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On the Edge of Common Sense: Good times up north

Baxter Black Published on 12 May 2011

I was in North Dakota in early spring. The night before, the temperature was 3º. That morning it had warmed up to 4º.

I walked into the giant Ag Expo building and made a circle of the trade show; just visiting. I stopped at the booth of a man selling wood stoves.



“How are things goin’?” I asked,

“Well, “ he said, shaking his head, “You know how things are.”

I did know how things were. I’d been up north the month before. Everywhere I looked, prosperity reigned! The oil business was booming and had moved his home state into wealth. They could change their name to North Wyoming or Saudi Dakota!

I read unemployment was below 4 percent, banks were flush and the state treasury had a surplus. I thought maybe the vendor was seriously ill, was financing his daughter’s veterinary school education or he’d been unable to winter in Acapulco because of the drug war.

“Is business bad?” I asked.


“Selling stoves in North Dakota in the middle of the winter?” he replied as if I was a moron. At least he didn’t say “Duh!”

I asked what he did in the summer. “I farm,” he said. “Corn, wheat and beans, and I run about 400 cows.”

“It looks like grain and beans are going to skyrocket in price, what with Russia’s famine and ethanol. And cattle are selling at record prices!” I said.

“Yeah, but you know how things go, something could happen,” he said. “The river might flood; there’s still time for a blizzard … ”

Try as I might I couldn’t get him to say anything optimistic.

I put myself in his place and tried to think up something positive like … “The new gate we hung that goes to the lower lot swings good; I made my rubber boots last longer by not wearing them outside; I discovered Plasti-Dip for my old pump plier handles; the doctor said I was only 20 pounds overweight; I finally finished reading Max Armstrong’s autobiography; my son is taking welding in Vo-Ag; we got a satellite dish so we can watch RFD-TV; the pipes didn’t freeze in the basement; I thought I wasn’t going to like my wife’s new car … but I do.”


But I said instead, “Accounting for the recession, I’d say you’re doin’ pretty good.”

“Yeah, but … I have to live here,” he said.

“Well, just hang on,” I said. “And pray for global warming!” PD