The Undiscover'd Country

As we crossed into North Dakota just a few miles down prairie of the Missouri River, it dawned on us this was my wife’s first-ever foray into the Peace Garden State.

On a Labor Day weekend road trip to share in the joy of a friend’s wedding, we crossed three state borders, twice each.

North Dakota was, for her, with apologies to the Bard, the Undiscover’d Country. But from whose bourn these travelers would indeed return. (Though I coulda stayed a coupla weeks).

I’d traveled to North Dakota only once before as a kid on a family vacation. (Rooks County, Kansas to Alaska, by way of Minot… Saskatoon, Saskatchewan… and Prince Rupert, British Columbia).

Artificial lines on a map. Fixed longitude and latitude that separate North Dakota from South Dakota, Nebraska from Kansas. Lines drawn that result in a federal republic.

Yet, these borders are more than a means to the end of self-government. They’re more than a frame of reference.

They’re how we define ourselves. It’s where we’re from.

And when we travel away from our own, into someone else’s, we experience the privilege of seeing how others define themselves.

Not because they advertise it. Quite the opposite.

Because they live it.

The wedding was in the tiny community of St. Anthony, south of Mandan (which is not a suburb of Bismarck. I know. I asked).

St. Anthony, North Dakota is just down the hill from the family ranch where the bride was raised.

There’s a post office, a watering hole sporting a faded Hamm’s Beer sign (“…from the land of sky blue waters”) and a Catholic church that’s borne witness to more than a century of communion, confirmation and young couples’ unions not to be put asunder.

The place reeks history, pride and honor.    

Spend any time at all with the father of the bride and these feelings are confirmed. Locked in.  

Fourth generation family ranch.

Angus cattle.

North Dakotan.

He loves his daughter, his new son-in-law, his family, his cattle and his land. The guy’s the Marlboro Man, but he still got a little misty toasting his little girl and her new husband.

I know how he feels. I don’t have a daughter or a cattle ranch, but I’m proud of my family and the place I call home.

We cross state borders all the time – for business, for pleasure. But it’s rare when we get this kind of opportunity. Maybe we should think more like the defecting Soviet sailors in The Hunt for Red October:  

Capt. Vasili Borodin (played by Sam Neill): I will live in Montana. And I will marry a round American woman and raise rabbits, and she will cook them for me. And I will have a pickup truck... maybe even a "recreational vehicle." And drive from state to state. Do they let you do that?

Captain Ramius (Sean Connery): I suppose.

Borodin: No papers?

Ramius: No papers, state to state.

State to state.

No papers.

Just shared values.

You cross the border into undiscovered country and discover a keener appreciation for kindred spirits.

If I wasn’t a Kansan, I’d want to be a North Dakotan.