Gov. Doug Burgum announced that he'll name a task force to study higher education. That's the most important thing that happened in North Dakota politics since this column last appeared a fortnight ago. The task force is a precedent breaker. No other governor has taken such a direct interest in higher education in more than 80 years. Bill Langer's interest was pretty much strictly personal. He fired some professors at the Ag College in Fargo, now NDSU. Actually Langer didn't do the deed himself. Members of his Board of Administration did what Langer told them to do.
Ten rusty blackbirds dropped into our backyard last week. This was not a surprise, exactly, but it wasn't anticipated. Seeing a rusty blackbird can never be anticipated. This is a species on the brink. The number of rusty blackbirds has diminished dramatically in the last several decades, accelerating a decline that may have begun as much as a century ago. No one knows why exactly this should be so. The circumstances do sweeten each rusty blackbird sighting.
Thursday, Nov. 2, is Statehood Day in North Dakota. President Benjamin Harrison signed the enabling act 128 years ago on Nov. 2. What resolutions should North Dakotans make for the state's 129th year? One suggestion is that we should like each other a little more. Another is that we should give ourselves permission to enjoy our wealth. We've allowed political leaders to convince us that North Dakota is broke, but that is a political outlook, not an economic one. North Dakota has a great deal of money, much of it frozen in trust funds that are difficult to tap. That financial
The higher education system has proven to be dysfunctional once again, as every North Dakotan probably knows by now. This could be explained, and history may find it an important question. It is not today's subject, however. An explanation would require more words than space allows, and it is not the most urgent question facing us. The more urgent question is what should be done?
A fox sparrow showed up in Grand Forks on the first day of fall. Dave Lambeth, dean of local birders, shared this happy news. Among birders, the fall migration of sparrows is as eagerly anticipated as duck season is among hunters. The season is underway. Lambeth opened it with an email message reporting his fox sparrow sighting. "The next three weeks are prime time for migrant sparrows," he wrote. Fox sparrows got to our place west of Gilby, N.D., later, showing up in the middle of last week.
Looking over North Dakota's higher education landscape, it's hard not to be reminded of Yellowstone National Park, with bubbling mud pots all around and here and there a geyser, all against a background of tall trees. While the mud pots and the trees are many, it's the geysers that attract attention. The recent geysers erupting are named Hagerott and Feldner. These two were the highest ranking officials in the state's higher education system.
Duck season opened Saturday, Sept. 16, in North Dakota and Minnesota, although nonresidents will have to wait a week before they can hunt waterfowl in North Dakota. The delay gives North Dakotans the first shot, so to speak, and the best shot at bagging the state's most abundant duck, the blue-winged teal. Blue-winged teal are short-timers on the northern Plains. They are late spring migrants and they leave early in the fall, often before hunting season gets underway. By late September, stragglers remain.
A review of North Dakota political history provides background for the 2018 U.S. Senate race in the state, a contest that is developing quickly and attracting exceptional attention nationally. Last week, Heidi Heitkamp, elected in 2012, announced her intention to run again. She's a Democrat. Republicans both locally and nationally imagine that she is vulnerable, and a passel of Republicans are potential candidates. One, state Sen. Tom Campbell of Grafton, has started his campaign. The history of North Dakota's U.S. senators is a little bit complicated.
Not all birds migrate, and those that do don't all migrate in the same way. Yet migration is a central fact in the life of many birds — certainly of most species that are encountered here. Of roughly 300 species recorded for Grand Forks County, only a dozen or so are truly sedentary. These are the chicken-like birds, some owls, some woodpeckers, and chickadees and nuthatches. Some species are residents here throughout the year, but they move locally. Crows, for example, move from farm shelterbelts to the denser forest sheltering Grand Forks.
The cedar waxwing is always a welcome bird, and never more so than at noon Monday of last week. That was Solar Eclipse Day, and Suezette and I had turned our deck into an observatory: Deck chairs at the ready, protective eyewear handy, hot coffee nearby. All we needed was the sun. At first, there was sun, and we watched as the moon bit into the solar disk. We also saw clouds passing over the sun—more and more clouds. Way too many clouds. Unwelcome clouds. By noon, clouds had obscured the sun. Our Eclipse Party was doomed.