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Holten: Sitting on a river bank, juggling pebbles

Some of the most important things in life are so easy to overlook and one of those important things is a pebble.

When I think about it, pebbles played such an important role in my life from early on, growing up as I did in a tiny little town, a mere pebble’s throw from the Montana and Canadian borders.

There were pebbles everywhere it seemed. In fields, along streams and on the gravel roads that went east and west and every-which-way. Gravel roads were especially prominent in our neck of the woods, with the nearest paved highway being at least four miles away, an inconvenient distance for someone who got around only on horseback or by bike.

Then one day, as if they were an attacking army, a platoon of earth movers showed up and pushed dirt around, digging up more pebbles for us to toss from high atop the dirt piles they’d built up. And before you knew it, that asphalt that’d coated the roads four miles away had snaked its way into town, slithering down Main Street and, as a result, we were able to ride our bikes from Elmer’s grocery store to what seemed like eternity and back on a smooth, pebble-free surface so smooth you felt like you barely need peddle.

Past the water tower at the end of Main Street to the quarter-mile mark, where the big kids drag raced, over one hill and then up Suicide Hill, the big one, which didn’t seem quite so big anymore after the earth movers had leveled it off, reducing it from one hard hike to one tough workout on a bike. After which there was smooth sailing from there to the four-mile corner and back again, floating back down Suicide Hill the other way like it was an Olympic ski jump.

Nowadays, they’d make you wear a helmet if you were to do that same ride but back then your father would have been embarrassed if you had.

Still, in the end, even with the new highway, it was those darn pebbles everywhere that dominated our youth. We’d throw them at everything from fence posts, road signs and birds on power lines to Cupola’s on barn tops and at cows … to make them to move and at ducks on a pond.

It was at those ponds into which the pebbles flew where we learned about life because it was at those ponds where ripples emanated from the center and taught us about the affect our lives could have upon the world in which we live. But not in the ways you might think.

Victoria Osteen, the wife of evangelist Joel Osteen once said, “Our life ripples out, and it has influence. That’s why it’s important that we’re at our best and that we’re influencing others for the good.”

That’s true, but it’s also deeper and sometimes a lot harder than that.

For as Jeanne Moreau, the French actress, singer, screenwriter and director once said, “As long as you don’t make waves, ripples, life seems easy. But that’s condemning yourself to impotence and death, before you are dead.”

You’ve surely heard the story of David and Goliath, where a boy who was less than 5-feet tall slayed a mighty giant over 7- or 9-feet tall, depending on whose measurements you consider more accurate.

That boy, with slingshot in hand, didn’t have to do what he did because he was merely there to deliver sandwiches to his older brothers but instead he suddenly decided to add “killing a giant with a pebble” to his agenda. That would be a lot like you deciding to bet on the Vikings to win the Super Bowl next year or even worse, deciding to walk shoeless from Dickinson to Scranton in January. Not a real good choice.

Then again, it’s not really about slaying a giant, is it? Because there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness since every act creates a ripple with no logical end. Even if you’re just sitting on a riverbank juggling pebbles and throwing them into the water or tossing them off a dirt pile, like we used to do.

Holten is the manager of The Drill and the executive director of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. Email him at