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Published December 14, 2009, 04:00 AM

What’s normal, anyway?

FARGO, N.D. — And so it’s Christmas. Our “normal” cold finally has set in. I’ve always thought there’s nothing as reliable as winter in the Red River Valley in an otherwise changing world. I recently wrote our family Christmas letter — a mix of the darker, the brighter, but seldom calm days of our lives. Here’s the CliffsNotes-like summary:

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — And so it’s Christmas.

Our “normal” cold finally has set in. I’ve always thought there’s nothing as reliable as winter in the Red River Valley in an otherwise changing world. I recently wrote our family Christmas letter — a mix of the darker, the brighter, but seldom calm days of our lives. Here’s the CliffsNotes-like summary:

n My wife underwent the last of a series of surgeries in February. She’s fine now. Her recovery took us until March.

n The flood of 2009 hit, with its 112-year record crest and its 6 million sandbags. We helped a good friend in Moorhead, Minn., save his home, even as others around him were lost. As the flood subsided, we attended the funeral of his wife, who died in the hospital during the emergency.

n Our son turned 21 while in Washington serving as an intern in a Senate office. He attended the Barack Obama inauguration and answered phone calls from constituents, worried about bailouts that total in the trillions and will encumber our children and theirs. Ditto for cap and trade and climate change.

n Our daughter had met a fellow on the Internet a few years ago. He’s from England. They were married by a vicar in an Anglican church in July. She lives there now, in the so-called West Midlands. We miss being with her, of course, but we can “see” her as often as we like on Skype, the Web camera.

Predictions

Farmers I see and write about every day seem to have a natural fascination with the future. Their family’s lives are just as complicated as mine, but they’re dealing more directly with climate and weather.

As I went around the recent Northern Ag Expo in Fargo, N.D., I kept hearing vendors and farmers wonder about “normal,” when it comes to climate and weather. What can we count on, anymore, about the planting and harvesting of crops in the Red River Valley? Or anywhere in the larger areas of North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana? Is there a pattern here?

After the ritual exchange of niceties at one of the sugar beet meetings in recent days, I talked with Dave Roche and Steve Caspers, two top executives at Minn-Dak Farmers Co-op of Wahpeton, N.D. Both acknowledged they were relieved to have left only 14,000 acres of unharvested sugar beets stranded in the fields at the end of November.

Who could have predicted that warm November?

What can we count on around here?

‘We’ll be fine’

I have a favorite farmer friend in western Cass County, N.D. I enjoy talking to him because he and his wife have a strong, determined, spiritual way of leading their business and family through the vagaries of farming and life in general.

This couple has two grown sons, and now grandchildren to think about. They see a future beyond their farm, and this life.

When we chat about the crop situation, about whether the planting or harvest is “normal,” I can always count on this friend to offer a frank assessment of the situation, but then to shrug and smile as if to say: “We’ll be fine.”

This friend recently encouraged me in a personal struggle and helped me realize what issues are worth struggling over.

“Remember, we have only one mission,” he says.

The mission is the same mission, whether we’re a farmer or a writer, and this must go on no matter what life throws our way — weather, technology or otherwise. It’s OK to wonder about “normal,” but only as far as you can control it. The rest is above our pay grade.

Merry Christmas.