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0708 PD: On the Edge of Common Sense: Pickin’ on the plains again!

Baxter Black Published on 25 April 2008

“It’s so quiet here.

The air is clear. There’s no trash along the highway? I can’t smell carbon monoxide fumes in the air. People are friendly … there must be something wrong?”



Once again the plains have been visited by big city reporters and found it … what? Beautiful, natural? Vibrant? Addictive? No. The National Geographic magazine came to North Dakota and found it … empty.

Why is it that the Indians, the settlers, Teddy Roosevelt and the mayor of Valley City ever came and stayed? Is it possible that they like it the way it is?

Imagine the headquarters of the National Geographic magazine on 17th Street, Washington, DC. It’s in the middle of a big city with hundreds of employees in the building, each with an average cubicle the size of a pickup bed, where they sit in front of a computer screen 75 percent of their waking life. They commute a couple hours a day, they live with the constant tension of deadlines, stop-and-go traffic, pollution allergies, acid reflux and the barrage of no holds barred – fast breaking – right after this – jet engine decibel – talk show, infotainment typhoon television and radio!

It is no wonder they are uncomfortable in North Dakota, or Burlington, Colorado, Syracuse, Kansas, Buffalo, South Dakota, Kaycee, Wyoming, Glascow, Montana or Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. They have been accustomed to being anonymous, hiding in the masses and fighting the crowd. But there is no crowd in the open plains. There is space.

They are like an apartment dog turned loose in the backyard; they can’t wait to get back inside. It’s too big, too scary outside.


It is odd that they feel a twinge of pity for those of us refugees who are forced to spend our lives in the “desolation, the emptiness” of the plains. They speak of the “irreversible decline, decaying town and lonely sweep of the plains.” It is true that demographics such as low birthrate, labor shortage and loss of young people are concerns for many “rural areas nationwide,” but that does not necessarily mean a state’s economy is bad.

But when you compare ‘quality of life’ between Las Vegas, Nevada, Denver, Colorado or Phoenix, Arizona with Medora, North Dakota, Sheridan, Wyoming, or Alliance, Nebraska, many of us are aghast that someone would choose the chicken coop existence of big cities over the peace of the plains. “More and more! Faster and faster!” is not everybody’s idea of paradise.

So, to each his own. Keep up the good work, National Geographic. Thanks for coming to visit, and think of us on your commute home tonight. PD

By Baxter Black