God's Country

Debbie L. Feldman


[Table of Contents]
[Editor's Note]

"In the winter, we work jigsaw puzzles."

Once, prairie schooners rolled across six-foot-high prairie grass. Now, Norwegian bachelor farmers cruise into town in green American sedans, eating lutefisk and heading for gambling casinos.
      Fargo. Blonde, white, and Lutheran. Down-and-outers hang out on NP Avenue (named for Northern Pacific Railroad).
      Cleanliness is next to Godliness. The region's battle cry. Dermatologists bemoan skins already too dry from Northern winds, drier still from over-scrubbing.
      Bonanza farms work fertile Red River Valley soil. Sugar beets, potatoes, winter wheat. At harvest time, a beet truck lumbers into town, hits a bump and drops a white tuber while the aroma of burnt sugar spurts from neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota's American Crystal sugar processing plant.
      Every May, a wall of dust marches into town. Close your windows and taste North Dakota topsoil. Before you've had a chance to put away your winter scarf, you need it again to cover your face.
      In June, big sky stretches in all directions and thunderstorms roll across the prairie. Lightning zigzags the sky. Mosquitos dive-bomb those who venture outside.
      Fargo. Where a good neighbor is someone who shovels the walk. Restrained laughter doesn't come easily to these folks.
      "We're hardy here. You have to be, to survive these winters." "The winters keep the riff-raff out," they proudly broadcast.
      It's flat here. It's as if God flew over, took aim at a table top in the middle of nowhere and dropped Fargo onto it. The town spread out in a grid like maple syrup on a waffle. The ramp over I-94 is the highest spot in town.
      Fargo. A four-season climate: June, July, August, and Winter.
      Fargo. A four-part work ethic: thriftiness, stoicism, hard work, no-frills living.
      The Planet Zetar—beyond cold.
      In January, even motor oil and transmission fluid sludge up. At minus 40, nothing moves effortlessly—neither clutch, gearshift lever, nor human being. Ice forms inside triple-pane windows. A garage door opener is a welcome Christmas gift. Don't forget to plug in the engine block heater.
      Sun dogs dance across the frigid winter sky and snow crystals crunch under moon boots. When it's 60 below, don't inhale—lungs can freeze in a matter of seconds.
      Auto exhaust hovers just above the ground, like steam off a cafeteria warming tray. Cars drive over gray powdered snow cinders. Snow doesn't melt here—it sublimates.
      Water mains and fuel-oil tanks in the basement, safe from a three-foot frost line that keeps the ground frozen until April. Early spring means warm weather. It's 25 above—take off your coat and jog in shorts.
      Chicago is the windless city compared to Fargo. Come ride the Alberta Clipper, when the winter wind screams across the prairie and the few trees bend and creak mournfully.
      The high school football team's name—the Spuds—reflects an attitude that just about covers local cuisine and values. Meat and potatoes, white bread. Hot dish and Jello.
      Fargo. A college town without a decent bookstore. Home of the Roger Maris Museum: a glassed-in case in a shopping mall.



Copyright © 1995 by Debbie L. Feldman


Debbie L. Feldman, freelance journalist, playwright, actor, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, resides in Brooklyn, New York. Feldman grew up in Cleveland, where she shoveled a lot of snow and wore leggings to school in the winter. After receiving a B.A. in Anthropology from Kent State University, she married and moved to Missouri and West Virginia before arriving in the Upper Midwest (Fargo, ND/Moorhead, MN) in 1982. She spent six years there before leaving for warmer pastures (Knoxville, Tennessee) in 1988. In 1997, during a divorce, she left Knoxville for New York City to pursue writing and acting. Before moving to Fargo/Moorhead, she thought she knew a lot about winter, but soon realized that spending six winters in the Upper Midwest was the equivalent of earning a diploma in cold weather. [email]