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"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
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
"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 Zetarbeyond cold.
In January, even motor oil and transmission
fluid sludge up. At minus 40, nothing moves effortlesslyneither
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
inhalelungs 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 hereit 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 abovetake 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 namethe
Spudsreflects 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
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]