Living in ‘next year’ land is familiar

Whines & Roses



Last week I wrote a column suggesting people ask themselves whether they are part of the solution or part of the problem. You might say, it was all about “Bob.”

I heard from a couple of guys named Bob — one who said he liked the message. Then he called me a “Karen.” If you haven’t heard all about calling a woman “Karen” look it up online. I’m 99 percent sure he was joking.

That column generated quite a lot of discussion on my personal Facebook page and part of what I think resonated with people is the notion that we could all reflect on our own part in the polarized politics our country finds itself in the throes of.

One of the commenters asked how come I always write about “politics.” In some ways, I guess everything is political these days, but just as for one of my newspaper mentors, John Andrist, who wrote a column for more than 50 years, my column over the past 20 years has become something of a diary. Column writing, for me, is the process of laying before an audience the disparate bits of information I have come across in the past week and distilling it into a nugget that helps me understand the world around me.

Hopefully, in the process, it provokes others to make sense of the information nuggets they are chewing on — agree, disagree, expand upon, reply to, etc.

Back when I had three kids in the house, I wrote about politics, too — at least until those little politicians told me I wasn’t allowed to use them as column fodder anymore!

I chuckle now, thinking back to the bewildered looks my children sometimes gave me when a total stranger would walk up to them and relate how funny it was when they did “X.”

The poor child — and it happened at some point to all three of mine — would look at me in a way that reminds me of my mother’s saying “If looks could kill.”

Funny thing, I know someday my children will appreciate reading those columns — or their children will.

I feel like my column last week made a real breakthrough — kind of like my own personal therapy session — when I asked myself — rhetorically — whether any of us might gain something from trying to understand those who feel they’re getting a raw deal from a system of government they can’t control.

It was complete serendipity that within days of penning that line I noticed a subscription come in from a guy named Nestor Silva. Folks in Tioga will remember Nestor as that “California guy” who was a graduate student from Stanford looking into how people interact with the environment in an oil field.

When I remembered myself to Nestor in an email he expressed interest in how North Dakota is approaching COVID and we agreed to have a Zoom chat about that.

Nestor’s approach is as much about anthropology as the environment and I really dig that. Understanding WHY people do what they do is also at the heart of journalism. Call it the study of motivation. One of the best questions any journalist can ever ask someone is “Why?”

So, long story short, Nestor shared with me a paper he wrote about how people attempt to impose “control” on their environment. In this case, he used the examples of fencing around a cattle pasture, which just happened to be next door to a frack site, where safety controls of all kinds are employed to try to mitigate potential perils.

While it wasn’t the point of his article exactly — it sparked an understanding that, to me, makes perfect sense when it comes to North Dakota’s response to COVID — something that never occurred to me before.

It goes something like this:

If you are a farmer, you are familiar with calamity. Mother Nature dishes it out every year. This is why, as was so eloquently expressed in the 1978 movie “Northern Lights,” farmers live in “next year” land.

Next year there will be no hail, grasshoppers, drought or damaging frost. Next year, crop prices will be better.

Given the lack of control farmers have over Mother Nature or markets, the act of putting on a mask to defend against a microscopic scourge of Mother Nature — a virus — might seem as futile as trying to cover a wheat field with a lid to protect it from hail — a visitation that may or may not ever materialize.

Afterall, a wheat crop, without sun, would be no crop at all.

This year, it’s as if we’re all living in “next year land” — hoping for a better “crop” and less calamity.

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