Collage correspondence, part 4: Minnesota

From my last campsite in the Upper Peninsula it was only a short drive into Duluth, Minnesota, where I stayed with my friends Aga and Chris for a few days. My timing was perfect — torrential rains soaked northern Minnesota while I was in town, and cleared up as soon as I went camping again. After spending some time along the north shore of Lake Superior, I headed to Lake Itasca, home of the Mississippi River headwaters, then down to Minneapolis to visit friends. I spent a couple more days in Minnesota after that, visiting my grandfather’s grave and camping on my way back to Iowa.

Postcard collage of Russian ship in Duluth, with kayaker in the foreground

Dear Cristian — Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! I spent a few days in Duluth, Minnesota … My favorite thing to do in Duluth was to watch the ships come in off Lake Superior. They’re absolutely enormous, big, slow, and impressive boats. And they all have impressive, aspirational-sounding names like The Majestic Zenith or Intrepid Pioneer. I think that’s to make up for the fact that the owner companies have boring names like “International Freight Consortium, LLC.”


Postcard collage of lift bridge in Duluth

Hi Gunther — Greetings from Minnesota! I spent about four days in Duluth and left this morning. The highlight there was watching a big freight ship pass through the canal and under the bridge shown here. I stayed with my friends Aga and Chris in Duluth — they live in a neat old house that Aga (who is originally from Poland) has fixed up. Tonight I’m camping again … The sun is down and the forest is noisy with the sound of bugs and frogs. Instead of staying in a campground I drove down a logging road until I found a clearing. It’s simple but it works!


Postcard collage of man, motorcycle, sidecar, and the word "Soooth"

Hi James — Greetings from mosquito country! I’m camped in a small, recently logged clearing in Minnesota’s north woods. I spent this afternoon working on postcards, and I’m spending this evening fending off a swarm of mosquitos. I’m not sure where they came from all of a sudden, but here they are. Beyond the clearing is a birch and pine forest and some hills, and still farther beyond that is Lake Superior. Maybe the mosquitos were buzzing all day and I just never noticed until I stopped working on collages. It’s one of those days when I’m so wrapped up and absorbed in what I’m doing that I lose track of myself. Here it is nearly 10 pm and I haven’t had a proper meal since breakfast this morning in Duluth. Anyway. Sun is down but the sky is still light. Time to get ready for bed.


Postcard collage of old muscle car and Lake Itasca

Megan — Not only is Lake Itasca home to the Mississippi headwaters, it is also home to countless abandoned and submerged muscle cars from the 1960s and ’70s. Nah, just kidding, it’s full of fish, and the surrounding forest is full of ticks. I pulled maybe seven off of Skillet after a run. We did maybe 15k. So that means roughly zero point five ticks per kilometer. Pretty good odds if you like ticks!


Postcard collage of Manitoba Time and lake Itasca, with mysterious Canadian clock on rear

Hi Ed! I hope you’ll forgive me for sending a Manitoba-themed postcard — not because there’s anything wrong with Manitoba, but because I didn’t visit Manitoba on this trip. It feels like I’m faking recent experiential knowledge of Manitoba if I don’t make my non-visitation clear. I did once visit Manitoba, but that was like 10,000 10 years ago. Sorry about the typo. I was just reading about Paleoindian cultures, and I had long timeframes on my mind. Anyway. Behind the “Manitoba Time” text is Lake Itasca in Minnesota. It’s a great place. In Manitoba the clocks tell time using cryptic runes like hats, cameras, and polar bears, but in the good old United States fo America (which includes Minnesota) we use ordinary numbers.


Postcard collage of bear on tree looking at licorice with text "big loads overnight"

Hello Karrie! How are you? What’s new? Do you like licorice? I forget. I hope so, though, because this is a licorice-themed collage. Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! Because of the generous support of patrons like you, I’m able to manufacture out-of-this-world stories about all the cartoon bears who live in Minnesota and like to scale trees just to get a better look at the gigantic licorice candy that grows wild in the great northern woods. Last halloween there was a guy dressed like some licorice and a bear ate him. Common rookie mistake. Do not dress like licorice, Snickers bars, or honey when visiting bear country.


