Tell us about your non-fiction work-in-progress concerning the floods around Fargo, ND.
It’s about their amazing ability to hold back floods that could, if the dikes breach, turn Fargo into an icy New Orleans post Katrina. But because the floods are spring thaws, they have time to prepare. It’s so flat there the water hangs around a long time, so each flood lasts about a month. The cities of Fargo, and its twin on the Minnesota side of the river, Moorhead, both transform every aspect of life for that month, turning the cities into the most amazing engineering powerhouse of dike building you could ever imagine. Everyone volunteers. In a lot of ways it’s like a giant month long party with communal meals and lots of prayer meets and volunteers from all over the region coming to sandbag along the river.
How did your interest in disasters start?
I lived in Fargo during the flood of 1997, which at that time was considered a 500 year flood, now they’ve had two more of similar depths in the last 13 years–the Weather Service is having to redo the math. When I lived there I was sandbagging and working as a Red Cross volunteer with all my neighbors.
My first hand experience of the ’97 flood gave me the basis. I know what questions to ask. For the rest of the research I go back every few years to interview citizen volunteers, folks living along the river, and government leaders. I get to hang out with genuine heroes. The mayor and deputy mayor of Fargo are two of the most amazing, humble people you could ever hope to meet.
Tell us about your published text book.
They sell it at Appalachian State University bookstore and on Amazon if you want to take a look at it. It’s called “Cultures Emerging.” It has a range of readings in it from basic beginner level to the kind of theoretical stuff anthropologists write for one another. I try to include basics on tribal peoples but also get into contemporary issues concerning modernized nations as well, even a reading on the war in Iraq and a couple on globalization issues.
How did you end up in “Cultural Anthropology”?
People are fascinating, aren’t they? None of what we do makes a lot of sense on the surface, so I wanted to dig deeper and find out WHY?
What is it that kick starts a project for you: a character, a situation, or…?
In the case of my published text and the one in progress, it’s the need for me and everyone else to better understand the world, so we can make informed decisions to hopefully make it a better place. In the case of the flood–Fargo in flood mode is the most amazing human accomplishment I’ve ever seen. Citizens along the river with no formal engineering training, just lots of practice and shared know-how, holding back water more than 20 feet over the riverbanks, with the aid of a mobilized “army” of some 100,000 volunteers, men, women and children–you can’t beat it for drama, heroism, and a good dose of things we all need to know about what humans are capable of with a good mix of heart and intelligence.