka Boo.

Not raised in Montana, she isn’t aware of the danger of rattlesnakes
who love to sun themselves on rocky hillsides.
She doesn’t know how to look for the diamond pattern
 or listen for the baby rattle noise.
So, the DOT was diligent in warning of the danger.
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department is killing two birds
 with one stone, or one rifle, I guess it would be.
Build family togetherness and ensure safe hunting practices by
hunting together as a family.
As one who grew up on venison, grouse, an occasional moose or elk,
I can tell you, it also saves on the family budget.

Yea, who needs to argue this agenda?
Or this one?
For those of you who have almost been hit by a texting freak,
can I hear an AMEN?!?!?!?!
The North Dakota Ethanol Council proudly proclaims on their website~
“Ethanol—North Dakota’s homegrown alternative to foreign oil.”
(You haven’t heart about E-85?)
Who wouldn’t want to cut ties with overseas oil producers?
Plus, ethanol creates industry for the state.
Remember seeing in the newspapers that people were moving
to North Dakota when the recession hit?
ND had jobs.
ND had no debt.
People shouldtake advice from  ND billboards, I think.
Thankfulness is always a character trait we can promote.

Yes, even thought-provoking messages about controversial subjects
can speak to hearts in a few seconds when  you drive by.
The Lord has used signs to speak to us since the foundation of the world.
In the Genesis Creation account, he calls the sun and moon
“signs” for the seasons, days and years.
Yep, they tell us when it’s morning and when it’s night.
That’s an easy one.
A sign to remind.
The Lord gave Moses “signs” to prove to the people he was chosen
to lead the children of Israel out of bondage.
A sign to reaffirm.
In I Samuel, signs were given to Saul after his anointing as king
 prove the Lord’s presence in his new role.
A sign to reign.
In the age of grace,
the Lord Jesus rebukes those who always have needed
He asks us to walk by faith and not by sight.
It was distressing to Him that some people came only to
watch the miracle,
and not
experience the miracle
of the new birth.

John 4:48
Then Jesus said to him,
“Unless you people see signs and wonders,
you will by no means believe.”
Signs were often given to weak people
who wouldn’t trust the Lord at His Word,
but the Lord still wanted results.
We shouldn’t be people who need signs.
We should read the Scriptures and obey without further affirmation.
Can we just believe Him at His Word?
When we respond to His offer of salvation,
in faith and not sight,
 we become the billboard.
 A Sign of Redemption.

North Dakota Girl at Heart

In my heart, I’m a North Dakota girl.
 I was born in Valley City, ND
and graduated from…
(with high school best friend, Janet Schill)
and attended college at
in Grand Forks.


Three of my children were born in Fargo,
#1, #5 and #6.
 In between I’ve moved around,
but have lived there 22 years, a little less than half my life.
Some things have changed, others haven’t.

The countryside around Highway 1 traveling from Lakota to Langdon
used to be picturesque farmland. 
You’d see acres of wheat, wheat and more wheat.
There’d be a rock pile on the corner of each field,
but otherwise, crops as far as the eyes could see.
That isn’t what you see anymore.
This is what you see along the ditches.
And this.
There’s cattails everywhere because there’s water everywhere.
Duh, you might say.
But, this isn’t a lake, it’s one of many flooded fields.
There’s been an increase in precipitation, obviously.
Lakes and rivers are threatening towns and homes across the state
 as they expand beyond their normal boundaries.
Even  Interstate 94 the west side of the state is threatened.

Back to the cattails.
Beka was so thrilled to see her first real-live cattail
we stopped at an approach and played quietly in the ditch for a minute.
You can do that in North Dakota.
It was one of those “city girl meets the country”
kinda’ moments.
Holding her cattail like a corndog while trying to stand upright in the wind.
Guess what blurred the picture?
Can’t guess?
My hair.
My windblown, tangled, mangled mess.
Another thing that doesn’t change in North Dakota.
Road construction.
All the metal culverts rusted out, they’re replacing them with concrete culverts.
Or would that be cement?
I don’t know, but I know the new ones won’t rust out.
Another thing that hasn’t changed?
The wind.
See those straggly strands?
My hair, again.
I was trying to shoot a better picture
and my hair was whipping around my head like spaghetti in a blender.
Another thing that hasn’t changed in ND…
I have a bad hair day EVERY day.
North Dakotans figured out one way to deal with the wind problem.
Wind farms are springing up across the state,
generating energy and a little revenue for the landowners.

As far as bad hair,

there’s no solution.
Sadly, there’s no solution for the water issue yet,

and it’s only getting worse.
Ya’ know that whole thing about when life gives you lemons
if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em
Well, I think I have an idea.
Didja’ know you can eat cattails?
One expert claims they’re a cross between zucchini and cucumbers.
North Dakotans could harvest the cattails and
open up restaurants with delicacies like
cattail bread
cattail sandwiches
cattail and tomato salad
cattails on a stick
fried cattails
sauteed cattails
grilled cattails…
…and all the restaurants would be floating restaurants,
hovering over the flooded farmlands.
Everybody would be elegantly dining on
sumptuous cattail delights,
watching the hypnotical whirl of the wind towers,
listening to the gentle lap of the waves against the building,
but having really, really, really
bad hair.