Some years ago, my wife and I slipped across the Continental Divide and found ourselves in a strange land where the inhabitants use an unfamiliar dialect and the rivers run backward. That is, we spent 48 hours in Fargo, North Dakota.     
    Neither of us had ever set foot in the Peace Garden State. I do not know why; maybe it was due to that whole “north” thing with its implications of iciness and desolation.
    There once was a time when North Dakota had kicked around the idea of dropping the “north” part of its name in the hopes of giving the state a warmer public image. As a lifelong South Dakotan, I was affronted. Imagine how you would feel if your twin said to you one day, “It’s been fun sharing a birthday and all that, but I think it’s time for me to change my name and move on.”
    Wouldn’t you feel slighted? Wouldn’t you want to start calling him Beet Breath?     
    During our short sojourn in Fargo, my wife and I learned several things. For example, you know you are in North Dakota when:     
    – North Dakota is pronounced as one word as in, “Is this your first trip to Nordakota?” The correct way to respond to that or any other question which requires an affirmative answer is, “Yah, sure, you betcha.”     
    – The predominant signs in parking lots do not say such things as “one way” or “no overnight parking.” The most popular North Dakota parking lot signs read, “dumping of snow is prohibited.”     
    – A standup comedian tells a joke poking fun at sugar beets and no one – not a single soul in a roomful of semi-inebriated North Dakotans – laughs.     
    But there is more to North Dakota than beets and wheat and the northward flowing Red River with its flat-as-a-pool-table valley. There is also Moorhead, Minnesota.     
    Moorhead lies just across the Red River from Fargo and is Fargo’s twin sister. Moorhead is also where we found the Hjemkomst.     
    The Hjemkomst is a full-sized, true-to-life replica of a Viking longship. The dragon-headed vessel was the brainchild of Robert Asp, a Moorhead junior high school counselor and a descendant of Norwegian immigrants.     
    Asp thought it would be fun to build what is essentially an 1,100-year-old Viking ship and sail it to Norway, essentially reversing the path of his ancestors. This meant he was doing things backward and the hard way, which, I must proudly note, is the hallmark of being a true Norwegian.     
    The Hjemkomst was built in Hawley, Minnesota, in an abandoned potato warehouse. Aside from the obvious connection of potatoes with lefse, the rent was also right at a thrifty 10 bucks per year.     
    Once the Viking longship was completed, the 76-foot, 20-ton wooden behemoth was trucked to Lake Superior. Asp succumbed to leukemia shortly afterward, so he was unable to be physically present when the Hjemkomst lived up to the meaning of her name, “homecoming,” when she sailed into Norway’s Bergen harbor the summer after she was finished. There can be no doubt that Asp was with her in spirit.     
    Another treat was the nearby Stavkirke, or Stave Church. A replica of a church in Vik, Norway, that was built about the year 1100, the Stave Church sports both crosses and dragon heads on its gables. The original church was erected at a time when Norway was just becoming Christianized; my Norse ancestors were obviously reluctant to give up all of their heathenism all at once.      
    We noted a couple of nifty features of the Stave Church. One is the ambulatory, an open hallway that girdles the church. This area was used as a marketplace on weekdays, meaning we Norwegians pioneered the concept of the shopping mall.     
    Another novel facet of the Stave Church is a small door in the wall of the altar area. This opening made it possible for the minister to give communion to folks who were lepers and thus obliged to remain out in the ambulatory. This is yet another innovation as it is an obvious forerunner to our modern drive-thru.     
    We enjoyed many other exciting features of North Dakota including the town of Casselton, which at the time was home to The Famous Pile of Tin Cans. Casselton also had a winery where we purchased wine jelly. You have to hand it to those North Dakotans for figuring out a way to sneak a snort with their morning muffins.     
    At the end of the weekend, we pointed our car southward and headed home. We were pushed along by a north wind which, for once, did not seem icy and desolate. Neither did North Dakota.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.