The Apple Tree | March 9, 2022

Last week, the New York Post put up a graphic that identified North Dakota as “the best state at solving Wordle.”  I’m not sure my participation is helping those numbers, but I absolutely love Wordle because I love WORDS.  I’m sure you’re thinking, “Oh man you are so deep I hope they have a Nobel Prize for deepness because you would win it” – but listen, some people like sports and other people like collecting decorative spoons and I like words.  

I like the look of words; such as how “murmur” is flat and unassuming but is filled with lines that roll up and down.  I like the sound of words; “truth,” for example, is spoken in a short staccato at the front of your mouth, while “lies” slides slowly from the back.  I like how words can be broken apart and pieced back together to make new words, such as how “icicle” and “dream” make up “dreamsicle” and all of those things are different but can be married into the same family and therefore related. 

(That feeling you’re experiencing right now is what happens when your entire body does a massive eyeroll.)

Words need to be used, so I take them out for a spin through writing exercises.  There are roughly an infinite number of ways to do a writing exercise, but my preference is to pick out a single word and see what story it wants to tell.  So, I play Wordle because it’s supplying me with an endless stream of possible words for writin’.  Here’s a poor example of Wordle performance, but good example of finding some great words:


I feel like I could spend two weeks on those five words alone.  “’I’ll write myself a note so I don’t forget,’ she said; both of them knowing full well she wouldn’t.”  “The pride paused momentarily behind the blue line.  With a tap of the goalie stick, they emerged; moving as one on a hunt for the net.”  (Meh, that one is pretty terrible.)  I mean, BRINE alone is worth the day.  “He packed the cooler tight with his personal brine of Coors Light, beef jerky, and clementines, and loaded up the fishing boat for a long, slow pickling in the summer sun.”

Anyways, I recently used the word APPLE and thought I’d share the story with you.  Please don’t tell me if you think it sucks.



Try as he might to convince everyone otherwise, Ronald Moen sure did love his apple trees.  In fact, he loved them so much that Jerry figured he’d better mention it, just so there wasn’t any trouble.

“Oh, yeah, they’re real delicious,” Jerry said, using his watering can to gesture to the Moen’s front steps – which, because it was now August, was decorated in an acre’s worth of handpainted wooden sunflowers.  “Ron and Melba keep a basket of them on the porch for anyone who wants some.  They’ll give you a whole bagful if you ask…you know, so…”  The egg salad sandwich he had for lunch flipped in Jerry’s stomach at the thought of being unneighborly to these nice young folks.  “You don’t need to worry about those trees.  If a branch or the cherries are bothering you, you tell Ron and he’ll take care of it, to be sure,” he nodded.  “You don’t need to worry about those trees.”

Mark – who had the same baby face of all the other Tollefsrud boys; Jerry’d have to rib Bob Tollefsrud a bit about it the next time they were at the VFW – grinned.  “As soon as I saw those apple trees, I knew we were going to buy the house.  I had apple trees in my backyard growing up, too.”

“Oh, yeah?”  Same look of mischief, too; whole family of scamps.  Jerry wiped a leather-tanned hand over his forehead.  “Well, like I said, Ron and Melba keep a basket on the porch, so…”

It was at that moment that the Moen’s garage door opened and Ron came lumbering out.

“’Lo!” he bellowed, sucking in his Santa Claus belly so he could slide a small axe into the waistband of his toolbelt.  “Ronald Moen, how you be.”

They exchanged the usual introductions – who knew whose cousins, how it sure was a hot time to move but winter was right around the corner so no complaining allowed, if Mark’s kids and Ron’s grandkids were excited about school, that sort of thing – and then Mark said,

“I was telling Jerry here how much I like your apple trees.  I’m going to go get one of my own this afternoon.”

“You’re gonna need more than one so they can fertilize each other,” Ron boomed.  Across the street, Jerry’s old, nearly-deaf dog lifted his head because Ron’s voice could awaken the dead.  “My mother-in-law gave us them two as a housewarming gift.  Gave us saplings because she loves finding work for me to do.  Yep, they are a lot of work.  A lot a-dang work.”

