Cor Te Reducit

Two things of note happened in my life Tuesday. In the morning, I attended the funeral of a good friend and one of North Dakota’s great liberal thinkers, Karl Limvere. In the evening I helped another good friend and his wife move the belongings from their home south of Bismarck. Both things, some would say, were the result of acts of God. I’m not so sure.

Karl Limvere was a man of God, and God works in mysterious ways, so Karl’s death from what I suspect was his second heart attack–he survived one about ten years ago–was God’s work. After a long career with the North Dakota Farmers Union, Karl went off to Washington, D.C., to be an agriculture adviser to Senator Byron Dorgan. Karl didn’t do so well in that big urban environment, and so he answered a call to be a UCC minister at a small church in Medina, North Dakota, not far from Jamestown, where he had spent most of his adult life. And so he spent the last years of his life back home on the North Dakota prairie.

As funerals go, it was a pretty good one. The church was full (the weather was good, which is always a determining factor), standing room only, and the basement lunch (scalloped potatoes, coleslaw, buns and bars), was much like the many Karl attended as the minister in his church. He’d have loved it, and also loved the big-time liberal bent in the attendees, friends Karl had made from a lifetime of political and social involvement. We joked at lunch that Karl was the only friend we had who was actually taken up in the rapture. Certainly he would have been first among us to have earned it.

I was seated near the front of the church, and shortly before the service began, two young women took a seat in the pew directly in front of me. One of them, tall and pretty, was well-dressed in a black dress cut low enough for me to read the tattoo across the top of her back. It read “Cor Te Reducit.” It was done tastefully, with black inch-high letters in a flowery script. I’d seen the phrase before, but couldn’t remember enough Latin to translate it, so I wrote it down on the back of my program and looked it up when I left the church.

Cor Te Reducit: The Heart Will Lead You Back.

Apparently it is a popular phrase for young people’s tattoos these days. I liked it, and I thought Karl would too, because his heart had indeed led him back to the prairie he loved so dearly not so many years ago. I knew a lot of the people at the church. I didn’t know  that young woman. But I bet Karl did. And I bet he was glad she was there.

And then, just a few hours later, back home in Bismarck, I called my friend Jeff to see how he was faring in his battle against a rapidly rising Missouri River. Jeff and his wife have lived in an  un-ostentatious home on the Missouri River for 20 years. Jeff’s a fisherman. He ties his boat to the bank in the summer and gets up in the morning and goes fishing. He’s seen high water before. It rains and snows in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, where the Missouri gets its water. Sixty years ago, the United States government built a series of dams on the Missouri River to protect cities like Bismarck from  flooding, which was a pretty frequent occurrence along the Missouri River. By regulating the flow of water through the dams, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was able to assure un-rich people like my friend Jeff, who was lucky enough 20 years ago to find this cozy little house beside the river, that he could live in a place where he could tie his boat to the bank and go fishing in the morning. Jeff’s last scare with high water was the ice jam of 2009, and we laughed together at the goofy scheme the Corps and others came up with to blast some dynamite holes in the ice to move the water. We’re not laughing at the Corps this year. The Corps is telling Jeff and others along the river, and many people who  live inside the city limits on quiet residential streets in south Bismarck, to prepare for the highest water level since the Garrison Damn was closed in 1954.

So last night, friends and relatives and neighbors went to Jeff’s house and helped him begin loading up all his belongings. He’s moving out, lock, stock and barrel. Today we will decide whether to begin sandbagging to try to save the house. But if the water comes as high as they say it will, and stays as long as they say it will, there’s likely no saving the house. This isn’t just a 2-3 day high water problem–it’s a 2-3 month high water problem, and even if the house is sandbagged, there won’t be any getting to it for a long long time, and the damage to a house surrounded by all that  water for all that time is unestimable. Jeff’s wife says this is it. She’s had it. She’s never coming back. She’s an angry woman, and there’s no consoling her. For now, she is shopping for temporary housing, an apartment, a place to live while they try to save their house and sort out their lives.  Jeff is more measured. He’s a calm German man with a positive outlook, and he  knows that there will be another day when he can take time to decide if this is an act of God, or a giant screwup by the Corps of Engineers. And he knows when not to argue with his wife. I know that he also knows that there will come a time to assess how bad the damage is, how accurate the Corps of Engineers’ estimate was, how hard the financial hit will be, how his life has gone in the time away from the river he loves, and where he will  live next.

Meanwhile, today we finish moving all the belongings from their house. The plan is, by the end of the day, as the water rises over the bank of the Missouri River and creeps inland, the house will be empty. Perhaps for good. Perhaps not.

Perhaps . . . Cor Te Reducit.

6 thoughts on “Cor Te Reducit

  1. Brilliant column, Jim. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend. I lost my dad and mother (years apart) during the Spring and I always thought that just one more Summer after such intense Winters would have been just the tonic.
    My mother’s parents, Pem and Ina Hall, who farmed and ranched in the Elbowoods area, had fee patent land on the bottomlands of the Missouri back in the early 50’s. They had their land condemned and “purchased” by the Federal government so that the land could be used as Lake Sakakawea. Many other Native families had land held in trust by the BIA which was also taken so the Garrison Dam could be built. That dam left a deep wound on the people of Fort Berthold that has not healed to this day. Ft. Berthold had low unemployment, a hospital, lumber and flour mills and an agrarian society that betrayed today’s sterotypes. Most important was that the people were close to one another and to their government instead of separated by the lake. Those things were sacrificed so that folks downstream could enjoy a life undisturbed by flooding. Now those people are learning that their McMansions along the River are not immune to the forces of Nature. Just as the people of Ft. Berthold learned that despite their relative prosperity, they were not immune to the forces of the Federal government.


  2. Thanks so much for writing this piece, Jim. I didn’t know of Karl’s death until I read it, and I haven’t known of him for a long time. His passing is a loss to the world. I don’t think I ever met a nicer man than Karl Limvere whom I knew him during his time with the Farmers Union — what a perfect fit that was. I’m glad to hear that he lived his last years in North Dakota and in work that surely suited him well. Though I’m not much of a believer, I love the thought that Karl, alone, was taken to heaven last Saturday. If there were a line to stand in for that, he’d definitely deserve to be at its front.


  3. Nice piece on Karl. He was genuine to the core. He lived his passions.

    Now this German chap, Jeff. Anyone who has every dealt with a flooded home, be it 1 foot or 10, knows it is like a migrane that lasts a year. At 18′ flood stage, how much water will their home experience? Keep up the coverage?


  4. Very nice tribute to Karl. We have been on the east coast for the past two weeks and to be satisfied with reading the many posts on facebook and emails. Karl was a good and gracious man. He will be missed.

    It is hard to believe that the Missouri is about to cause so much devastation in Bismarck. Having experienced a lot of flooding in the valley, I know what Linda is thinking. Sometimes high ground has its benefits, it’s just not as convenient for fishing. Jeff may have to purchase a boat trailer. Thanks Jim!


  5. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Karl, and for bringing a bit of his prairie funeral service to those of us who were not present that day. As the product of a kitchen-table NPL/Populist/Progressive upbringing, I’ve known of Karl Limvere’s colorful, principled activism pretty-much all my life. You are so right to praise him as “one of North Dakota’s great liberal thinkers,” a group whose membership is dangerously low at this time.


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