Tim Murphy died two weeks ago. This should have been bigger news than it turned out to be. Murphy, a poet, was perhaps the best known literary figure living in North Dakota.
The upland sandpiper was "bird of the week" one year ago this month, and this column described the bird's qualifications. These included a bit of trivia, that this is the only species whose common English name begins with the letter "U." Other better attributes were cited, including birder Dave Lambeth's assessment of the bird's occurrence in our area. "Seems to be very local," the dean of area birders said.
This column is about tariffs. Wait! Don't stop reading yet. There's something interesting at the end. Tariffs have been a recurring issue in North Dakota, and they are one factor in the "position of economic disadvantage" that historian Elwyn Robinson identified as one of the themes in the state's history. That was 60 years ago, nearly half of the state's history. Today's headlines reinforce Robinson's insight.
If there were to be a contest to throw one bird species off the planet, the common grackle would likely be a nominee. The grackle has a reputation as an avian thug. "The bully of the bird world," it is sometimes called. Even the serious literature promotes this image. Princeton University's "New World Blackbirds" ascribes to it "a raptor-like expression." In his "ID GUIDE" Richard Crossley says the grackle has a "bad boy look."
If your bird watching is limited to your backyard, you probably haven't encountered a western grebe, unless there's a good-sized lake in your backyard. On the other hand, if you fish the big lakes anywhere west of Grand Forks, you've probably seen western grebes even if you didn't know what you were looking at. Grebes are birds of big water, not really deep water but extensive areas of water with plants growing above the surface, what biologists call "emergent vegetation."
U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is in a hard place after her election opponent, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, engineered a double whammy switcheroo. Ten days ago Cramer said, "We all like Heidi," and "I approved this message." Last week he launched a television spot including unflattering video of Heitkamp along with attacks on her values. He knew this attack was coming; at its close, he said, "I approved this message" and smirked at the camera.
If you follow developments in higher education, you'll want to mark June 28 on your calendar. That's Thursday next week, nine days away. The Board of Higher Education meets that day at Bismarck State College. The agenda hadn't been set when I checked with the university system office late last week, but the UND president's contract, plus several others, are set for review.
An adage, my dictionary says, is a short statement expressing a general truth, and here is an example a grade school teacher taught me: If you don't like the weather in North Dakota, wait a minute. Last week's weather proved the point, and it occurred to me that this adage could apply to politics as well. A month ago Republicans were confident of a clean sweep on the North Dakota ballot in November, but contrary winds have begun to blow.
Only half of the yellow-bellied sapsucker's name is appropriate—the sapsucker half. The other half is not descriptive; whatever yellow might occur on the bird's belly is obscure and not helpful in identifying the species, though it does play a small role in separating it from its close relatives, the red-naped and red-bellied sapsuckers, whose names are equally unhelpful as aids in identification. Physical characteristics aren't a factor in the name of the fourth North American sapsucker species, Williamson's.
Tom Clifford would be approaching 100 years of age if he were still with us. Clifford was born in 1921 and died on Feb. 4, 2009, just six weeks short of his 88th birthday. The Herald's obituary called him "a dominating presence at UND for a half century." Clifford was UND's president for 21 years, from 1971 to 1992. His influence continues today. Clifford's presidency is recalled with nostalgia and every successor — five of them — has been judged by the Clifford standard.