St. Patrick’s Day makes me think about how lucky I often am.

Case in point: Last spring, I was working on stories about Hunter Hanson, the 21-year-old grain merchant and Ponzi scheme perpetrator. Back then, Hanson had been arrested and was in the McLean County jail at Washburn, N.D.

Mikkel Pates
Mikkel Pates

I’d been in Bismarck, N.D., for legislative hearings, and went up to look for some planting progress (which was in short supply). I shot some “b-roll” video of the jail. It occurred to me to try to meet Ladd Erickson, the state's attorney for McLean and Sheridan counties, who I’d only talked with on the phone.

But it was after hours. I stopped at a gas station where I saw a sheriff’s deputy filling up at a gas station. “Do you know where I could find Mr. Erickson?” I asked. “Oh, he lives 12 miles out in the country, in the middle of nowhere,” the deputy said, adding flatly, “You’ll never find him.”

Temporarily stymied, I drove out of town on a gravel road to exercise my dogs, Rufus and Barnum. As the dogs disembarked, a 70-something farmer in a white pickup drove by and waved.

As he drove off, I realized I should’ve asked about planting. I gave chase. Soon he’d driven into the driveway to Painted Woods Golf Club and I caught up with him in the parking lot and we had a nice chat.

After about 20 minutes, I was ready to say goodbye. Suddenly, a four-wheeler roared up. It stopped abruptly. A big man in muddy work clothes jumped out of the driver’s seat. He walked up like he knew me.

“Mikkel Pates?”

“Yup,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m Ladd — Ladd Erickson,” the man said, explaining, ““Recognized you from your picture in Agweek.” Erickson had been doing volunteer labor on the course. After an extended chat, I phoned to check in with my wife, Barb, and told her how crazy this was. Here I was, looking for a guy in a 2,328-square-mile county. When it seemed impossible he … found … me.

In another instance, I was in Sioux Falls, S.D., on Nov. 6 on assignment. It was 10 degrees and windy. A man with a Southern accent walks in beside me into the restaurant. We were seated apart but as we finished our dinner, we stood up at the same time and talked.

Tommy Wales said he lives in Alabama but travels the country to do truck and driver audits for a company. Yes, he knows about Minnesota weather because he’d been a chaperone in February 2002 when his FFA kids from Hartford, Ala., had traveled to Litchfield, Minn., for their “Peanut Butter and Milk Festival.” He explained that the Hartford and Litchfield FFA chapters have an exchange that’s lasted nearly 50 years.

In January, when the Agweek staff needed a story for FFA Week in February, I told them about Tommy. That story ran during National FFA Week, on Feb. 24. And now, Wales thinks I should make a trip to Alabama in November to see how peanuts and cotton grow. Barb thinks so, too.

Now that’s luck.

Mikkel Pates writes about a wide range of farmers and agribusinesses throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and surrounding states. Readers can reach Mikkel by email at mpates@agweek.com, or by phone at 701-936-0686.