Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A particular place

Here is a view of a particular place in the middle of the vast Great Plains.

Although I have never been there, I frequently think of this place around Independence Day, when churches sing the lovely Katharine Lee Bates hymn that some people say should be our National Anthem.  The later verses persuasively combine progressive principles, a theologically sound measure of humbleness, and patriotism.  But, it is the first verse that reminds me of this particular place.  For some reason, I feel nearly weepy when the hymn reaches the images of mountain, fruited plain, and amber waves of grain.  I will be embarrassed if this is something that happens only to agricultural economists.  Perhaps this song affects other folks also.

Right in the middle of the image, if you zoom in, is the place my father was raised.  A preacher's kid, he and his brother grew up in the parsonage of Canaan Moravian Church, in the little green rectangle.  The graveyard served as their playground.  If I am reading the image correctly, the gravestones are all laid flat in the Moravian egalitarian tradition.  The brothers attended a one-room school not far away.

Many rural communities like this are struggling.  The farms that remain have grown large in size and few in number.  My dad says that, in his childhood, many farmers had one section (640 acres).  Some farms back then had a half section.  A typical farm now might be 3,000 acres.  The production is good, but the changes are hard on community life.

After looking at this particular place, hit the "zoom out" button a few times.  There are so many places like this particular place.  This is an amazing country.

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Ashley Colpaart said...


This is a beautiful post. I love the imagery. I, too, have the same sentimental and wistful outpouring to that song. A beautiful country, written during such hope and glory for our nation.


Parke Wilde said...

My Dad adds by email some remembrances from his visit to this place in 1988:

After 34 years, I was returning to the Canaan congregation in rural North Dakota. On the ride from the airport, I was finding familiar scenes: the Victor Gohdes Farm, the railroad crossing, and then the large brick church and the parsonage, my childhood home.

Wait, something was out of place! I had not remembered the cemetery so close to the house. Had it looked so different from a boy’s perspective? No, it was changed. Then I realized: the distance had been narrowed by the graves of the people among whom I had grown up, whose names were inscribed on the stones.

They were buried as always, women in one area, men on the other side, children at back. Their final resting place in the earth did not depend on marital or family status. In Moravian tradition it was determined by the next open place in the row, by the sequence of who had died before and after.

For a preacher’s kid like me, the cemetery was always a part of home, rather than a place of fear. My brother Ed and I watched the graves being dug, the coffins lowered, the soil stamped down.... We played hide and seek on summer nights, and laid our homemade golf course over the nice grassy areas. The Canaan trustees must have been very tolerant.

Parke Wilde said...

And my uncle writes by email:

I often think of images from my childhood when I hear or read that song, so I guess it's not just agricultural economists. And my memories are accompanied by the call of red-winged blackbirds, which even now when I hear them will transport me back to a different time and place.

You may be interested to know where our school was? If you look at the southwest corner of the grey section where the church is located, and then look directly kitty-corner across the road to the northeast corner of the adjoining section you can see the faint outline of a small rectangle, about 300/400 ft. That is where the school stood. When I last visited the area (in about 1985) the school had been moved to a nearby farm and was being used as a shed for farm equipment - but it still had blackboards, and bookcases covering the front wall. It seemed much smaller than I remembered.