Where are we? On Buffalo Ridge, of course
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Where in the world are we?
I always knew I lived at Worthington. It seems, at least, I always knew this.
I have a fuzzy memory of going to the courthouse with my dad. He was explaining what is Nobles County.
At school we learned of Minnesota, which is a place to put Nobles County and Worthington. We learned about the United States of America and where is Mexico and where is Canada. One teacher or another taught us about Antarctica. Antarctica is where we should go when it is August in Minnesota. One teacher or another taught us about Brazil. They have an awful lot of coffee in Brazil. I once heard a man say he wouldn’t trade his good house for all the tea in China. I figured they have a lot of tea in China.
I must use that word “digress” here. I must digress.
At school we sat in alphabetical order. It was Mary Crippen and then Ray Crippen. It is possible certainly that I was poking Mary in the back with a pencil or a crayon and I failed to hear a teacher say, “We live on Buffalo Ridge.” A teacher could say that Buffalo Ridge sentence pretty fast and one might miss hearing it if one were concentrating on poking someone in the back.
We also missed a day or two of school now and again. We suffered an assortment of maladies: mumps and measles and chicken pox and scarlet fever and pink eye and bad colds. Everything but leprosy. None of us got leprosy. I might have been home with pink eye the day a teacher said, “We live on Buffalo Ridge.”
The point is this: only now, after all this time, do I really begin to appreciate that we live on Buffalo Ridge.
CNN sent a reporter to tell about Midwest farmers harvesting wind. He said he was standing on Buffalo Ridge. It was an instant before I appreciated, “My word, he is talking about us — he is standing in Nobles County!”
Next I was reading a report from Xcel Energy. Xcel was telling about the transmission line and the wind turbines it is constructing on Buffalo Ridge in Nobles County.
Everyone suddenly talks about Buffalo Ridge.
I remember Lew Hudson one day in the Daily Globe newsroom. Lew was writing a story from Chandler, telling about Buffalo Ridge. People at Chandler always have called the prominent ridge that stretches to their west Buffalo Ridge.
This aside, we read of Joseph Nicollet poking around our region (1830). Nicollet found high ground which he named Coteau des Prairies. Later the painter George Catlin came to paint portraits of Indians and scenes from Coteau des Prairies.
Writers generally were vague about where to find Coteau des Prairies. They were vague even about what it means. (Never trust a translation.) To this day Coteau des Prairies is said to mean “crest of the prairie,” or, “prairie slope,” or, “prairie hill,” or, “peak of the prairie.” “Prairie summit.”
Coteau des Prairies is where we are, but Coteau des Prairies has become Buffalo Ridge. Not only this, Buffalo Ridge is awesome. You may buy space photos of Buffalo Ridge from EROS. Astronauts have photographed Buffalo Ridge; they know all about it. NASA maintains a Buffalo Ridge file.
One writer calls Buffalo Ridge “one of the most conspicuous landforms of the middle U.S.” Another calls it a “monument reared by aquatic forces of the past, as if to give us some idea of their stupendous power.”
I never knew all this.
Buffalo Ridge, the old Coteau, is said to be 200 miles long and 100 miles wide, crossing three states and lifting more than 1,600 feet. Org, south of Worthington, is 1,656 feet above sea level — five and three-fourths U.S. Capitols stacked one on top of the other.
We get glimpses of this elevation, oh, along I-90 west of Beaver Creek, or west of Wilmont, that view toward Lismore.
Anyway, I learned to say Coteau des Prairies and they changed it to Buffalo Ridge. I hope they are teaching kids today, “You live on The Ridge, a humongous prairie landform astronauts photograph.”
I never knew this.
Maybe Mary turned to swat me and I wasn’t listening.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.