November 6: Getting Around

Screenshot 2015-11-06 16.36.24

Folks have moved around since there were folks.  Historians who spend their time pondering ancient peoples sometimes suggest that human beings have always been travelers.  We like to go places.  Especially now.  You and I might live in the most mobile society ever.

My home is in a little town surrounded by a LOT of space.  By “space” I mean relatively empty land.  Well, I don’t really mean empty, because it’s full of fields and meadows that are full of productive plants and animals.  But There’s not a lot of people per square mile.  There are a lot of roads, though.  Years ago I was told that no state has more roads per person than mine.  I think this must still be true.

These roads–plus a vehicle, of course–make it easy to go places.  Lately gas has been cheap.  A round trip to the University campus in Fargo is about 300 miles.  It costs me less than twenty dollars when I drive my little brown Mazda.  Time costs me more.  When I’m lucky I only have to drive over once per week.  Three times when I’m not so lucky.  Either way, the travel is easy.  It’s not unpleasant, either.  I like the scenery.  I like the sunrises and sunsets.  I see a lot of them.  I like the sense of traveling through a land that looks sparse but isn’t.  And I like thinking about the folks who’ve lived in this wide open part of the country.

I’d miss these roads and conveyances if they weren’t here.  I doubt I’d even be here if not for highways and cars and fuel.  Maybe nobody would be here.

“Tyranny of Distance” is a theme that runs through much of my region’s history.  That tyranny is quite downgraded nowadays.  I wouldn’t call it tyranny.  Synonyms for tyranny don’t work either.  The “cruelty” of distance??  Not really.  The “despotism” of distance?   Nah.  The “severity” of distance?  Possibly.  “Unreasonableness” also comes up as a synonym for tyranny.  That word resonates sometimes on pitch-black subzero 5:00 AM departures.  But the sun always rises.  Even when it hides behind a grey veil I always know it’s there.

Mobility has done a lot for us here in the sparse-looking lands.  We have reason to be grateful for it.


November 5: Grateful for the Past

A favorite question of mine–generally posed in a college classroom–is “how many of your ancestors had children?  Most classes have someone who gets it in about five seconds, but over the years I’ve had pauses for up to perhaps thirty seconds.

The answer, of course, is “all of them.”  After a few moments for reflection, I’ve occasionally added a suggestion that if the students want to be ancestors, they’re going to need to have children also.  It’s a seed planted.  A “suggestion” is something that is supposed to gestate.

Today is a good day to think about what we’ve received from the past.  Genetically, we’re an intricate combination of past influences.  Emotionally and psychologically, we’re woven from experiences and our responses to them.  Those responses, again, were conditioned on intricate combinations of factors, some of which can be identified.  Most are likely invisible.

We’ve inherited more than we think.  A high school classmate with pronounced mannerisms told her teacher and fellow psychology students (I was one of them), “I’m nothing like my mother.”  A few weeks later I accompanied my dad on a plumbing repair job at her mother’s house.  I’ve forgotten what we fixed there.  I’ve never forgotten the mom and her mannerisms.  I thought the daughter was a rather distinct echo of the mother.  Even an indistinct echoes has a clear sources.  We are all echoes.

We are more than the sum of our experiences, thankfully.  That “more” can disguise the underlying materials that have gone into our construction.  A room’s facade conveys desirable qualities while covering the joists and concrete and cables and pipes and vents that give it basic shape and make it function.  But paint and trim are not the substance of a room.   If the finished appearance of our lives is appealing–whether more or less so–its real quality depends largely on what lies hidden underneath.  It’s that hidden part that needs appreciation.

Introduction to Prairiethanks

This blog is my way of expressing things I’m thankful for.

Giving thanks is recognizing and acknowledging what we have.  We all have resources.  We have life.  People.  Experience.  Things.  Beauty. Skills.  Memories.  Opportunities.  One could name other categories and countless subcategories.

When we recognize and acknowledge our resources, we gain power.  By “power” I don’t mean the ability to oppress and destroy.  Power can of course have that negative connotation.  But I’m of the view that most people want to use what they have to help others and make things better.

Our mass media overwhelms us with sounds and images and crafted impressions of things we don’t have.  We can feel pretty deprived when we see that we don’t possess the fine clothes, the pretty faces, the fit bodies, the cool or practical or luxurious items paraded before our eyes.

We easily feel deprived.  But is this feeling valid?  Perhaps. But more often we’ve failed to take account of what we do have.  Not knowing our resources, we feel we are without power.

Giving thanks as a habit and attitude of mind is a corrective.  The purpose of this blog is to exercise this corrective.

I’ve named it “Prairiethanks” because I live in prairie country and drive through it regularly.  Southeastern North Dakota looks sparse, especially at this time of year.  The harvest is mostly done.  Fields are shaved bare.  Trees are quickly becoming skeletons.  Rivers are low.  Warmth seems scarce.

But this prairie country is full resources.  I plan to consider these in depth in blog posts.

November 4, 2015