The family farmstead, where I grew up, was in the middle of a farming community. There were four neighbors within a mile of us on three sides, and because the landscape was fairly flat, you could see their farmsteads if you ventured outside of our trees. Hearing tractors, trucks and cars was a daily occurrence, and under the right conditions you could sometimes hear people talking, or the Soo Line train blowing its horn as it passed through Kongsberg, 5 miles away. We truly were in the middle of a farming community.
While all this daily activity made me feel connected to the people around the area, I was happiest when I was able to escape to the isolation of a 160 acre pasture we rented far away from our home. We simply called it “The Pasture Up in the Hills,” because it was located in the hilly region that rose from our flat community when you traveled south of Kongsberg. It was in this remote area that I felt the most connected to nature and to the ancient landscape that we currently call North Dakota. The hills are far older than our state, and whenever I visited this little corner of my world, I could almost hear it calling out to me, and it made me feel like I belonged there and it filled me with peace.
When you left the main road, you had to travel two miles back into the hills to reach the only gate leading into the pasture. The path consisted of two wheel ruts that headed up and down hills and around sloughs. The path had a place where, when you reached the top of a hill, the tip of a boulder jutted up between the two ruts. You needed to leave the path and go around it if you were in a vehicle lower than a truck, or risk striking the hunk of granite with your differential or oil pan. There was another place where you sometimes needed to speed up around a slough, or you could get stuck, and sink into the mud. It was an adventure simply getting to “The Pasture Up in the Hills!”
When you reached the gate, it felt like you had stepped back in time. The soil in this area was so filled with rocks, that it had never been plowed, and the same native grass that had covered these hills for centuries still waved in every direction as far as the eye could see. The two miles of barb wired fence, the wooden corral, and the water tank were the only signs that humans had ever been there. The fence was constantly being repaired and updated, but it still appeared hopelessly out of date in many places with wooden fence posts still in use that had been cut with an ax from local trees decades earlier.
The hills and grass seemed to soak up and muffle all sound. You could hear birds singing if they were near, but usually all you could hear was the wind blowing by your ears, creating an almost deafening roar. On still days, you could hear mosquitoes and flies around your face, but couldn’t hear the pickup running on the other side of the hill. In the spring you could catch the scent of wild flowers, and in the fall there was the fragrance of sage brush accompanied by a hint of cow manure. The pasture seemed to bring almost every sense to life in a way that couldn’t be experienced elsewhere: It was larger than life!
I managed to visit “The Pasture Up in the Hills” a couple of years back and found that nothing had really changed. Someone else now rents the land and has their cattle grazing on it during the short North Dakota summer, but I noticed that the same rusty bar and chain that was there to hold the gate shut forty years ago is still in use. The pasture is timeless!
What may be surprising to some is that I still travel to “The Pasture Up in the Hills” once in a while when I’m right here in Grand Forks. I can close my eyes, visualize the grass blowing in the wind, remember the sounds and the scents, and it’s like I’m still there, and I become relaxed. Everyone needs a “Happy Place” to visit when the pressures of life begin piling up, and while many people opt for beaches, I will always return to my pasture.