Postcard collage of bear in lake, with yellow truck and text "adaptation blueprint Minnesota"

Printed caption on back of postcard: “With well over 10,000 lakes, there’s never a problem for anybody to find a place to cool off.”

Dear Mary — I have some problems with the above statement. It’s sort of like saying, “With a $14 trillion GDP, it’s never a problem for any American to find money.” Sometimes the problem is not abundance, but access and opportunity. What if the bear wasn’t born near a lake, or if a highway blocks him from it, or if another, bigger bear is already monopolizing his lake of choice? Now a lot of conservatives won’t like this plan, but I propose a big government program designed to improve summer fun access for all bears. Anyway, Minnesota is great. I have seen one million lakes and zero bears.


Collage correspondence, part 3: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

There wasn’t much in the way of crowds after I crossed the Mackinac Bridge into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Tahquamenon Falls State Park was lightly trafficked and well worth the visit, as was Painted Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Here are postcard collages from the area:

Postcard collage of "Da Yooper Hotel"

Dear Tracy — Greetings from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula! I spent last night hanging around a campfire with a long-haul trucker and a hired hand from a dairy farm, although if his dreams come true he’ll be a male model instead. We made plans to run down the shore of Lake Superior to a lighthouse at 7:30 this morning, but come sun-up the only ones running were me and my dog Skillet. The trucker never wanted to run, and the farmhand was too hung over to move.

Natural American postcard collage - buff guy and binoculars-wielding outdoorsman

Hi Rob –Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! I was at Pictured Rocks yesterday and the day before that. I didn’t see the rock in this picture, but I did meet an aspiring male model who works on a dairy farm and his long-haul trucker friend. I probably could have said “dairy” instead of “dairy farm,” because all dairies are farms. Anyway. It was the friendliest encounter I’ve ever had with drunk guys who woke me up with their stereo.

Postcard collage - Bird in front of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Hey James — Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! Pictured Rocks was great, but you can’t really see the fantastic cliffs from land. And the tour boats aren’t dog- or wallet-friendly. But I did see a neat shipwreck. It was an old freight steamer. An aspiring male model’s friend was taking cell phone pictures of him walking on it at sunset. In a hundred years I hope models will pose on shipwrecked jet skis.

Postcard collage of Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park with "Forever Untamed" quote

Zach and family — Greetings from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula! I’m in Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park. Did you know there are mountains in Michigan? I didn’t! They aren’t very big, though. They are some of the oldest mountains in our country, and have had plenty of time to be worn down by erosion. They were formed about a billion years ago … more recently, Ojibwa Indians gave them their name because they look like giant porcupines when you view them from far away. It’s a neat place — I’m glad I visited!

Postcard collage of crowd running in front of Lake Superior with text "Choose Your Path"

Marieta — Greetings from Lake Superior! The sun just set and I’m listening to the waves slap against the rocky shore. Meanwhile my dog Skillet is curled up next to me, snoozing. The woods are chock full of noisy frogs and insects. It’s really peaceful. And after a long, hot day the air is finally cooling down and a breeze is picking up off the lake. Not much action, but lots going on.

Postcard collage of a yellow bird, Iowa's Driftless Area, and signs saying "Did You Know?"

Dear Johan — Hello! How are you? Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project. I hope you don’t mind if some of the text on this postcard is written under the cancellation stamp. I think that’s what the post office uses to void a stamp once you mail something. I should probably know my nomenclature if I’m going to do an entire Kickstarter project that relies on the US Postal Service. But the name for what it is sounds so redundant — a stamp cancellation stamp. The postage stamp and the cancellation stamp are really two different things, but they’re both called stamps. Anyway. This postcard has a huge caption up top, and a bar code down below. They eat up so much space. Also, I just noticed that this postcard has an ISBN number.* Wow! I’ve never seen that before. I’d look it up right away, but I can’t because I’m in the middle of Michigan’s Lake Superior shoreline, which is like the Bermuda triangle for cellular reception.
*I just realized that right after I complained about redundancy, I used the phrase “ISBN number.”

