While I love to travel far, sometimes the best trips are close to home. This past summer, my friend Sharon and I took a road trip to an area of Minnesota I have only sped through on my way to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore: Southwestern Minnesota. I had a craving to see Minnesota prairie, of which only 1% still exists in its original form. They say it takes 300-500 years for a re-established prairie to be what it once was (although there is robust debate if our original prairies can truly be replicated), but that doesn’t mean a work-in-progress can’t be appreciated. What a delightful surprise my friend and I discovered in this part of Minnesota. Blue Mounds state park,
near Luverne, Minnesota, was our first stopping point on our three-day journey. These are not mounds and they are not blue (it is thought settlers heading West perceived these as blue mounds from a distance), rather, they are red cliffs of dense Sioux Quartzite. Numerous buildings in the area are made from this rock and these fascinating (and, to me, peculiar) structures are unlike any other. Perhaps the rough cuts of the facades of many of these buildings are due to quartzite being almost as hard as a diamond, and challenging to work with. One of the most interesting of the quartzite buildings we toured was the Historic Calumet Inn, built in 1887 in Pipestone, MN.
Such a crazy, wonderful structure.
But, back to prairies. The beauty of the prairie is you have to look deep into it to genuinely appreciate it. Bees, butterflies, birds, grasses, flowers: the world of living things in the prairie.
This micro world is framed by an expansive landscape and a big sky.
Down the road from Blue Mounds, noted photographer and Luverne native, Jim Brandenburg (in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), is restoring 1,000 acres of land to original prairie. His Touch the Sky Prairie
is a lovely place, nothing but prairie and a simple path to navigate the property (which is open to the public). [As an aside, Jim Brandenburg’s gallery in the Luverne Chamber of Commerce building (another Sioux quartzite masterpiece) is a “must see.” The gallery overflows with Brandenburg’s brilliant images of the area and is a surprise on the prairie (as is the superb Bluestem Restaurant right in Luverne).] Over the course of the next two days, we ventured to Pipestone National Monument and then on to the Jeffers Petroglyphs. These are beautiful, spiritual places with fascinating histories (the petroglyphs are older than the Pyramids). But now, perhaps I should transition to art as that is what this blog always leads to. My desire to visit the prairie was driven by my interest in bees, and yes, the bees were there. The prairie is the sustaining life force in a world that is planted in a sea of corn and soybean–crops that are connected to pesticides and offering nothing useful to sustain bees. So, in honor of the bees, gardens, the prairie, and flowers, my latest work is called “In the Bee Garden.”
If you come and visit it in my studio, you now know all about the journey that inspired the work. Hope to see you soon.