“Pipestone” is a description of the tail end of what seems to be a very long trip. What inspired you and your family to take this tour and what made this specific moment stand out as from the rest of your trip?
“I was raised in a road-tripping family of seven. We had a big red diesel station wagon, and we drove every summer from Minnesota to see relatives on the East Coast. Three kids across the middle seat, two in the way back—it built character! My husband and I are raising our kids the same way (just swapping out for a minivan and a bit more legroom). We love the pace of road trips, picnicking at wayside rests, and tent camping at state and national parks. About every other year, we do a major trip like I describe in my essay.This moment, in the very last hours of our trip, impacted me deeply in several ways. Layers of ways, actually. Starting with the powerful scent memory of my grandmother and the bittersweetness of trip’s end. Then all the contrasts that presented themselves to me: open prairie, stuffy museum, free-running children, straitlaced grandmother, wildness, perfection. All of that nudged me to write.”
As a Midwest-based literature magazine, Portage takes the idea of the Midwest very seriously. Is there anything you discovered or realized about the Midwest as a whole while taking the trip described in “Pipestone?”
“As a road tripper, hiker and nature writer, I am all about landscape. At first glance, the Midwest may not have the drama of Montana or the lushness of Hawaii. But it certainly has the landscapes of my heart: the North Shore of Lake Superior, rivers, big woods, pinelands, and prairie. My home state of Minnesota is a meeting place of distinct biomes, and I’ve become particularly interested in those porous borders between biomes. It’s where the defining characteristics of each landscape get a little vague, or bump into a cityscape. A mentor of mine gave me a gorgeous term for it: edge wilds. I’ve been to every state in the Midwest (however you define the region), and I’m always looking for those wild edges. We have a lot of them, I think. And to notice them and do them justice on the page pushes me as a writer.”
On a personal note, how has the revelation you had about ‘Babcia’ as described in “Pipestone” impacted your life since the event?
“I’m going to be thinking and writing about my Babcia for some time yet. It’s been almost 10 years since she died, but I am still curious about the shades of her personality and the turns of her life. This essay is just one piece of the puzzle. I haven’t yet delved into her work as a newspaper reporter or cookbook author. I want to dig into family papers and the state historical society archives to learn about her experience as a patient in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the 1950s. She lived with only one lung for the rest of her life. Babcia was elegant, but she was tough.”
Kathryn Ganfield is a nature writer and essayist. She’s always lived in river towns, where everything old is made new again. Born in Portland, Oregon, she grew up and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her work is forthcoming in Tiny Seed Journal, and has appeared in Plum Tree Tavern, Write to the River, and The Talking Stick.