Driving Des Lacs Lakes Wildlife Refuge


A blizzard of snow geese 400,000 strong visit this place each year.
Why did I ever think I grew up here? I was ten years old for Christ’s sake.
This place is the Central Flyway from New Mexico to the Arctic Circle,
passing through Prairie Potholes, largest flyway in the country.
I have memories of Mom and Dad driving to Kenmare from Bowbells,
coming to the steep grade down to Des Lacs Lakes and between them,
thinking the same thing as my mother, her thoughts out loud,
Be careful, Wayne. Drive straight.
It just means, The Lakes, I say to Karen,
who says, Didn’t you know that? Can’t you see it?
I see that grade running down to the lake,
hoping Dad makes it up the other side,
that’s what I see. How am I supposed to see
French explorers in coon skin hats exclaiming over beauty?
I get the train whistles right. All night long
from both ends of town. In Kenmare,
we stop at the pizza place alongside the highway.
Sign on the counter in marking pen,
We serve Dakota Pride Ice Cream
and a list of flavors, including Juneberry.
Not Juneberry! I say to the man taking my order.
Yes, they make it in Bottineau. June berries.
And they carry this ice cream at Jack & Jill’s in Kenmare.
No wonder Teddy Roosevelt loved North Dakota.
Mircea Eliade says all narration, even the most common,
connects to the great myths that show
how the world came into being.
We hustle right on down to Jack & Jill’s
and find the last half gallon of June Berry Ice Cream
hidden behind five tubs of Chokecherry.
The Mothership is a special ops vehicle running lake front
in North Dakota, following French fur traders.

The Mothership follows the shoreline.
Marsh wren, coot, mink, sage pond weed,
mallard and shiner minnows mix it up here.
Invertebrate diets for insect and duck.
Birds, grassland dependent,
are the most imperiled birds in North Dakota.
Karen and I drive these loops of dirt road
trying to find our way to Tasker’s Coulee
where I have memories of family picnics.
Men driving tractors guess I might have   
made a wrong turn out of KOA.
This is homecoming as validated by Canadian honkers.
O to hear Canadian Honkers over North Dakota one time!
When we pull into Bowbells City Park mid-afternoon,
October sunshine, I grab a lawn chair
and ask myself, What is this about?
Not a time to ask that question.
Calling my cousin, she says, Come on out now.
What happens to these geese if FDR
doesn’t make this place a wildlife preserve?
These are the Dirty 30s.
A 28-mile stretch of Des Lacs River Valley.
Three naturally occurring lakes separated by marshlands.
CCC construct dikes and water control.
Some of the farmers hate the government
that saved this wonderland. One refuge
runs into another. Count them.
Homecoming is not a football game friends.
In Chile, 20 years ago, my companion
is a history professor exiled from his homeland
when Kissenger and the Chicago Boys
overthrew Allende. He guides me
through the blind spots every day for a month
until he cracked up. We were in a bookstore
in Valdivia. Small town like Bowbells.
Pinochet shows up with his Carabineros.
I’m holding a copy of Neruda’s poems.
My friend’s holding a copy of Quixote
too large to hold. My friend never takes
another sober breath. He leaves his homeland
in an alcoholic haze and never taught again.
After arriving in the New Land,
Cortez burns his ships to keep the men going forward.
Those mountain climbers ascending.
They make it to the top, they die in the descent.
And Meriwether Lewis himself, confidant
of President Jefferson, journal keeper, journeyman
and trailblazer—abrecaminos after your own heart.
Sophisticate. He gets the Corps of Discovery
to the mouth of the Columbia River
but it’s not so easy coming home.
He ends up solitary putting a bullet
through his head on the Nachez Trace.
No homecoming is not for the weak.
Out here in the wetlands, though,
you can honk all you want.
Some native peoples say you can’t trust any story
that’s not told. Only what can be heard through the ear
can be trusted. Anything written down is suspect.
These are glory days with the Boss.
You sing with him, you don’t buy his books.
This is North Dakota, not New Jersey.
You go from the wetlands to the water tower.
You park your camper in the city park.
No one gives you a number or takes your money.
There’s a donation box if you want to leave something
for your stay. You belong but it’s temporary.
This is a scrub for the heart in the heartland.

Jim Bodeen
Bowbells—Bismarck, North Dakota
17-20 October 2015

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