License Plates


My youngest daughter and I have been living in North Dakota for just over a month now. My husband preceded us by nearly 5 years, living in a “man-camp” and commuting back and forth to our home in Idaho on rotation; as is typical of guys working out here in the oil field.

The separation lasted much longer than we ever imagined.  But as housing availability is finally beginning to catch up with the enormous need here in the Bakken, we were able to land a place big enough to fit all three of us and we gleefully joined him here in early September!

We are learning quickly that North Dakota is unlike any place we have lived before. There is no shortage of unique aspects and oddities here to keep us fascinated. Perhaps most intriguing is the number and array of individuals, mostly men, arriving in this dinky town almost daily. Just out of curiosity, I started keeping an unofficial list of the states represented here in the oil-patch.  As of this writing, we have recorded roughly 18 different states on hundreds of out-of-state plates.

Licence Plate Collage

This is a peculiar place, both geographically and historically. Quietly cradling generations of descendants of early immigrants, the area remains predominantly Norwegian in its ethnicity.  Land here is mostly comprised of expansive family ranches, protected by laws prohibiting commercial farms, which has allowed the State to remain cocooned and fairly untouched by outside influences.

But with the advent of the oil boom, this tiny town in the middle of nowhere has become a magnet drawing droves of men from all over the country to endure living in RV’s and man camps, and sometimes in their own pick-up trucks. They come hoping to share in the riches promised by the Bakken Shale oil-play that began a half decade ago.

As I write this post, I am reminded that each license plate belongs to a unique person and represents their own unique oil-boom story. I cannot help but wonder at the reasons that compel so many men to leave their homes and loved ones to come here. What are they truly seeking? Perhaps they are merely after a solution to financial problems, a fresh start, the need to prove oneself. Maybe it is merely the adventure and excitement of participating in the largest oil play in modern history. Or could many be seeking something more?

The flow of oil has undeniably brought a kind of vitality with it.  There is a palpable energy in the very atmosphere of this place. But like a wave blowing through a field of dry wheat, it is only the illusion of vitality; life with a little “L” —destined to be short lived and unable to satisfy.

Like so many of the false promises of this world, where emptiness exists, there will remain a yearning that will not be filled by the promise of oil money. As it was in the beginning, so it remains. Only the Creator can breathe life, with a big “L”, into a man’s soul.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Ezekiel 37:5-6

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