- The Superego State: A Lover’s Reply
That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier.—Frederick Jackson Turner, 1920
In her sprawling send-up, North Dakota: Land of Changing Seasons, Francie Berg repeats a series of platitudes familiar to her prairie readers. “North Dakota’s most valuable resource is not wheat or livestock—nor coal—but people,” Berg begins boldly, adding that North Dakotans display “high moral character” and are “as a whole, honest, hardworking, neighborly, generous, optimistic, and courageous.” Dedicated to her “land and people,” Berg’s pictorial history goes on to include “pride” and “productivity” in a long list of traits associated with her forebears. Such pedigree allows North Dakotans the freedom—the providential hauteur—to do, truly, anything to which we set our minds: “We can subdue the surging water of the mighty Missouri to sluggishness,” boasts Berg; we can “make of this grassland wilderness a bounteous garden.” North Dakotans might even, were we so recklessly inclined, devastate the state’s natural beauty and replace it with “plastic Disneyland fantasies.” Thankfully, we are not of such a mind. Far and away from the increasingly synthetic culture that surrounds them, North Dakotans are not so “caught up in the plastic, the concrete, the tv, the chrome and frantic pace of a consumer-oriented society which has become willing slave to the zeal of industrialization,” concludes Berg. Outshining the rest of the nation, we are diligent but given to repose, self-sufficient and unflappable. Real.
As with all myths, such declarations, which permeate the land of my birth, bear a slippery truth, evidence for which is usually [End Page 85] found by looking backward. In so doing North Dakotans cite not monographs but men—founders, farmers, fathers—as proof positive of our genuine, industrious, and superlative heritage. And while Teddy Roosevelt, whom we fawningly adopted following his sabbatical here, comes close, for most North Dakotans no farmer-father outshines Art Link. Born on his family’s west North Dakota farm in 1914, the only son of German immigrants, Link is perhaps the archetypal Dakotan, the kind of man Berg had in mind as she blinked away dignified tears, clacking away on her typewriter. A former state representative, U.S. congressman, and North Dakota’s twenty-seventh governor, Link rose above his eighth-grade education to become not merely one of our state’s most celebrated sons but a living legend whose 2010 death deeply rattled the region. If one is to believe the folklore, Link not only learned of his nomination to the state legislature when a fellow agrarian shouted the news to him across a flooding Antelope Creek—during a thunderstorm—but is rumored to have changed the oil in his Chevy Impala personally on a high-profile Washington dc avenue, importing Farmer’s Union oil to do so. He also allegedly rescued multiple stranded motorists along countless North Dakota highways over the years, invited average citizens (as opposed to well-connected dignitaries) to the governor’s residence in Bismarck for coffee, and reserved his right to enjoy pie at any time of day—or night. He was, finally, the last American governor to watch election returns from his family farm.
“He so represents what we thought we were,” Nodak native and Grand Forks Herald publisher Mike Jacobs explains in Clay Jenkinson and David Swenson’s Link biopic When the Landscape Is Quiet Again (2009), “and so we just grasped on to it.” The film’s title is a reference to Link’s “Gettysburg Address,” a brief 1973 speech in which the governor set the stage for Berg’s panegyric by refusing to cede North Dakota’s abundant natural resources to out-of-state corporations, which he feared would oblige his beloved “to become a sacrifice area in order to run television sets and air conditioners on the...