Collage correspondence, part 2: Michigan’s Lower Peninsula

After driving across the southern part of Wiconsin, with stops at Governor Dodge State Park, Devil’s Lake State Pak, and Kettle Moraine State Forest, I took a carferry across lake Michigan. It was a coal-powered steamship, the last such operating vessel on the Great Lakes, and it trailed brown clouds of rust belt pride all the way from Manitowoc to Ludington.

Michigan’s Lower Peninsula was a beautiful place — Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness and Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore were among my favorite places I visited that month. Here are some of the custom postcards I made in the Lower Peninsula:

Cranberries postcard collage - Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

James — Sleeping Bear Dunes was one of the highlights of my trip — I spent four days and three nights there. The first couple days were spent under a low pressure system that dropped some rain and took its sweet time moving on, but the next two days were beautiful. Invasive zebra mussels have colonized Lake Michigan. They feed by filtering particles out of the water, so thanks to them the lake is crystal clear and brilliantly blue. It’s the most aesthetically pleasing form of ecological devastation I’ve ever seen.

Postcard collage of man in sleeping bag at Sleeping Bear Dunes

Hello Jenny! Thank you for backing my Kickstarter project! Sleeping Bear Dunes was a magical place. At first I thought it was home to thousands of regular-size sleeping bags filled with little men, but upon closer inspection I realized they were giant sleeping bags filled with regular-size men! The park ranger said they migrate there every year from the outskirts of Chicago. He also warned me not to get too close — they release Axe body spray when frightened.


Postcard collage of muscle car convertible and "natural lazers"

Dear Mackenzie — Did you know that the Michigan shoreline is home to America’s only 100% natural lazer light show? It’s true!* Every night in the summer, brilliant agates and the rare, endangered piping plover activate a symbiotic lazer spectacle designed to daze bugs that they catch and then eat. (Well, the plover eats them. The agate’s role is less well understood.) Today, the natural lazers sync up with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which is blasted nightly from teenagers’ convertibles.
*Note: Is not actually true


Postcard collage of Michigan map, old car, and text reading "Function, Structure, and Symbol"

Hello Zee! Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project. This postcard reflects my experience crossing the Mackinac Bridge. Before you cross, the bridgemaster makes you write a 5,000-word essay on function, structure, and symbol. If you fail to impress him you can try again in two weeks or else drive all the way around Lake Michigan. I talked about cars in my essay and I think that made him happy, so he let me pass.


Postcard collage of man jumping Mackinac Bridge on skis, with text "RUDE" and "'70"

Dear Addis — Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project! This is the Mackinac Bridge. I drove over it and the crossing was completely uneventful. But! In 1989 a woman driving a 1987 Yugo stopped her car on the bridge, and a gust of wind blew her car over the 36-inch barricade and into the water. It’s true. I checked the citations on Wikipedia. No one has ever jumped it on skis, though; this is just a collage.

Devils Tower


The light wasn’t great for taking photos this morning, but here’s Devils Tower. At first I thought that it was spelled “Devil’s Tower”, and that the place name suggested the tower was owned by a single devil. But when I noticed that all the signs pointed to “Devils Tower”, I thought instead that it was named in honor of multiple devils.

Further research (i.e., taking 15 seconds to check Wikipedia) reveals that “all information signs in that area use the name ‘Devils Tower’, following a geographic naming standard whereby the apostrophe is eliminated.”

Collage correspondence, part 1: Iowa and Wisconsin

These postcard collages are some of the artwork that I created for this summer’s Kickstarter project, Greetings from the Back of My Van. Shown here is artwork from Iowa and Wisconsin. The messages that I sent on the back of the postcard are shown in the captions below each image. I’ve edited them slightly for content — that way you don’t have to read “Thanks for backing my Kickstarter project!” over and over and over again.

