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Forward - Reflections on Devils Lake

Updated: May 30

Forward - From my New Book 

The Careful Art of Politics in the Balance of Humanity

Reflections of Devils Lake

Every year my partner and her family travel from Minneapolis to Devil’s Lake North Dakota in search of white bass, walleye and northern pike. Since this is a book about interconnection and politics, there is no better place to start than a small town in one of the most conservative states in the Nation. The namesake of the city is a body of water that has grown nearly three times in size over the past forty or fifty years. My father and uncle were born here, in a small trailer on the Native American reservation. My grandad had a job working for the telephone company, installing phone lines on the sacred land. I imagine reactions had been mixed to the new technology. Now Devils Lake boasts a casino with video slots and cosmic bingo. The same telephone poles seem archaic and useless now as cell towers loom in the distance. Satellites hang in the Dreamtime above, blinking and rotating with the spirits of ancestors. On a long enough timeline all things become organic and originate from the earth. The hidden underground missile silos lay dormant underground as radioactive uranium deposits mock our fragile human bodies. The earth tempts us to protect her or destroy ourselves, echoing voices of native leaders. 

Pulling back we see people gathering in the small city for Memorial Day. The local gas stations and bait shops have run out of minnows and leaches. Hmong folk come from distant Minneapolis to fish the clear, fresh waters. They mingle with Natives, Latinos, Africans and Caucasians as the tiny conservative town becomes a cultural Mecca for the weekend. To see progress happen in real time you can observe a town like Devils Lake. The diversity seems to change overnight. The locals are annoyed but appreciate the shared pastime. People are accepting of each other. The small town is as peaceful as any in the United States. 

A place like the Twin Cities is a larger, permanent version of Devils Lake on Memorial Day. However, in a large city the infighting and misunderstanding festers with time. The shared common bonds are fleeting on a longer timeline. Still, glancing at Devils Lake you can see the diversity blossoming over time. You can clearly see the Hmong people traveling from China into the Mountains of Laos. Their tragic exodus, the horrors of Vietnam, a vast migration overseas and then the racial intolerance of urban living. Here on the lake there is a sense of peace. The Natives had a similar journey. The beauty of culture destroyed by settlers, indoctrination and restraint on reservations, forced progress and futile attempts at preserving tradition. The Latino fisherman are saving money on food by catching their own and sending excess funds to their relatives back home who are still ensnared in the drugs war. I sit in a Japanese sports utility vehicle and observe them peacefully fishing on the lake, the wind of the plains of central North Dakota lapping the rocks of the dyke. The waters of the growing lake rising create a strange irony for the Caucasian locals. The peace of the lake, the solace of the Hmong, the nobility of the Natives, the bravery of the Latinos, the quietness of the Africans, creeping back into American culture and encroaching the town. 

When the Native genocide reset the American population the cultures warned that we would destroy the earth. The suffering still lies dormant below the racial insecurities of the seasonal influx in fisherman, yet there are still signs of hope. A friendly hello from person to person, mixed race children enjoying time together in a playground near the beach, shared small talk amongst the fisherman over beer at a local tavern. If only change like this was always seasonal. If only all cultures were still migrant, enjoying each other for a small time as they move with the seasons, with the herds or slowly through time. Each culture coming to fruition and eventually making their way to a place like Devils Lake, if only for an extended weekend. They all appreciate their trials and tribulations in a place like this. They observe their sacrifices and recognize those of others. 

Each culture will eventually lose itself in the ever growing body of enlightenment, in the ever expanding sea of stars. The wellspring appears in small towns such as this. The resistance to change creates the friction and burning that inspires light and beauty. Fire burns the edges of cultural identity until understanding is expounded and the edges fuse together, creating ambiguity over generations. There is no reason to be upset or afraid. What upsets you will be understood by your children. What they fear will be known by theirs. The wellspring encourages the lake. The city builds dykes to protect the settlement and more beings are sustained by the expanding bounty. The water encourages them to become one.

To me Devils Lake is like the hypothetical black hole at the center of the universe. Threatening, ever expanding, inevitable but also feeding us the peacefulness of nothing. The lake is the endless circle, the cycle of life and the root of zen. If heaven exists it never left the beginning of time. We must return to the beginning because what lies at the end is God’s greatest creation, something that can never exist in heaven, the idea of emptiness and life without the creator. It reminds us of how beautiful heaven truly is as we commune with nature, his constant partner. The universal mother sustains us here in her peaceful insecurity and we are forever called home by our father. Her reluctance is afraid we will never forgive him for sending us here. I am reluctant to tell her that I am one of the crazy ones who wishes to spend eternity with her, comforting her in her agony and fear. Suffering for others as she whispers her neutral, profound nothings to me.

I stand at the edge of the lake as the wind whips over the plains of upper North Dakota. It moves the grasses, the clouds, the weather, the seasons, the earth, the solar system and the cosmos. The breath of God is felt here. As I breathe in the crisp lake air I add my own to his. I see the entirety of human culture and civilization. Minneapolis breathes as well.

I feel peace. 

Friday May 26th, 2023

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