of Robert Kibler

Bio-Bits

  • Robert KiblerBorn May 16th, 1956, Takoma Park, Maryland
  • BA and MA in Literature, University of Maryland–College Park.
  • United States Air Force, Special Operations, 1st of the 75th Ranger Battalion
  • Taught Literature at Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, PRC.
  • PhD in Literature, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.
  • Taught Humanities and Literature, Valley City State University
  • Teach Humanities and Literature, Minot State University
  • Live in Kirkelie Township, just outside of Burlington, ND
  • Member, Minot Farmer’s Market–produce, jams, German breads, and honey
  • ND Beekeepers Association—keep ten hives
  • Faculty Representative, ND State Board of Higher Education
  • Director, Northern Plains Writing Project
  • Member, Burlington Planning Commission
  • Alexandra Deufel, biologist and wife
  • Bethany, Cheyenne, and Julian, children.
  • Confirmed as Lutheran, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Aspen Hill, MD
  • Co-owner, Alerohof Enterprises, Real Estate and Property Management
  • Chair, NDUS Faculty and Staff Compensation Committee
  • Chair, Mid-Dakota Chapter of the American Red Cross
  • Member, Minot Area Council for International Visitors

Family Origins

Ancestral home place of Todmorden, England, just down to the left (not quite seen) from the surrounding moors. Just over the moors is Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters, and setting for “Wuthering Heights”.

My grandmother, Virginia Walton Lewis Bestpitch, aged 17 years, in 1925. She is the granddaughter of Algernon and Mary Kay Lewis, and is pictured here with young girl on neighbor’s farm. Just as her mother Fanny and father Harry, Virginia and her brothers and sisters grew up in the family home in Ford, Virginia, Dinwiddy County. Hers is the last generation to be born and grow up there. The family lost that farm in the 1930s.

Algernon and Mary Kay Lewis, my great great grandparents, on the farm in Ford, Dinwiddie County, Virginia. They were first cousins, and married to solidify differing family claims to the farm. Both born before the Civil War, and like his father Devereaux, Algernon fought in that war. The father was 42, the son 14.

My oldest known relative is Robert Abernathy, of Perthshire, Scotland. He was captured by Oliver Cromwell at the Battle of Worcester, September 3, 1651, and indentured to a fellow Scotsman named Roger Tillman, of Prince Georges County, Virginia, in the same year. The 50 acres he received at the end of his indenture in the colonies served as the beginning homeplace of my American family on my father’s side, which lived and farmed on that land for better than 220 years, keeping the log cabin built by Robert Abernathy as part of its foundation as the house and land holdings grew.

On my mother’s side, we are English, from the small midland town of Todmordenand the larger city of Lincoln. We are Lingards and Hawthornes and Smiths. My great grandfather, Joseph Smith, was the oldest man to emigrate to America in the 1930s, and New York had a confetti welcome for him as he came to join his son, Francis Smith, my grandfather, who had already moved here. Before he left England, aged 88, Joseph Smith climbed the imposing medieval Tower of Lincoln, built in his birthplace, for one last view of his homeland before getting on a ship to America. When I returned from China, I took the long route around, and repeated Joseph Smith’s climb in Lincoln before my own return to the U.S.

When my grandfather Francis Smith brought his family to America, one of the first things he did was travel to the White House, where he knocked on the door and said that his children would like to meet their new American president. Woodrow Wilson told his staff to let them in. They stayed for hours, and all of the kids were fed. I always take as a lesson from this event the need to knock on a door before assuming that it will not open.

 

Military Life

1983, Forward Air Controller, 1/75th Rangers

I was a character in Jim Roper’s book “Aardvarks and Rangers”

My family members have been involved in virtually all American wars—from the Revolutionary War through the War in Iraq. Robert Abernathy III is a designated Revolutionary War “patriot” for giving “oats and brandy” to soldiers, and his son Bucknell is a designated “hero” who fought in that War. One of the final battles of the Civil War, the “Battle of Lewis farm,” took place in April, 1865, on my family property, with my great great great grandfather, Devereaux Lewis, fleeing north with Lee at the time. My Dad, Robert Sr., served in Korea and Vietnam, and my daughter, Bethany Anne, served in Iraq. I am not an advocate of war, by any means, but believe in the citizen-soldier model as embodied in the Roman General Cincinnatus, who served his country in time of need, but returned to the private life of his farm as soon as he could. I am also very much aware that history suggests that too often governments eventually turn on their people, so think it prudent to be prepared militarily to defend against dark forces within and without our organized nation-state.

I never went to war, but served in the U.S. Special Forces with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 1/75 Ranger Battalion from 1979-1983, so am happy to talk about the military experience in general. In fact, one of my compadres in the Ranger Battalion, Jim Roper, wrote a book on our military exploits, entitled Rangers and Aardvarks. Ahh, to be young and jump out of airplanes into the sea…

International Travel

I have traveled widely, and believe in the value of travel for intellectual and emotional growth. Travel allows a person to interact with people from other cultures, and thereby gain a richer sense of one’s own. It allows individuals to test and strengthen their independence, requiring that they think critically and independently, trusting in their own judgment, building self-confidence. And the traveler meets all of these interesting people living altogether different kinds of lives. How exciting! So I organize travel opportunities for MSU students who want to go and bear witness to the world themselves. So far, we have traveled through England, Scotland, France, Italy, Greece, China, and Tanzania, where Minot State students, my wife Alex, and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and went on safari. Traveling abroad is the best complement to studying about all of the many people and places to be read about in books.

