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North Dakota Gets Creative in a Big Way

Up on America's Northern Plains, an early-fall blizzard dumped 60 centimeters of snow on mostly flat, windswept North Dakota. Windswept? The same storm's 80-kilometer-per-hour winds snapped trees and blew so much snow around that hundreds of kilometers of highways had to be closed.

Not a problem for these hardy folks. As one North Dakota Internet blogger reported, people calmly fired up their wood stoves, melted snow for water, threw on an extra layer of clothes, and sent out caravans to pluck people out of snowdrifts.

North Dakota is losing population. It's down 40,000 people from the better farming days of the 1930s when 680,000 lived there. Folks there admit the place is a tad dull. Milk, after all, is the official state beverage.

But North Dakotans are creative in really big ways. Farmers pull mammoth rocks out of the ground and paint them with historic scenes. The state boasts the world's tallest structure -- a 629-meter-high television tower, the world's biggest bison -- made of cement -- and a gigantic cone constructed from thousands of used oil cans. Salem Sue, too. She's the earth's largest -- and maybe only -- painted, fiberglass Holstein cow. Along a road called the Enchanted Highway, artist Gary Greff erected giant sculptures made of scrap metal -- of deer, pheasants, grasshoppers, geese in flight, and a huge metal man, woman, and kids.

Why do North Dakotans do such things? Some say they inherited their Scandanavian ancestors' love of imagery. Others ascribe it to sculpture envy of neighboring South Dakota, whose massive Mount Rushmore monument to four U.S. presidents is a tourist magnet.

Or perhaps you can chalk it up to wintertime boredom. You see, North Dakotans like to joke that they have just two seasons: winter, and the short time in between to fix the roads.