When I was struggling in my first quarter of college in the Red River valley, far away from the wild and rolling prairie of Slope County (I bummed a ride home every single weekend but two), it was Rick who said I might consider transferring to Dickinson State (then) College. In fact, he gave this advice in that book-filled parsonage room. And thus, he changed my destiny. He also connected me with Dr. Carl Larson, who had served as his undergraduate advisor and thus became mine. Just yesterday I received a Christmas letter from the Larsons and it is so good to know that all these years later one can retain connections with such generous and intelligent folks.
Then, as my first academic year was coming to an end, it was Rick who suggested that I should take a summer job as a counselor at Badlands Lutheran Bible Camp, south of Medora, in the Bad Lands of North Dakota and so I did. On occasional weekends, Rick would show up with his guitar and his songs and keep us all laughing.
'Cause folks, Rick is one funny and fearless guy, with, dare I say, a wicked sense of humor. This, on top of an impressive vitae filled with artistic and academic accomplishments. He was a pastor for quite a few years and he has been teaching at Minot State University since 1991. Humanities and communication arts. He has influenced countless people, young and old. He has known my husband for longer than I have, as they were college students together. What stories they tell!
When I was working my way through college at the record store in the Dickinson mall, Rick would stop in to check on me and buy some vinyl. Nowadays, our paths cross at concerts in Bismarck and parties on the Suchy Farm south of Mandan.
All this time he has been writing poetry and songs. His website High Plains Creole is a great place to learn more about him. He pops up on a regular basis doing live music, mostly in Minot, in "classrooms, church basements, and coffeehouses." Rick is married to the lovely Jonelle and has two sons. It was my honor to nominate him for a DSU Alumni Fellow award and to be there when he performed on campus for Heart River Writers' Circle, on campus to accept his award.
In 2004, he was named a North Dakota Associate Poet Laureate. Something in the Mott water, I guess. His social media is endlessly interesting. Buy some of his music and poetry to enjoy for yourself and support a fine ND fellow.
He often gives people nicknames and these characters appear in his poetry. Mine is, for better or worse, "Lil McGill" (inspired, I think and hope, by the Beatles).
Here is a poem he wrote for my 2017 birthday. As usual, Rick gets the last word.
777 Ways to Age in Grace in Spite of...
Lil (Fidel) McGill on her birthday
after the thunder and rain of this early morning
it is easy to see
yesterday was a Sabbath and holy
we drove against the south Wind
all the way to the capitol city of
struggle, our own Lost Colony home
the wind was up
all the way from Africa,
maybe, or Spain,
or Memphis, at least
Her birthday festival went into swing
all the food was Mexican, too,
as if there never had been a wall
tortillas, meats of three kinds,
the greens and the reds and the
lime colored juices
tequila, and wine
red as revolt,
or clear and white--you could see through
the glass to the garden all around
the violets bloomed beneath the trees,
early in May, and the dry air hit 90 degrees
the garden was in; the flowers were coming
the bees acted peacefully, drunk in some joy
music and mystery made
by people, food and whine,
the eternally now of family and friends
we ate and drank to the revolution of the earth
the 3/4 moon was high in the sky
before the sun even thought to go down
we ate and drank to the people's hopes
to the proletariat of education
to the hopes of history, Reformation,
to the lusty spouts of garlic leaves,
the 10,000 future tomatoes
of every shade of red in the sky
the marriage of children
the health of friends
the love of the dead
stories of how and why we survived
of the water up on these northern grounds
that would soon be warm enough to swim
farmers whose land was blowing away
because they could not fallow the hallowed ground
the abandoned house in the middle of a field
so huge it would take all day to walk
a house gone empty, now falling down
after the last time the earth blew away
the wheat and cattle
the wind that we cursed
with a tone only love can make
of guitars, and songs we still need to sing
even though many who need them are dead
and who knows? ...but sing, touch the strings
and then of course,
the birthday song to the girl
made a woman by us,
by her sorrow, by love and drought,
badlands, war and the dreams of holy rain
until the darkness was not a threat
the darkness, the wind
became a song inside our bones
and there we were together: at home
Richard Henry Watson May 8, 2017