Volume 3, Number 3 • August 2005

The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom

By William G. Schwab

You are visiting the Land of Nothing to Do. There’s nothing to see here. I don’t know what you are going to do for three days on your own in northeastern North Dakota. That’s what I heard when I took my 83-year-old mother to visit relatives in Grand Forks, North Dakota. What I found was that this statement was anything but true.

I had never traveled to that part of the United States before. As an easterner from a small, rural Pennsylvania town, the image I had was flat wheat fields that would be followed by flat wheat fields with nothing in between. What I found was that nature was abundant from the marshy fields where ducks nested to the elk seen in the wooded areas near Devil’s Lake.

Two things remain with me. The first is my visit to a small town, named Niagara, with a population of 57. It is along the Old Totten Trail, where the Native Americans and the settlers worked together to create a trail so mail could be brought to all reaches of Montana in the early days of our nation. The town hasn’t forgotten its heritage, and where the dirt roads intersect in the heart of the town near the grain elevator and the railroad tracks, this small town has erected a small museum around its old school house.

Down the road a piece, there was Fort Totten, North Dakota, named after a fort that was built on the site. Constructed as a military post, it became an Indian boarding school, Indian health care facility, and a reservation school. It has 17 buildings open where one can view how our forefathers out west lived.

Why do I mention them? We are all creatures of history and history’s influence on us. These two small towns seemed to have remembered this. Here I was in the Land of Nothing to Do, but I had the time and the opportunity to reflect on our nation and its heritage.

We are a nation of laws, but more so we are a nation of our history. Get away from the big cities into the heartlands, and nearly everyone owns a gun. It’s not to harm or maim another person, but is a vibrant part of daily life. Hunting is a pastime that is passed down from generation to generation. Got a snake or groundhog problem? Shoot it with your shotgun. Perhaps this is why when gun control is proposed, there is a loud outcry from rural America. Guns are viewed differently, because throughout rural America’s history they have been a part of daily life that made living easier. History dictates one’s perspective on this issue.

Similarly, the same is true with politics and the red-blue states. Simplistically, the red states traditionally represent smaller towns and rural areas, where historically neighbor helped neighbor. Government did not function or try to take over the role of what your neighbor just did because he was your neighbor. Government is not needed to interfere with normal life ways. Simply stated, the blue states represent large metropolitan areas where this neighbor-to-neighbor contact is lacking. Government is looked upon as being responsible to fill needs that in rural America your neighbor would meet. Yes, there are exceptions to everything, and this is not a philosophical debate of right or wrong, but rather a simple observation.

Now as we look at sides of legal issues or cases that confront us, it may help to look at the parties’ history and where they come from to better understand your client and the opposing side and even perhaps the judge!

—William G. Schwab, now learning the law for more than 27 years

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