Art by mail: Extreme Wisconsin geology

Postcard collage of glacial geology, the St. Croix River, and man on stand-up paddleboard thing

Message on postcard:
Hi Kate! Greetings from Berkeley, California, where I’m laid up a friend’s apartment recovering from a wild boar attack. The picture on this postcard is of the St. Croix River on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border, I think. It was beautiful when I was out there earlier this summer and the water was high, before drought took hold in the Midwest.

My grandfather lived much of his life in a tiny town called Marine on St. Croix, and I visited his grave in the town’s tiny cemetery. I remember when I was a kid when my grandfather died; I was 12 or 13 years old, and it was the first death in the family I had to deal with. I was up late awake, crying in bed, when my dad came into my room to comfort me. It was his dad who’d just died, and he told me he remembered when his grandfather had died when he was a kid. I quieted down, expecting that he would say more, but that’s all there was, and just that much was all it took for me to find enough quiet to calm down.

My family was out here in California when I was attacked by the boar, and when I was in the emergency room worried about keeping my legs, my dad was there and knew the right thing to say. I don’t remember what it was, probably because of the morphine and the subsequent general anesthesia, but I told him about how what he had said when his dad died had helped me out … but thinking about it now I wonder if it’s not so much about hearing the right thing, but having the right person there to talk to you.

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!