We recently celebrated the life of my favorite aunt, Esther. We left her ashes at the Fairview Cemetery, next to my mother (Esther’s little sister) and her mother and father. Fairview remains one of my favorite places.
If you have read this blog lately, you know that I’m a product of the North Dakota prairie. Fairview Cemetery, just south and west of Lake Williams, ND, demonstrates the stark beauty of the prairie. If you stand in the middle of the cemetery and look in any direction you won’t see much human activity outside the cemetery fence. No buildings, few fences, fewer roads (all dirt), no cell phone or power line towers. It’s quiet. Almost eerie. Relaxing. The solitude encourages communion with those resting there. I love the place.
There are lakes nearby, not lakes in the Minnesota resort sense, these are more like large ponds in the dirt. Ducks and other water birds love these lakes, meaning hunters fill the area in the fall. Whenever I’m there I love to watch the pelicans and gulls circle above, calling out to me. We like to imagine they carry the spirits of those who have gone before, stopping by to greet us in our reverie.
Even in a wet year the grass is crunchy and sharp underfoot, none of the lush green we strive for in southern Minnesota. Small wildflowers struggle to produce pale blooms. Small succulents are everywhere. There are a few trees and bushes here and there on the grounds, but they only add to the feeling of solitude and desolation. The thickness of a Southeastern Minnesota forest is missing. These are artificially planted trees. Trees don’t grow on hilltops on the ND prairie unless humans help the process.
This country brought my grandparents, Ted & Fanny, to North Dakota. You can get to their place by driving a little ways south of Fairview. I’m told that the summer Ted visited the area to buy farm land it was a wet year, making the hills green with vegetation. That all changed by the time my mother was born fifteen years later, during the dust bowl. Grace’s stories give us a glimpse of that life; standing in the cemetery, not seeing freeways, shopping centers, telephone lines, or even houses, helps me understand what it might have been like to live on the prairie, miles from anywhere. The area has recovered from the dust bowl, but it is still dry and dusty. Twice as many people lived in Kidder County in 1920 compared to 2010. What keeps people there? For those who stay, it is home.
This part of the world was Esther’s birthplace. Fairview Cemetery is now her home again. She left Kidder County seventy years ago. For Grace, who left shortly after that, it’s now her home. And Fanny’s home. And Ted’s home. They never left. So many more make that hilltop on the prairie their home. Every time I visit, every five years or so, it feels like home to me, too. My spirit is at ease on that hilltop. The circling raptors talk to me. The grouse and little mammals scurrying along the side of the road remind me of my attachment to the land. I came from this land. This is Esther’s home. My mother’s home. My grand parent’s home. This is home.
I’ll be back.