WASHINGTON -- Almost exactly a year ago, Janelle Pepple, who coordinates 911 calls as the Wells County Deputy Sheriff, couldn’t have anticipated the inpouring of “frantic, never-ending” inquiries she would receive when a reported grass fire — seen from a distance in the sleepy farm town of Heimdal — turned out to be the blaze of a derailed crude oil train that would burn for two days straight as responders from North Dakota’s tight-knit neighboring counties worked to control it. It’s a blessing no one was hurt in Heimdal, but this incident wasn’t North Dakota’s first warning.
Walking up and down the wind-swept prairie slopes near Beulah this week, it occurred to me that this swath of grassy land — an unmined portion of lignite coal country — probably doesn’t look like a coal mine to someone who’s not from North Dakota.
Imagine this. You worked your entire life in a job that enables you and your family to get by while providing a solid pension so you can retire with dignity. It’s a hard job that requires a great deal of manual labor, which has taken a toll on your body over the years. After a few decades of work, you aren’t able to do your job anymore because of the injuries it caused. But you know that because you have been saving for retirement through your pension, you’ll still be able support yourself and your family.
Around this time of year, folks across the country are bundling up, driving near and far and uniting with families and friends to gather in kitchens and around tables — laughing and reminiscing over holiday feasts. Around Thanksgiving, we reflect on how fortunate we are to have our loved ones in our lives, a secure home and good health. And it’s a time to take a few minutes to slow down, look around and try to share a bit of our spirit with others — especially those who are struggling.
When I was growing up, I remember taking long drives with my family and hardly seeing another soul across the beautiful landscape of North Dakota. The roads always seemed nearly empty as we departed our small town of Mantador and traveled throughout the state.