Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota prairie native discovers a ship docked in the Wisconsin woods January 26, 2012

I GREW UP on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, a mostly flat land vertically-interrupted only by small-town grain elevators and water towers, by silos and groves of trees hugging farm sites.

I never felt hemmed in. How could I feel confined under an endless sky in a land that stretches into forever, nearly unbroken before your eyes?

Perhaps that will help you understand why I sometimes struggle with trees. I’m not talking a tree here, a tree there, but trees packed so tight that they become a forest. Dense. Black. Blocking views. I need to, have to, see the land spreading wide before me if I’m exposed for too long to miles of thick woods.

Likewise, I prefer my land flat.

All of that said, time and age and exposure to geography beyond the prairie have resolved some of those space and landscape issues for me. I can, within limits, appreciate terrain that rolls and rises, trees that clump into more than a shelter belt around a farmhouse.

I can appreciate, too, geological anomalies like Ship Rock, a natural formation jutting out of seemingly nowhere from the trees that crowd State Highway 21 in Adams County near Coloma in central Wisconsin.

Ship Rock is located next to Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state.

Whenever I pass by Ship Rock, which has been numerous times since my second daughter moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, in December 2010, I am awestruck by this isolated pinnacle of Cambrian sandstone. Finally, this past summer, my husband, teenaged son and I stopped to climb around the base of the rock cropping and to photograph it (me mostly photographing rather than climbing).

Ship Rock rises from the flat landscape, a surprise in the Wisconsin woods.

My husband walks across the rocks below the looming Ship Rock.

If you can ignore the distracting graffiti, then you can appreciate the nuances of the mottled stone, the ferns that tuck into crevices, the surprise of this Ship Rock docked in the most unexpected of places. The rock formation truly does resemble a ship.

I am surprised by the ferns that grow in the tight spaces between rocks.

Grass sweeps between rocks in this August 2011 image taken at Ship Rock.

A month ago while traveling past Ship Rock, I snapped a photo. The ship seemed forlorn and exposed among the deciduous trees stripped of their summer greenery. Yet she also appeared threatening, a looming presence rising dark and foreboding above the land awash in snow.

I could appreciate her, even if she wasn’t a grain elevator or a water tower, a silo or a cluster of trees breaking a prairie vista.

Ship Rock, photographed from the passenger window of our van at highway speeds in December.

CLICK HERE for more information about Adams County, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “A Minnesota prairie native discovers a ship docked in the Wisconsin woods”

  1. ceciliag Says:

    I love the shot of it in the snow, it does look like it ran agroundc

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I like how that snow image turned out, too, and I shot it while we were driving by Ship Rock. BTW, I’m back to shooting horizons straight.

  2. Better a ship rock than a shipwreck, but too bad there’s graffiti on it.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I had the same thought when I wrote this post, especially since two of the missing passengers on the recent cruise disaster are from my state of Minnesota.

      And the graffiti…I agree. I wish it wasn’t there defacing the rock.

      • Maybe you could interest a local group like the Boy Scouts or a school class in undertaking a graffiti-removal project.

        When I mentioned a shipwreck I didn’t know that two of the missing passengers on the recent disaster are from Minnesota.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I didn’t expect you to know that two of the missing passengers, a husband and wife, are from Minnesota.

        As for cleaning up the graffiti, that’s a great idea and I don’t know if it’s ever been tried at Ship Rock. Anyone out there have the answer? I live in Minnesota, not Wisconsin, so I don’t have connections to anyone who might undertake such a project.

  3. dakotagirl Says:

    I am like you, I love visiting the Black Hills of South Dakota or the Brainerd area, but I’m a flatlander. I need to see the horizon, I want to see the weather rolling in. Too many trees, or hills, or mountains block my view.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You totally get where I’m coming from on this. Give me my wide open spaces. BTW, I grew up not all that far from the South Dakota border, dakotagirl.

  4. Colline Says:

    An interesting rock formation!

  5. Very cool. I love the ferns. I miss ferns. Too bad about the graffiti…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Ferns are one of my favorite plants. I have two in my house right now, taking up a significant amount of space in my not-so-big house. But they are lovely and I cannot part with them. They go outside in the spring and will need to be split again. I cannot possibly over-winter FOUR ferns. I shall have to find a good home for them.

      • my friend gave me four outdoor ferns a few years ago. I planted them and babied them…but they’re still tiny and ill. So, yes, I think that indoor ones do best around here!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I seem to have really good luck with ferns. It’s mostly a matter of finding the right light for them, I think. They seem to thrive inside and outside my house. But I know many people have difficulty growing them so you’re not alone.

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