Postcard collage of dog in front of barge in Mississippi river in Iowa

Dear Edwin — I spent a few days at a friend’s cabin just north of Gutenberg, Iowa, watching barge traffic not unlike what you see here. Watching the barges float by was like a slow-motion thrill ride. There were also freight trains that would pass by on the river’s Wisconsin shore. The freight trains were less thrilling, but still fun to watch. You see a lot of good action movies where the bad guys are chasing each other atop moving trains, but you never see action movies with big budget barge chases. Probably this is because falling from a train is scaring, but dog paddling in funny-smelling water is not.

Postcard collage of Effigy Mounds, Iowa -- Speedboat, woman, and text saying "Farther, Deeper, and More Dangerous"

Dear Caroline — Effigy Mounds was one of the first stops on my trip through the Upper Midwest. Contrary to this postcard, it is not farther, deeper, or more dangerous. It’s close to where I grew up and lived for a time as an adult, and it’s peacefully located on dry land. It’s one of my favorite places in Iowa… I remember driving there with a friend one February after his dad died, but I’m not sure where I’m going with this anecdote, and even if I was sure, I’m out of room.

"Weird Winter" postcard collage from Wisconsin. Snowshoes and flying people.

Dear Mika — Greetings from the United States of America! I’m not sure what winters in Finland are like, but this is pretty typical for winters in Wisconsin. Of course, it was summer when I visited, but it still looked a lot like this. That’s because we spray the entire state with a giant aerosol can that shoots a gummy, plastic-based fake snow product. Every three years there is a reapplication, because the adhesive wears out over time and the fake snow starts to fall off. When that happens it is washed into rivers and flows out to sea. Eventually it all congregates in a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. One day all the fake snow will form a Christmas island; we’re all really excited.

History, culture, and shopping postcard collage

Dear Alexis — This is from Dodgeville, near Wisconsin’s Governor Dodge State Park. It’s a beautiful place, but a more accurate name would be “Tick City State Park.” This is a good year for ticks in the Midwest — no, wait, I mean it’s a bad year. You know. Anyway. Now that I’m writing this, I’m really worried that maybe you have a tick phobia or something and that this postcard will be really unpleasant to receive. If so, please know that I’m deeply, deeply sorry, but I’m in too deep to back out now. If it’s any consolation, please know that I too think ticks are totally gross and creepy. I should have written about my dog.

Postcard collage - Monitoring Florida Panthers 24/7

Hello Danie — This postcard is from a place I drove past but didn’t visit on this trip. I went to the House on the Rock maybe five times during my high school and college years, and each time I went the management there did an increasingly better job of screwing it up. The HOTR was built by Alex Jordan, who Frank Lloyd Wright kicked out of his posse because he was threatened by his legitimacy. Jordan built a sweet house and filled his estate with cool stuff. There’s a letter from him to his visitors where he’s like, “The purpose of this house is to kick it,” and it’s like so true, but management is anti-cold-kicking it, but it’s hard to explain here.

Postcard collage of engineer in front of wind farm in Wisconsin

Dear Jamie — Wind farms are neat. I’ve never seen one on a postcard before. I appreciate that. But the phrase “Wisconsin is ranked in the top 20 wind-producing states” bothers me. [This assertion was written in the caption printed on the back of the postcard.] First, there are fifty states. It’s like saying, “Wisconsin is slightly above average, scoring a C+ in wind power.” Second, Wisconsin doesn’t produce the wind, it harness its mighty power. Anyway, sorry for all this complaining. Wisconsin is beautiful and windmills are a good thing. I hope your’e doing well.

Postcard collage of woman climbing up trees and deer in Wisconsin winter

Chris — Not a lot of people know this, but Wisconsin is a premier destination for the small but growing number of fans of deep winter tree-and-game climbing. It’s a new extreme sport that pits the fierceness of human athletic prowess against the snow-muffled stillness and serenity of nature. But this year we think the cat may be out of the bag. The New York Times just did a big story on it, and Katie Holmes is going to Wisconsin this winter to “climb some ungulates and just recover” from her divorce. Exciting times!