July 28

Susan and Norm Westbrook

Here is a father/daughter team that has the priorities right. (The father is the one with the hair on his lip, the daughter has the hair on her head.)

Norman and Susan Westbrook have thrown themselves in to being patriots. They stand with the Patriot Guard Riders every chance they get. In this case, it was the welcome home of soldiers from Kosovo.  Imagine the closeness of this team focused on a good cause such as service to country and patriotism.  They both ride their own bikes and fly their 3×5 flags from their bikes in escorts and parades where the PGR is invited.  Susan is going to be a very well-grounded and confident woman. She is already, though she’s only in high school.

Norm and Susan visit with Vernon

The PGR rally gives people such as Norm and Susan a chance to meet with other like-minded people such as Vernon Bjerke a Marine who is from the eastern part of the state. He stands with patriots every chance he gets.  These are not noisy outspoken in-your-face people. Their quiet upright strength is the kind of position that we could all emulate.

July 26

Small town suburbia

It could be a scene from any suburb in America.  Moms gathered in the semi-shade while the kids play in the nearby pool.  It’s not any suburb, it’s Wilton.  A small town of 800 people along Highway 83, north of Bismarck.  Life in small rural towns in the Northern Plains is pretty much like life anywhere in America — most of the time.  Winters are legendary. They are rugged, but summers are intense with long hours of daylight for neighbors to gather and do what Americans do in the summer, relax and rejuvenate.  Well, most North Dakotans do, anyway, the ones in town. Their rural cousins are too busy this time of year to spend much pool time, but life in even a small town like Wilton is good.

July 25

Ben and Chuck Suchy

The father and son duo of Chuck and Ben Suchy says more about North Dakota than just a couple of music makers getting together on a Sunday afternoon.  As you may know if you’ve been reading North Dakota 365, the Suchys farm south of Mandan. They’re quiet, unassuming people who diligently go about their work.  Chuck has been at it long enough he is easing out of the farm, passing it on to the next generation, Ben’s siblings.

Chuck Suchy

Chuck is also known as the North Dakota troubadour. He writes his own music, lyrics and  melody.  His lyrics tell stories, perhaps of a 1928 Indian Chief Motorcycle, or of a family matriarch whom everyone can relate to.  If you listen to Garrison Keilor’s Prairie Home Companion, you’ve heard Chuck sing his stories.

On this Sunday afternoon, the father and son duo were on the patio of a local watering hole on the banks of the Missouri River in Mandan.  They played solo and they played as a duet. They played as a team as equals who share a common gift, the gift of song.

These are the kind of summer days that make memories in North Dakota. They’re the kind of days that get you through the long cold winters because you know in a few months, you’ll be back out on the patio, listening to Chuck and Ben sing the stories of life on the Northern Plains.  They carry their music all across the Midwest.  Have you had a chance to hear them?

July 22

A family portrait backdrop

Can you imagine the collection of family photos that would show families in this same position on the steps of the North Dakota State Capitol?  It is one of North Dakota’s most photographed backdrops.  By itself, it’s a towering monolith, 17 stories of granite rising above the prairies.  It looks as though it belongs in downtown New York not the prairies of  N.D.  It’s Capitol #2 because the first capitol building that looked much more like you would expect with pillars and stone scrollwork burned down in 1930.  So, the pragmatic and functional characteristics of North Dakotans prevailed and an office building was built for $9 million.

On the left is the legislative wing of the capital.  The tower is the executive branch.  Off to the right outside of the scope of this image is the judicial wing of the capital.  Each of the three branches with their own architectural image.

The family on the steps is posed where so many families stand for their photos.  They are just above the flower bed that spells out in red “North Dakota.”

Have you had your photo taken here?  What is the prominent family portrait backdrop where you live?

June 18 part deux

Remember these days?

On the way back to Bismarck from the Twin Buttes Powwow, I drove through Golden Valley, North Dakota.  A remarkable family tradition of a different kind is enshrined just off  Main street. There the Lindemann’s have invested themselves in restoring and maintaining a bit of history.  This Standard Oil gas station is actually the entrance to a private Harley-Davidson Museum.  Neatly displayed inside the museum is at least one Harley-Davidson from every year of production — and each one runs, ready to be rolled out on the street of John chooses.

John Lindemann inherited his father’s love of meticulous restoration.  His father, Bill restores old Model As and Model Ts to running and operating perfection.  It wasn’t too long ago that the pair would be seen putting down some back road to a car show or motorcycle show in Canada or the West Coast to display their work and take home accolades.  Their attention to detail is evident with the effort put in to just the front door entrance to their private museum.  The gas pumps that I can barely remember from my pre-driving days.  How far back does your memory of these corner icons go?

