A Beautiful Redheaded Stepchild

South Dakota is a state of famous beauty. North Dakota — maybe not so much. Kind of a redheaded stepchild. (Why redheads and stepchildren are picked on, I have no idea.) South Dakota can stun you, beauty-wise. North Dakota? As a lady in Tioga said to me, “You have to look closely.” North Dakota’s is “a quiet beauty.”

I mention this in Impromptus today, the second installment of a North Dakota Journal. Much mail from fans of the state, both in residence and not. A man from elsewhere writes, “It was in North Dakota where I first began to appreciate the line in ‘America the Beautiful’ referring to ‘amber waves of grain.’ That’s exactly what it looked like: waves on a sea.”

North Dakota is booming, thanks to oil, and the marriage of two techniques: hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and horizontal drilling. Jackpot.

So, some 50,000 job-seekers have arrived in the state, and gotten jobs. There are “Help Wanted” signs everywhere (certainly in the “oil patch”). But the state still has a small population: 700,000, give or take. Johnny Carson once had a series of mock license-plate slogans. North Dakota’s was something like, “People: Never had ’em, never will.” Eric Sevareid, a native of the state, called North Dakota “a large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind.”

A reader of ours once worked for the Associated Press out west. He did a story on, as he says, “rural states trying to lure tourists.” Apparently, some people or some bureau had proposed changing the name of North Dakota to something sexier, let’s say. The AP reporter spoke to an official in the state’s tourism office. “What’s the new name most people favor?” he asked. The official deadpanned, “Florida.”

Well, at least the Vietnamese aren’t buying up the state. Did you read about the businessman in Saigon (as I still call it) who bought Buford, Wyoming? Go here. Geesh.

Finally, can’t resist a corny joke, supplied by a reader. (Corny even though we’re talking about North Dakota, not Nebraska.) In Part I of my journal, I discussed buffalo and bison. Our reader writes, “An Australian friend once told me that the difference between a buffalo and a bison was that one could not wash one’s hands in a buffalo.”

“Basin,” get it? (Sorry to explain . . .) 

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