My Grandmother Maud understood me. She knew I loved to draw. In fact I can’t remember a time when I was not drawing. Grandma never batted an eye when I said that I wanted to be an artist. When I was about six years old I was sitting in her office at the family insurance agency, drawing, when she showed me how to draw shoes. Up until then I drew boots on everybody. It was sort of a light bulb moment for me. I knew I was going to be an artist!
– by Marybeth Lorbiecki
Editor’s Note: Marybeth Lorbiecki’s new book, The Prairie That Nature Built, stems from a childhood love for the open spaces nearby. We are pleased to offer her lovely, autobiographical essay, first published in Stories from Where We Live: The Great North American Prairie, (Milkweed Editions, 2001)
I have a kindred spirit bird. A golden throated, lyrical songster. It’s not something I ever looked for, or expected. It just kind of happened.
I grew up in a city in the waistband of Minnesota, flat country that boasted granite under the belt and fertile fields as its everyday dress. In town, houses lay across plains like dotted Swiss, and trees decorated the lines of its rivers, the Mississippi and the Sauk, giving the cityscape its shape.
I knew nothing about the history of the place except that this was my mom’s hometown, and she had been a homecoming queen. Not much to go on. Also, about a mile from us, past the big Fingerhut Factory on 8th Street, was a sign that you could read on your way into town over the Sauk bridge: “St. Cloud, All American City, pop. 42,000.”
I lived in a neighborhood of crackerbox bungalows with green Lego-block lawns. Once I’d reached the age of street crossing, I found my stomping ground as exciting as stale saltines. I wanted to EXPLORE, to find new lands, to discover new creatures—WILD creatures. So whenever Mom would let me, I’d follow my older brother, Mark, on my bike three blocks to the open fields behind the new North Junior High. There we’d stash the bikes and head out. The tall grasses burred our socks and swished our legs as we waded through. This was our wilderness.
Rumpled with little hummocks that I thought had to be prairie dogs holes (Mark said they were just gopher holes), it rolled out before us, a mix of sweet cloverlike smells wafting up as we walked. I’d grab old woody stalks and point them at Mark like swords, or run and chase the monarchs, or collect striped caterpillars in my pocket. I found flat stones I was sure were Indian arrowheads (Mark said they were just rocks) and gouges in the earth that had to be dinosaur footprints (Mark said they were just dried puddles).
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