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May 31, 2007 | 1 Comment

Hello Garrison—
My family is going on the PHC cruise around Norway's fjords in July. What a scenic place and maybe the most scenic spot on our withering planet. So why would so many Norwegians break away and trek to the barren prairie of North Dakota and Minnesota when they had so much going for them over there?

It's only a few weeks before the cruise. And if it's half as good as the last one to Alaska, the misses and I will feel we got our money's worth.

Ron B.
Grand Junction, CO

A good question, Ron B., and I suppose the answer is: bitter poverty and hunger. You can't eat rocks. The mountains and fjords with 3000-foot sheer cliffs are glorious to look at, but generations of young Norwegians grew up there with no good prospects for a decent life, shackled to a rigid class system that was backed up by the church, and so they lit out for America. They were glad to go. They suffered terrible loneliness and culture shock, especially when they hit those treeless prairies, but the Red River Valley that you call "barren" is the richest farmland on God's green earth. It was Canaan, compared to Bergen. They longed for Bergen once they were free of it, and they kept their artifacts, but they made a life on the prairie they could not have made in Norway. Now, of course, Norway is a different country. But in 1880, Fargo looked awfully good to a young Norwegian. They were no fools. But we can discuss this further in July.

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My great-X-5 grandfather Ole came to America in the 1860s, and fortunately for his descendents' idle curiousity, he faithfully wrote entries in a series of diaries that he kept most of his life. His entries before, during and after his family's voyage to the new land were interesting in what they included, and what they did not include. He spoke much of his daily work in a variety of jobs: making charcoal, tanning hides, some itinerant teaching and preaching, and pretty much anything else that a hard-working God-fearing man could do. He never complained about poverty, lack of work, no prospects, etc. (go figure!) But he was determined to get his family moved to another spot. It's telling that he was willing to move to a land in the grip of civil war just to get away from his homeland. One of his sons had to fulfill a military obligation, so Ole, his wife and daughters waited two years to follow the two oldest sons, who set out on their own. Lots of interesting and mundane and poignant stuff. His wife contracted typhus on the voyage and died in quarantine in Canada. He never failed, in +/- 20 more years of his life's entries in that diary in Wisconsin, to mark that day as the worst of his life -- the only complaint he ever recorded.

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