And then the Ottertail Crew sailed west to the great land of North Dakota

By: Maureen Hanlon

Alright, not quite sailed. Drove for hours with many stops for restrooms and refreshments would be more accurate, but sailing is both more romantic and more true to our general spirit of adventure.  There were marvelous sea…er, lake…monsters, and long vistas of unending waves stretching to the horizon. But most especially, there were storms. Storms that poured upon the seas and shook our wayward crew on our beautiful voyage in the Dakotas.

 On any given morning, if there are clouds in the sky or rain in the forecast, I’ll probably make some general announcement about rain and warm layers, and we’ll be on our way. As you may have noticed, weather doesn’t much get in the way of our work in the Corps. On the morning in question, it was fairly clear, and we didn’t have much inkling of weather, our internet being scanty and ill-used. We simply set out for the nearby fencing project with the tired bodies and pleased hearts that accompany a crew on its eleventh day out on a twelve day spike.

 Our tools were laid out, and we unspooled the wire…and then we looked up. My thanks to Will Shippen, crew member extraordinaire, for taking this picture in the middle of what was a rapid and, might I say, highly effective cleanup procedure. We batten down the hatches in a hurry when we need to. (That is, we head for the visitor center, pronto.)

 I was born and raised in the Northeast, where a summer thunderstorm is a mildly amusing reason to get out of the pool for a few minutes and watch from the porch. In North Dakota, I discovered, a storm sneaks up on you in minutes. The wind is unbelievable and the rain- the rain! And then the lightning in all directions, because of course as far as the eye can see means a lot more in North Dakota than Connecticut. It is soul-shaking and awe inspiring, and it gives you reason to love a prairie in action. The grass action, the cattle action, and most of all, your own action.

 As it turned out, our own actions were far less enthralling once we’d made it to safety. A long morning of dusting and mopping was in store for us as the storm raged itself out of our area. We did eventually finish the fence, but the prairie looked different in the sunlight than we remembered it. We know now: a sunny day is a day to appreciate in that part of the country.

 And the Ottertail crew sailed home once more, safe from the storm and with an eye toward their next adventure!