Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared Sept. 29, 2007.
WORTHINGTON — Lin Chambers and John Reimer were talking to me at the Worthington Travel and Information Center south of town on the east side of U.S 59/Minnesota 60. We were looking at the panoramic view of the cattails in the prairie pothole where, until lately, red-winged blackbirds and yellow-headed blackbirds were making their summer homes.
John told of the truck driver who said he would rather sleep on the floor of the travel center restroom than in some of the motel rooms he finds along the highways. “That is a clean restroom,” the truck driver said.
Lin was standing behind the counter amid a very large array of (free) maps and brochures from towns and counties and states through all the region. It is at this post behind the counter where Lin has greeted some of the 43,000 visitors who have stopped at the center to date this season. The total does not include people who stopped only to nap briefly in their cars or to switch drivers or to have a lunch at one of the picnic shelters.
We talked of the attractions at WTIC — first, the restored prairie. Just now it features mostly goldenrods, but from spring through fall, Minnesota’s native wildflowers take their turns under the sun. In late May through June, the WTIC prairie may offer more colors than Diamond Vogel. The blooms begin in the early spring with the plum trees. It’s a sight.
Curving through this prairie is a nature trail. “Three times around is a mile,” Lin says. Walkers/joggers make their rounds with native prairie stretching on either side. Some people make it a point to walk the WTIC trail; it is a notably safe place for kids. No vehicles.
I asked about the Janet Lofquist sculpture — the unique boat inside the railing. There is a carefully-mowed path to the sculpture. I wondered: Do people go to see the sculpture?
“Oh my,” Lin said. She handed me an information/fact sheet. “That’s why we had these printed. It’s so we don’t have to repeat the full story over and over. Yes. Many people go out there. The other day a woman was telling me how much she treasures that place. She said, ‘All the time we were driving by here, and I didn’t know about it.’”
Do people like the sculpture?
“I never heard a negative comment,” Lin says. “Some people wonder about the meaning, some figure it out their own way. Maybe it would surprise you that truck drivers go there.”
The Lofquist sculpture — “Habitat” — has been on the Worthington site since 1989.
Lofquist told me lately that, “There seemed to be sense of a memory in that landscape. Perhaps this was because of my awareness that the land once held large expanses of tall prairie grasses.”
For many, this is the first image evoked by the boat. Here was the vast sea of grass. Every step we take today once was along that sea bottom. The boat crossed the sea. The oceans had schooners, with canvas sails. People crossed the sea of grass in prairie schooners under canvas covers. Their schooners came to rest along the shores of unknown places — the lands they chose for themselves from maps.
Oh, there is much more meaning. Janet Lofquist recalls the Great Inland Sea that once covered this land. She says, “The bronze castings of marine fossils set into the stone refer to the ancient sea that once covered portions of the state. This relationship to the landscape is important to me.”
Lofquist says, “‘Habitat’ was one of the first public art projects I completed and, I believe, one of the first projects that the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places program initiated.”
The Worthington sculpture becomes more precious as Lofquist’s reputation grows, regionally and nationally — in Iowa, in Ohio, in Oregon. Among her Minnesota sculpture sites are Minneapolis East Lake Public Library, Hiawatha Light Rail Station, St. Cloud State University. The St. Cloud sculpture, in stainless steel, showcases 51 languages that can be heard on the St. Cloud campus.
I may see you at Worthington Travel Center. It is a wonderful place to take a walk amid that landscape that is our distinct part of this earth.