“I don’t –” Mark started.

“They get real buggy, you know.  Plus, we didn’t have a fence when we were first married and the deer were always after ‘em.  A lot of work.  You hunt, don’t ya?”


“Me, too.  I had to miss the goose opener a while back because them apples were dropping like a rainstorm.  We donated thirty pounds to the food bank that weekend.  It was in the paper.”

“I think my aunt said something about that.”

“Who’s your aunt, Glennie?  Yeah, she makes a pretty good apple pie.  Melba does, too.  She said she brought one over to your wife last night.”  He rubbed his belly.  “That’s why I keep those dang trees, so she can make apple pie.  Lotta work.  You should get yourself a couple of maples instead.  Real easy, and they have that nice bright color.  That’s a maple right there.  Couldn’t get one in the back, though, because I didn’t want to shade them apple trees too much.”

“Maples are nice,” Mark said.  “I’ll see what my wife wants to do after I get that apple planted.”

“Two trees,” Ronald said, and Jerry’s dog barked.  “You need two to produce fruit.”

“Yours are close enough,” Mark kept on grinning.

Jerry’s egg salad sandwich turned over again.

“My what now?” Ron said, after a pause.

“Your apple trees,” Mark said.  “I don’t need two trees, because yours will fertilize mine.  They need to be closer than fifty feet, and the one is right on the edge of the fence.”

Ronald put one hand on his belly, and the other on the head of the axe.  “Well, they need to bloom at the same time.”  His voice no longer rumbling over the sunny sidewalks.

“Oh, that’s no big deal,” Mark said.  “The Garden Center has some young apple trees that’ll fit the bill.”

“The Garden Center,” Ron murmured.

“Yessir.  I’d love to have you guys over for a beer later this week.  Maybe you can give me some pointers on how to take care of it.”

“Will do,” Jerry said.  Ronald rubbed his belly.

“Speaking of the Garden Center, I’d better get after it,” Mark said.  “Great to meet you guys.  We’re really happy to be here.”

Jerry nodded and Ron nodded and Mark nodded and Jerry’s dog went back to sleep.

Ronald didn’t see Mark plant the apple tree, but Jerry did.  Jerry saw everything from the rocking bench on his front porch.  He watched Mark return with the young apple tree, the top wrapped loosely in the striped bag of the Garden Center.  He watched Ron help Melba into their own vehicle, his voice echoing across the block about his desire to surprise her with a supper out.  They returned during the few minutes Jerry’s wife convinced him to spend inside eating his own supper.

Ron was out in the garage when Jerry returned to the porch.  Jerry waved a beer in his direction, and Ronald crossed the street and settled himself onto the top step.

“New neighbors,” Jerry said.

Ron took a drink.  “S’pose we need them so we don’t have to keep looking at each other’s old mugs.”

“Funny thing about the apple tree.”

Ron snorted.  “Lotta work.”

They sat together for a long while, until the only lights in the neighborhood belonged to the street and the two of them.

“Well,” Ron said, hitting his knee, “’Bout that time.”

Jerry went inside but he didn’t go upstairs.  Instead, he stood by the window.  Across the street, Ron closed the garage door.

Jerry’s dog sensed movement first, and Jerry squinted, trying to make sense of the dark.  Finally, Ronald’s belly took a shape of its own.  It stretched and shifted until it became a man lugging a large package wrapped in striped plastic over to the Tollefsrud’s front steps.  Ron set the tree – a second tree, identical to the one Mark had planted earlier that evening – by the door, and adjusted the ribbon Melba had tied to the front.  Next to the tree he set a grocery bag filled with apples.

Jerry nodded, and headed off to bed.

The photo above was taken at an apple orchard somewhere in Minnesota (it was two years ago and my memory stinks).  This week’s news has a boatful of water samples and a lead dog.  Read on.