June 12

Big hat for a little guy

Grassroots family fun. The ranch families from around the Northern Plains gather in their small towns for a little friendly competition — rodeo.  And as much as it’s about horses and

Game face

Ride 'em cowgirl

roping, it’s about families and kids.  Like this little guy. He’ll grow in to and eventually out of that straw hat he’s wearing.  Or the little fella riding a hobby-horse around the bales, trying to beat the clock.  He’s trying as hard to win as his older kin are trying to win the events in the big arena.

It’s not a men-only sport, or even women-only. Girls and boys both get in to the Wing Rodeo action.  And no matter the age, they give it their best shot.

Cowboy snags the calf, now to tie it

Something tells me, however, that the older you get, the more pain in involved.  I have a feeling that these young cowboys have to work their way up from a hobby-horse to riding a mad bronc, and pain tolerance is probably a big factor.

Riding a bronc

Outta the saddle

ready to bite the dust

June 11

running the bases

A neighborhood game of tball at the local ball diamond is reminiscent of days gone by when whole neighborhoods of kids would get together to play ball at the school ball diamond, kinda like Spanky and Our Gang.  In this case it appeared to be a couple of baby sitters getting their charges out for some exercise and fresh air.

Almost tagged out

At least the teams were divided evenly, one big kid and one little kid — and they didn’t even have to stand to get picked to  a side. They just were divided up two on a side.

T-ball bunt

I used to shoot a lot of sports when I was a newspaper editor. Haven’t done it much for the last 5 or 6 years, but this was fun if not unpredictable.

Swing and a miss

Who’d have thought to bunt a t-ball?

And I don’t even know if they counted the strikes, but he didn’t care. He was having fun!

June 9

I do not understand why people are so destructive in their effort to improve their home space. Why do people cut down a perfectly good, healthy, mature tree that provides them with shade and adds to the city’s forest?I know in this case the young family turned their residential property in to a light commercial property and used up their back yard with construction equipment and a large shop.  So, where does the kid play?  They cut down this healthy tree to put up a swing set.Later this summer, I’ll show you the barren yard, or well as much of it as I can around the construction equipment.  Not a good conversion of residential property and not a good thing for the neighborhood, my neighborhood. These are my across-the-street neighbors.North Dakota lives up to its reputation as a treeless state.  At one time, the state had a flourishing natural forest along the Missouri River. Then, someone down stream decided to North Dakota should be the catch basin for all the water that flows downstream, and dams were built flooding much of North Dakota’s natural forest.

For 100 years conservationists and economists have encouraged planting of trees in North Dakota.  Nurseries have developed strains of trees that will grow here in this harsh winter climate.  Today, according to the Ag Extension service, nearly 95% of the state’s forest has been hand-planted.

So, why destroy what has taken so long to build?  I doubt if the hot sunny swing set play ground will be as inviting as was the cool shaded front lawn that is now gone.

March 13



What a privilege to be part of the new life Ravae Smith was brining in to the world: Lily.  Lily, her mother Ravae and her grandmother Carmen stopped by my basement studio to record the last of Ravae’s pregnancy.  A golden glow and back-lit lighting helped with the effect.

North Dakota’s spring is full of new life, from the cattle pastures to the budding trees. How much more significant is it to see what is about to become one more head counted in North Dakota’s population.

Ravae works great with the camera and I hope to do another shoot with her now that she’s back to life as it once was.

February 22

Ben plays the East 40 ChophouseBismarck is blessed with a hidden resource. Among all the hard-working, no-nonsense cultures of the region (Norwegian, Germans, Ukrainians, Native American) are points of entertainment and creative expression.  Ben Suchy is one of those.  Ben comes from a hardworking family of Bohemian descent who farm and ranch south of Mandan.  they’re a hard-working dirt-under-the-fingernails kind of earthy family. But they’ve been blessed musical talent.  Ben’s dad Chuck is frequently heard on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion as the North Dakota troubadour.  Ben’s sister with the Dollys is also on PHC.  Ben makes his appearance there as well with his blend of reggae, jazz, folk, blues.

During North Dakota’s long winters, Monday nights Sushi and Suchy at the East 40 Chophouse in Bismarck is a place to escape the hardness of life on the Northern Plains.  There, you can hear the exquisite sounds of Ben as he puts his interpretation to songs of Jack Johnson, Taj Mahal, Neil Young and others.

Ben is only one of the many talented musicians in North Dakota. There are too many cover bands and bar bands that try to pass themselves off as musicians. Ben and other like him are the real thing.