My father came from Minnesota, and always said New England made him claustrophobic. "I like to see the weather coming," he'd say.
I finally found out what he was talking about when I went to St. Peter, Minnesota, the middle of last month. I'd been to Minneapolis before, but had never seen the Plains, which apparently start just uphill from my friends' house, meaning Peg O'Connor and Lisa Heldke. It's a little like the ocean--the same sense of standing on a planet in the universe, rather than being the universe. Very freeing, in a nervous sort of way. But it would take me a long time to get used to having so much solid ground around me, stetching for miles and miles and miles.
Because there's so much land without buildings--the farms seem HUGE to a New England girl--it's actually possible to imagine hitting that gorgeous, flat, sky-filled expanse in a covered wagon. And getting excited about all that rich black soil.
The people I met were gems. I sat in with a writer's group in St. Peter, then talked to Annette Engeldinger's two seventh-grade advanced English classes at St. Peter Middle School, where the kids were phenomenally engaged and bright and polite. Gustavus Adolphus College was hosting me (thanks to Lisa and Peg, who teach in the philosohy department), so I gave a reading there and talked to two classes: Deborah Downs-Miers's children's literature students, and Becky Taylor Fremo's writing class.
Everybody kept telling me Minnesota students wouldn't discuss or ask questions, and that was not my experience at all...they asked a hell of a lot more questions than I ever would have in college. But then, as I kept telling everybody right back, I take after my father, who was from Minnesota. So I guess this was my spiritual home.
On another tack entirely--a jibe, in fact--here's a cautionary tale about copiers and working too late.