Here's a summary of last week's news in North Dakota: Two big surprises and two big risks. Surprise No. 1: Kevin Cramer decided to give up a safe seat and more clout in the U.S. House of Representatives to run for the Senate. He made that announcement late Friday, by which time it wasn't much of a surprise. But it's still a risk, and not just for Cramer.
Back in December, I appointed the common redpoll as a symbol of Christmas. It could serve as well for Valentine's Day. The redpoll is a northern bird, and I used its occurrence around the Northern Hemisphere to qualify it as a Christmas bird. A second qualification, I suggested, was the red in the birds' plumage. Redpolls have a blood-red spot on their foreheads, the so-called poll, and often they display varying shades of pink and red on their breasts.
Appearances are important in politics, but not everything. Access is important, too. These two came into conflict at this year's Super Bowl. Gov. Doug Burgum accepted an invitation to watch the game with Xcel Energy executives in the company's suite.
Birding is a little like fishing; sometimes, the big ones get away. That's what happened to the January bluebirds. An eastern bluebird is a rare bird in winter in Grand Forks County. Last month's sighting lit up the local birding world and drew me into the cold and wind. Alas! I missed the bird.
These days the news moves so quickly that a weekly column can't keep up, so today's column is a mash-up of references meant to call attention to a number of intriguing items. To start, the Republican Party's search for a strong candidate to oppose U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp appears to have foundered. True enough, Gary Emineth, the former party chair, said he is in, but his announcement came with a whiff of resignation from Republicans. Earlier four highly touted candidates turned down the opportunity to run.
Lately, while reading about the Vikings and the Saxons, I encountered the tale of the raven banner, a flag that foretold the outcome of battles. If the flag remained outstretched, showing the raven, the Vikings would win; if the flag were limp, they would lose. By uncanny coincidence, as I read, I heard a raven call. This is a unique noise, not likely to be confused with any other bird call. I glanced out the window, and a raven flew by. For a moment, I imagined the bird glanced through the window.
In the political calendar, this is the time for thoughtful planning. Late winter is the season during which candidates are chosen, thus framing the choices that will be presented at election time. It's a little bit like farming. Choosing candidates is spring work; election is the harvest. In North Dakota, spring work has begun. It will continue through April 9, the deadline for filing for elections this year.
Like last week's bird, the northern shrike, the great gray owl is circumpolar. As much in Eurasia as in North America, this owl is an icon of the North. Like the shrike, the great gray owl is occasionally common as far south as this. In irruption years, the owls can be abundant — though the Red River Valley is often left out of these events. The great gray owl is a bird of woodlands, and the valley has few to offer the owls.
After several days of thinking about Doug Burgum, talking about Doug Burgum, listening to Doug Burgum, talking with Doug Burgum and watching the launch of his latest policy initiative, I believe I'm starting to figure him out.
The northern shrike is a well-named bird. Its breeding range in North America runs from the Bering Sea coast of Alaska to Labrador but extends no farther south than the Manitoba coast of Hudson Bay. In Eurasia, the shrike nests from Lapland across Siberia to Russia's East Cape. You can see Alaska from there. These are far northern places.