One of the lovely readers of North Dakota Nice was a member of the organizing group who put together “Voices for Ukraine” – an event in Grand Forks where community members were able to talk about their experiences and connections in Ukraine. (KNOX Radio)

Grand Forks’ Madison Eklund is taking a four-month sabbatical from her job as a postal worker in order to embark on a solo – she is one of less than 10 people to take this trip, and the first to do it alone – 1,600-mile canoe trip from St. Paul to the York Factory in Canada…and she’ll be collecting water samples along the way for the state of North Dakota. (Grand Forks Herald)

This article is a brief look at the North Dakotans who were deemed worthy of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” – including a man who bagged a fox with a treasure trove of money, and the World Champion Miniature Writer. (Fargo Forum)

North Dakota’s mobile food pantry is on the move, heading to Center, Hazen, and Beulah next week. (KX Net)

Congratulations to Cavalier’s Eva Robinson, who took 14th place in the Jr. Iditarod sled dog race – and to her lead dog, Frost, for receiving the Blue Harness Award! (Grand Forks Herald)

Nice news of the week – March 12, 2020

Congratulations to Valley City’s Nicholas Lee, who was presented with a Diamond Coach Award by the National Speech & Debate Association for his work with the students at Valley City High School!  Did you know:

  • Richard Gullickson of Center is one of the longest-surviving heart transplant patients alive today?  He turned 83 in February, and has had his “new” heart for 29 years.
  • A Hillsboro cow gave birth to quadruplets in February?  The odds are 1 in 11.2 million of that happening.
  • North Dakota high schoolers came out on top in a Battle of the Border High School Rodeo against their fellow Minnesota riders?
  • Meredith Sorensen of Harwood is at the end of her cancer fight, and so her friends are trying to raise money to bring her home?  She is currently in Maryland, where she had been seeking treatment.  You can find the donation link in this week’s news.

And speaking of the news, there are all sorts of great stories about law students, time capsules, tractor pulls, and more.  Read on.


Minot’s Kristen Dionne organized a meal train to feed the people at the Men’s Winter Refuge of Minot, and dozens of people signed up to help. (Minot Daily News)

Merideth Sorensen’s friends and family are raising money so that she can end her cancer fight at home.  You can donate here and here. (Fargo Forum)

The Wahpeton community is rallying around a five-year-old boy with a mysterious illness. (Wahpeton Daily News)

Williston’s Kenyon France is turning his family tragedy into a legacy of love through music. (KFYR TV)

My favorite part of this, besides the fundraiser, is that it’s called a shindig. (Dickinson Press)

Since 2017, North Dakota law students have been working to overturn wrongful convictions. (Grand Forks Herald)

What a great service: the Watford City School District has a bilingual family liaison to help Spanish-speaking parents get their kids educated. (Bismarck Tribune)

One of my co-workers donated bone marrow and gave a very convincing presentation as to why it’s important for everyone to swab their cheeks.  I don’t know if he also spoke to the NDSU Love Your Melon Campus Crew, but they decided to set up their own swab drive to help people with blood cancer. (KVRR)

I have worked in architecture for 20 years, and in that time I bet we’ve only placed two or three time capsules in new buildings – which is why it’s so cool that the cornerstone for the Good Samaritan Hospital contained a time capsule from 1929. (Williston Herald)

Here is the story of Richard Gullickson and his amazing heart. (Bismarck Tribune)

The Dickinson Police Department is using UAVs to reconstruction crashes, locate suspects during patrol, and find secondary fires. (Dickinson Press)

My husband is a hockey agent so I’m very biased about this – but so much as I’ve seen first-hand, hockey players are (generally speaking) the nicest people. (Grand Forks Herald)

Logan Sprunk’s step-son and daughter are the fourth generation of his family to compete in the Valley City tractor pull. (News Dakota)

Story of the Week: You know my feelings on North Dakota and Arizona.  And I’m not alone – turns out every year, hundreds of North Dakotans gather in Mesa for a picnic. (North Dakota Nice) (AZ Central)

