Live in the same place long enough and drive the same road often enough, and you'll learn to recognize what's there and what's missing, to anticipate what should be there, and even to imagine what could be there in the event of luck. So, I was surprised by the kestrel that popped out of a shelterbelt along County Road 33 on Monday morning. Perhaps you remember Monday morning, an unusually damp and dreary day for early October, when we expect bright blue weather. That made the kestrel especially welcome.
Who wins the U.S. Senate race isn't the only question of consequence that North Dakotans will decide in the election to be held four weeks from today. Marijuana is another. Of these two, the vote on recreational marijuana may have wider repercussions. North Dakota would be the 10th state to legalize marijuana use, and far and away the most conservative to do so. Legal marijuana here would speed the movement nationwide.
Last week brought two big events to my backyard: a killing frost and an influx of finches. The second was more welcome than the first. The word "finches" is used broadly here to mean small-bodied, big-billed, seed-eating birds. The everyday, catch-all word is "sparrows." This is not technically accurate; the finches and sparrows are closely related families, but separate families nonetheless. Each is a big family, and they often hang out together, so it's probably inevitable that they are labeled with the same word, finches or sparrows, whichever one chooses.
The other day I pretended to be the "oracle of the ages," telling a UND class that I've never seen more divisive politics but I have seen worse weather. Age gave me confidence; I'm half a century older than most of the students, and my proclamation came just as my weather app predicted killing frost and my news feed reported that Sen. Jeff Flake had negotiated a delay in the lifetime appointment of a U.S. Supreme Court judge.
Fall color and Minnesota are pretty much synonymous in our area, and it's true that the lakes and woodlands present a magnificent display. But the woods don't have a monopoly on color. Though perhaps not so grand as the woodlands, the open prairies offer a display of color, too, albeit a more subtle one.
One of the big unknowns in this year's U.S. Senate race in North Dakota appears to have been removed — by the candidate herself. Heidi Heitkamp has boxed herself in. Based on her campaign, she has to vote against the confirmation of President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. If she votes yes, she risks losing Democratic voters and thus the election.
Conventional wisdom says that Kevin Cramer leads Heidi Heitkamp in the U.S. Senate race in North Dakota. That might be right, based on the fundamentals, but that doesn't mean he's going to win. The U.S. Senate campaign in North Dakota is far from over. The fundamentals are against Heitkamp, including partisan loyalty, voter turnout and previous results. Another of the fundamentals out of the candidates' control might favor Heitkamp. That is timing.
Seeing Lincoln's sparrow shouldn't be a surprise; the species is fairly common in our area during migration. Its field marks are subtle and identification is sometimes tricky. Plus, Lincoln's sparrow doesn't stick around very long. Finding one depends a little bit on luck. It's not a sure bet, in other words.
The man behind one of the initiated measures on North Dakota's November ballot is also a candidate in one of the state's most watched legislative races. The two may be related. Gary Emineth, petitioner and candidate, has a history of political mischief making.
Lest you should think I have become a crank about inaptly named birds, let me present the western kingbird, a species whose range matches nearly exactly the conventional definition of "The West" in North America. So, too, is the kingbird's behavior despotic, as we Americans have assumed a monarch's would be. The kingbird even displays a little crown.