About the Banner Photos 1

I’ve received two questions about my revolving banner photos, so I’m going to introduce them one by one.  The theme I was going for is Landscape and Memory, which corresponds to my current writing project.  My photo choices are limited, however, because I own neither a scanner nor a digital camera.  I resort to taking snapshots to Kinko’s and scanning them onto CDs, or I depend on others to email me their photos.  As I get more adept at maintaining such an active website, maybe the quality of photos will improve, too.

The photo that looks like a smear of dull color looks like this in full. I am researching the drainage of an 18,000 acre wetland between Albert Lea and Austin, Minnesota, done in stages by outside developers from 1895 to 1925.  It’s not this marsh.  The one in question was known as Rice Lake Marsh and stretched into four townships, with its center and deepest part where the town of Hollandale and its surrounding farms sit now.

One of my pressing questions is, What did the landscape look like before it was transformed by agricultural drainage and other “improvements.”  We have the survey reports from Lt. Albert Lea and his First Dragoons, who came through in 1835, twenty years before European settlement. (I’ve looked at Lea’s own pencil sketches [sigh]–a note for you archive buffs.) They found much of what later became Freeborn County wet and marshy, interspersed with patches of prairie and “oak openings,” meaning knolls with bur oak trees.  Freeborn County sits higher than the surrounding area, and water drains off in all directions. Before ditching, much of it was retained within the rolling landscape.

The area was carved out by the Des Moines glacier, which dipped south of where the Twin Cities are now, following the same course that Interstate Highway 35 traces to the Iowa border.  Strangers who drive through call this countryside flat, especially if they come from mountainous areas, but it is only flatter than it used to be.  What you see in the background of this photo is an esker, a snaking ridge that was once a river of gravel inside the glacial ice.  There used to be more of these in Freeborn County, but they were mined for their gravel and left as gravel pits or filled with garbage, in service as “sanitary landfills.”  This one is now preserved as part of Myre Big Island State Park just southeast of Albert Lea.  The marsh in front is, I’m presuming, one of the “trapped” areas where water has no outlet.  It sits much lower than the esker; my point-and-shoot 35 mm camera didn’t capture the perspective.  I took the photo while standing atop the esker, looking across to where the esker winds.

My dad introduced me to this bit of original landscape after I was already well into adulthood.  I don’t know how long he had known about it.  At that time, I believe, it was on the private property of a farmer he knew.  It had not yet been acquired by the state park.  To get to it, we had to walk alongside some railroad tracks, and then climb up and over the tracks and scramble to the top of the esker.  It was November when I took the photo, a time when Southern Minnesota is all cast in bronze.  The spot felt sacred to me, as though the marsh below had received the dreams and prayers of people living in the area centuries before.  But then, maybe it was just an ordinary place, because it would not have been a rare experience to come across an esker-bound marsh.

3 comments to About the Banner Photos 1

  • Dennis Dingemans

    Cheri, I’m delighted to read a real person talk about eskers — the subject of part of my Introductory Physical Geography lecture on glacial landforms. And, Eskers were all around me when I lived in Freeborn County but I didn’t recognize them. Seeing your photograph of them convinces lucky me that there must be an Esker Bunny after all. Check my own lightweight blog posts at http://oldnorthdavischat.blogspot.com/ for chit-chat about doves, camelias, and wind storm damage.


  • Cheri

    I looked at your wind damage photos. Must have felt like you were back home in Lerdal.

  • Neil Berg

    Hi Dennis. I yield to no man in lightweightness: http://oakwoodlife.blogspot.com/

    If you look through eyes of the past you can follow remnants of the esker to even north of the old “Y’ of highway 65 and southeast toward the park. Even in our lifetime it has been cut up much more with the interstate, etc.

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