Nice news of the week – February 13, 2020

Congratulations to Center’s Andy Riehl, who won $27,750 on Wheel of Fortune!  Did you know:

  • Bowman’s Chad Welch, bowled a perfect game on January 29?
  • North Dakota has five U.S. Presidential Scholars nominees in Career and Technical Education, including Rachel Craig, Aiden Fire, Gary Wu, and Katherine Liberman, all of Grand Forks?
  • The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame is celebrating its 25th anniversary?
  • Every blood donation helps three people on average?  Good thing for communities like McClusky, which has donated 953 units since 2003 to potentially save 2,859 lives!
  • Saturday, February 15 is Winterfest at Cross Ranch State Park?  The day includes soup and s’mores, crafts, snow painting, a water balloon range, sled rides, and a snowshoe obstacle course.

And did you know this week’s news is about a Saturday Night outfit, rural grocery stores, and Miss Amazing?  Read on.


Whew – doing polar plunges (or in this case, Polar Pigs) in North Dakota is not for the lighthearted.  Valley City’s Chad Henningsgard has jumped TWICE, and raised $4,500 for Home Health & Hospice. (Valley City Times-Record)

I recently read a story about a 6-year-old girl who was in the ICU with pneumonia over Christmas.  She had gone into the hospital the week before, and was worried that she’d miss Christmas at home if she stayed.  So, her family just pretended like the “real” Christmas didn’t happen, and when she got out of the hospital a week or so later, they told her it was Christmas Eve and celebrated as if it was December 24.  Now she’s 13, and she still talks about the “Christmas miracle” that occurred that let her come home just in time for Christmas (and her family has never told her the truth).  I can’t think of a scenario where it’s better to miss a holiday than to hold off a holiday for love – like the Nienas family of Fargo, who waited until February to celebrate Christmas so their son could come home from deployment. (Fargo Forum)

An anonymous donor gave $120,000 to fund refrigerated food lockers and a distribution truck to help rural grocery stores. (KX Net)

Jessica Just sells vintage clothes out of her Mandan basement to TV shows like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Astronaut Wives Club,” and now, “Saturday Night Live.”(Bismarck Tribune)

Grand Forks’ Kayla Robison will once again cook it out on “Guy’s Grocery Games” on the Food Channel. (Grand Forks Herald)

The Bismarck Library Foundation asked the community for $150,000 for a new bookmobile, and donors far exceeded that. (Bismarck Tribune)

Customers at Hornbacher’s in Fargo and West Fargo donated $80,000 in December to the Great Plains Food Bank. (KVRR)

What a COOL idea for a craft program: Fort Stevenson State Park taught people how to weave Ojibwa snow shoes. (McLean Independent)

North Dakota is spending the next three years improving stroke systems across the state, especially in rural communities. (KFYR TV)

The Jamestown High School Library has received a grant to bring in more books by North Dakota authors, and more graphic novels.  Awesome. (Jamestown Sun)

North Dakota is now home to a new “pageant-like event” thanks to Miss North Dakota USA Sam Redding: North Dakota Miss Amazing, for girls and women with disabilities.  The participants will show off their skills in a one-on-one interview, a passion performance, and an evening gown walk. (KX Net)

Fargo’s Tim Flakoll is building a library at the Cass County Jail. (Grand Forks Herald)

An update on the bikers behind the Not So Heavenly Bodies Calendar out of Bismarck – they raised $16,500 to help Heavens Helpers Soup Kitchen buy a van. (KX Net)

The community of Bowman came out for soup and sandwiches and to help 4-year-old Olivia Frie. (Bowman Extra)

Story of the Week: My grandmother put a high value on good manners – she used to say that my sister and I needed to be ready to go to Buckingham Palace at a moments’ notice. 🙂  I think she’d be thrilled to see students at Dickinson participate in “Manners Luncheons” to put their best behaviors forward. (Dickinson Press)