Plains Folk | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Plains Folk

Once a week during Main Street, weekdays at 3 pm CT with a repeat at 7 pm CT.
  • Hosted by Prairie Public

Plains Folk is a commentary devoted to life on the great plains of North Dakota. Written by Tom Isern of West Fargo, North Dakota, and read in newspapers across the region for years, Plains Folk venerates fall suppers and barn dances and reminds us that "more important to our thoughts than lines on a map are the essential characteristics of the region — the things that tell what the plains are, not just where they are." 

Ways to Connect

Soothing Chamomile

Jun 22, 2019

On a still summer evening, my retriever has her nose pressed against the screen door. Just outside, on the patio, a dehydrator is desiccating a load of chamomile blossoms. The aroma must be intoxicating to a sensitive nose.

Come the deep winter, I will make a Coleman press thermos of tea from the dried blossoms and bring it to the desk where I am writing now, using the soothing tea to settle me in for an evening’s work. And the History Dog will follow me there, too, also enjoying the aroma.


May 11, 2019

If you’re like me, you’ve already filled up your calendar with events and expeditions for the summer. Make room for one more: 2pm Sunday afternoon, June 9, Rebecca Bender will booktalk her recent work, Still, at the Wild Rose Bar & Cafe, Ashley.

Why not make it a day in McIntosh County, on the eastern front of German-Russian Country? There will be time before or after the booktalk to make pilgrimage to the Ashley Jewish Homesteaders Cemetery, just north of town, where you can connect with the pioneering folk who are the subject of Rebecca’s book.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about northern pike. Other people in spring are thinking about walleye. Walleye, I like to say, is fish for people who don’t like fish. And they are wimpy fish, too, so there.

With ice breakup our state fish in on the prowl, hungry, and so am I. Get yourself in the right place, and you can catch pike on almost anything you tie on. Some people use hotdogs for bait. My usual recourse is to that classic offering known as the Daredevil, a traditional red-and-white spoon.

Here are a couple of things that seem far apart, but in my mind, there is a connection.

We are recently returned from a research expedition to the high dry interior of New Zealand, where we spent time with people who have established a world-class wine industry in former sheep paddocks. Marketing is crucial to them, marketing not only their vintage but also the land in which it is made.

Heart of Dakota

Mar 23, 2019

The Missouri River never had a Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, to pilot its historic steamboats into the literary canon. Steamboating on the Great Plains in general has been shortchanged by regional historians, beginning with the great one, Walter Prescott Webb, in 1931. This was because Webb was from Texas, and steamboats were not significant drivers of white settlement on the southern plains.

The Shame of Noah

Mar 16, 2019

The name Bertha Rachael Palmer has an ambiguous resonance in our history on the northern plains. I have written in admiration of her 1928 book, Beauty Spots in North Dakota, indeed, have offered metaphorically to carry her bags for a tour of the Flickertail State. On the other hand, Bertha Rachael Palmer represents some ideas and habits that make many of us today uncomfortable.

Fires of Hope

Mar 9, 2019

This is not an attempt to rekindle an old controversy, but in my opinion, our state’s flagship university missed an opportunity when a few years ago it selected a new nickname for its sports teams. It seems to me the selection process was crippled by lingering commitment to the previous, objectionable nickname. The result was “Fighting Hawks,” which is getting some traction, but is, well, uninspired.

About the time you hear this essay, Suzzanne and I will be jetting to New Zealand once again. We have scheduled our spring break in the Hocken Library, at the University of Otago, the southernmost university in the world. From there we will range into the field, the grassy basins of Central Otago, for fieldwork in regional history.

This itinerary puts into practice the advice I give my History students at NDSU: first, butts in the archives; and then, boots on the ground. Go get the history where it is.

A Book-Hungry Land

Feb 23, 2019

The words you hear are composed in an exceedingly literary environment. An entire floor of our split-level house is devoted to office and library, as I am a writer and my wife is a publisher. She is always overhauling someone’s manuscript, and I am always composing one. Sometimes she gets a crack at one I have composed, but that is another story for another day.

Today’s story has to do with bookish environments and what scholars have come to call “print culture.” Here we are with our books in progress and a jillion books shelved or spread all around us, our desks catty-corner distant from one another, the dogs going back and forth but mostly patronizing the fireplace in the middle.

The Duck Stamp Guy

Feb 9, 2019

Waterfowl hunters, check your wallet, and you will see that this year’s duck stamp - now known as a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, but who calls it that, anyway? - this year’s duck stamp features a pair of mallards. It is a return to the roots of the program. The first federal duck stamp, issued in 1934, also bore the likeness of a mallard pair.