If you have never had or taken the opportunity to visit the Red River Valley of the North, I’d like to issue that invitation. I’ll even buy you a cup of coffee if you make it to Fargo.
There are a couple of unusual geographical oddities about the Valley that are important to know. First, I think I have mentioned before that the mighty Red River of the North happens to flow north, all the way up past Winnipeg in Manitoba, a good 550 miles. The challenge of having a river flow north – other than the Nile, which flows into the Mediterranean Sea, is that when it does so in a land that freezes pretty rock solid for a good third of the year, is that the river itself also freezes. Now, rivers in the north freeze up all the time, but when it flows north, it thaws out from south to north, which means the water tends to get all backed up, and create some pretty good flooding. By the way, did you know that when the ice breaks up on a river, creating massive chunks and fresh water ice bergs, that it’s called a “debacle.” Just a piece of trivia for a Tuesday…
The other geographical piece that’s important to know is that the Red River Valley of the North exists as the bottom of the historic Lake Agassiz, which existed about 14,500 years ago. It was actually larger than all five Great Lakes combined, spreading out 632,000 square miles. When it finally drained into the Arctic, it is believed it raised ocean levels by more than 9 feet. It was probably 400-500 feet deep, and was home to all sorts of prehistoric swimming things. So today, the Red River Valley, North, is one of the most fertile pieces of land in the world, having thousands of years of decayed fish creatures stacked up on the lake bottom. I recall helping by father-in-law harvest in the northern part of the valley, and expecting the wheat crop to always be about 90 bushels per acre. One year, their barley crop averaged over 140 bushels. Rich farmland.
So, living on a prehistoric lake bottom means that geographically, the Red River Valley is absolutely flat. Rich, but flat. The joke is that a fellow’s dog ran away from home, and he was able to watch it run for three days… As you drive around the city of Fargo, then, if you are alert, you will realize that the only elevation changes that occur have happened by human intervention. Overpasses, underpasses – that’s the only way you will have a sense of ascending or descending. There is a huge dike that was built downtown to keep the river from flooding every year, and that’s actually where the kids go to sled. There are no hills…
Well, actually, I perhaps spoke too quickly. Every winter, a few different hills materialize, often on the sides of parking lots. By Centennial elementary school, you will often see the children sliding down the small rise, created as the snow plows push the snow into one spot. Unfortunately, they also push all the sand, dirt and mucky yuck in with the snow, so the kids actually sled on filthy hills, especially when it melts. If it ever melts. Before soil conservation took hold, and farmers would plow their fields in the fall so that they were a fine soil, when it would snow and blow (with nothing to stop it), it created what we called “snirt.” Snow and dirt. You know the old Currier and Ives prints, of horses pulling a sleigh through pristine white snow? Not so much. Parents would often make their kids climb out of their boots and snow suits, so as not to leave large puddles of mud in the entryway as things melted.
There is another creation for winter. It’s known as “Mt. Fargo.” After we get blizzard after blizzard, our great street cleaning crews plow the streets, and then dump the snow into huge dump trucks, which haul it all to different locations around town. The largest becomes Mt. Fargo. Since nothing melts, the bulldozers and front loaders just pile up the snow in one area. One large area. After a decent snow, they will fill 400-500 dump trucks with the snow, and take it to the “mountain.” It’s only the middle of February, but the mount is about 65 feet tall so far. There have been some years, with exceptional snows, when it has reached the 100 foot level. Just about 10 stories high. This packed-in snow and ice combo mountain takes until August to fully melt away.
It is up to 17 degrees right now, and we are in the roller coaster time of the winter. Today, perhaps 20, tomorrow, a high of 4, with a low of -13, and then Friday, we might even reach the 32 degree mark, which may have an effect on the perennial ice sheet that is our front sidewalk. It won’t, however, any effect on Mt. Fargo, except to perhaps give it a nice thick coat of ice as the top layer melts a bit. We’ve been getting snow about every other day, so they are predicting a really decent-sized mountain before we are done.
And so that’s winter in the northland. It’s a good day when you don’t have to put on the heaviest coat to go get the mail. My brother in Texas tells me it’s 70 degrees there this week. I tell him it’s 70 here as well, so long as people keep the front door shut. For some folks, this becomes a time of despair, and for others, just an irritant, like mosquitoes in the summer. For the rest of us, it’s a quiet badge, a hidden medal we wear around our necks. We are surviving the yearly ice age, and again, we hope that March will bring something other than the really big blizzards.
I do hope that wherever you are right now, that you will consider this day a blessing of God for you. Really, the weather doesn’t matter as much as the gratitude we hold in our hearts. At the end of the day, it’s that attitude, that frame of reference for our world that makes all the difference. Peace to you, and enjoy your day of life.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.