Below Left: In the mountains of Southwest China, north of Burma and south of Tibet, there is a famous mountain on top of which sits a Taoist Temple, above the clouds. If you can make the climb up to the temple, the monks give you a cup of tea. Here I am drinking that cup of tea, after my second attempt to get there. The first time, I left too late in the day, and evening fog came over the mountain and trapped me. I had to wend my way tenuously back down to town of Dali, situated at the base. The Chinese often make the climb to the temple for spiritual retreats and stays of several days duration. I was always amazed that so many had made the climb in dress shoes and even heels. But if you wish, once there, the monks will throw the I-Ching yarrow stalks for you, so that you can know your future.

All of the foreign teachers are performing at a student party, as is typically required of all attendees at every Chinese party. We have just finished singing the classic, “Pop goes the Weasel,” and John Denver’s “Country Road.” Two surefire favorites.

1989 at the Great Hall of the People, invited for dinner with China’s President, Li Peng. My colleagues Katy and Peggy are with me. They are both old China “hands” who lived international lives. Katy grew up in the Middle East, by the Red Sea, and Peggy ran a private school for years before moving to China.

I taught English and Literature at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, for a year and one half.  Traveling through Inner Mongolia in winter, wandering the streets of the capital, Huhehote. I stayed in a little hovel where an old woman came in at all hours of the night to add more coals to the little fire and to stir it. Since it was Christmas, I went to the first Cathedral Mass legally held in Mongolia in decades–a cultural, rather than a spiritual experience for me. The bishop was carried down the aisle on the shoulders of monks, and threw ladles of holy water from a bucket on the swarming crowd as he entered. I was the only Westerner there, and Mongolians were hanging off the rafters. During the service, they sang one hymn while the organist played another. Their Christ painting over the altar had Mongolian eyes, and at the time I recalled Xenophanes asking, “why is it that Ethiopian gods have dark skin and curly hair, and Thracian ones have blond hair and green eyes?

Inner Mongolia, land of horses, bicycles, and no cars.

On the Ancient Tea Horse Road, lower Himalayas, 2010.

While living in China, with travelling monk in brown, and local monks in front of a stupa, or Buddhist temple, near the Chinese-Laotian border, in a village just off the Mekong river. The traveling monk was walking to Beijing, and thought it would take him another 4 years to get there on foot.

 

Organic Farming

My daughter Bethany and I putting in tomatoes, and my Dad tilling in the back corner of the family home and garden, on Ewood Lane, in Maryland. All of the family gardened here, and my grandmother Virginia had three big freezers and lived off the garden’s produce all year round. My Dad grew up here, in an old farmhouse on this end of the dead end street, and my mother Catherine lived at the other open end. The houses on Ewood Lane, save for that of my Dad’s family, were built by my English grandfather Francis, and named after my grandmother Ethel Lingard’s street in Todmorden. I was born here and my Dad still has this home on Ewood lane. It has been the family center all of my life.

My family has always been involved in farm work. In Scotland they farmed in the lower Highlands, and in England they were shepherds, weavers, and crofters. In America, my father’s family farmed the same land in Virginia continuously for better than 220 years, until they lost the family farm and holdings during the 1930s. As kids growing up, we knew that once the old folk started talking about the lost farm and home in Virginia, everyone would soon grow melancholy. Even in Maryland, just over the line from Washington DC, where my family relocated after the loss, we continued to put in better than an acre of garden as a family, and it was this tie especially that bound us always to agrarian traditions and to the land, and I believe, as did my hero Thomas Jefferson, that a connection to the land is essential to overall well being. Individuals and societies go adrift once they lose that connection.

Tigra, Jack, Alphie, and Alex by corral, Burlington.

Last year’s crop: on track to be “knee high by the fourth of July”

My favorite photo of my grandmother Virginia, age 86 or 87, early in the morning, doing what she had been doing all of her life–working in the garden. Our soil was terrible, but we put great labor into it on Ewood Lane, and many people gained more bounty from that land than could be measured in produce alone–though we had plenty of that too.

Alex and my friend Tim pitching hay in Burlington.

Serving an Idea: Alex selling our German breads, jams, and produce at Minot Farmers Market .

My wife Alex and I recommend that everyone read Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia,” as well as his Letters to John Adams. These works give a sense of early America, of what it means to live free, and undertake the responsibilities of a democratic citizen. These works also showcase Jefferson’s tremendous 18th century curiosity and attention to detail, and offer his relentless argument for American society centered on the life and work of the educated small businessman and farmer, and on the need to remain connected to the land.

Likewise, my wife Alexandra’s family farmed in the German Palatinate, so we both are culturally disposed to live close to good old mater terra . We also both grew up with horses, and know that our ancestors smile down upon us now, as together we have found a way to return as professors to our familial world of horses, vegetables, and the rural life.

Here in North Dakota, we grow our own vegetables and are attempting to become as self-sustaining as we possibly can. We also offer produce and homemade jams and German breads at the Minot Farmer’s Market. Horrified by the poor quality of food in America–a horror incited by Robert Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Alex and I have become mostly organic in our approach to growing things. I say ‘almost’ because it is just a little too painful to be altogether organic. Organic vegetables take forever to make, and remain small, if tasty. So we give one shot of 10-10-10 fertilizer to plants in early Spring, and let the gods of nature take their course– save for our relentless weeding! Indeed, weeding seems to have become our avocation, like it or not.

Time passes, but John Deere remains.

Extracting honey for the Minot Farmer’s Market

Julian, Alex, and Cheyenne at Farmers Market

 

Family

The reason for all that we do: Julian (YWCA Daycare),Cheyenne (Minot State University),Bethany (Harvard University):