Wacipi: A Day of Cultural Education and Humility

Reflections from the Lower Sioux Indian Community Wacipi, 2021

A dancer at the 2021 Lower Sioux Indian Community Wacipi.

(I thank the people of the Lower Sioux Indian Community for their warm hospitality. All photographs were taken by me as means of honoring this event, so important in the lives of our Native American friends. These photos are not meant for material gain and there are no links to other places on my website. If you see an image which may be offensive to Native Cultures, please let me know using the contact information included on this site and it will be removed.)

Cultural education and cultural humility are vital for me as a white man focused on being anti-racist. Cultural education means learning about the many cultures of the world. It may sound like a simple statement but before any learning is done, we need to acknowledge the existence of other cultures. When I acknowledge the existence of another culture, I see it. That is so important! There are so many times when racial minorities feel unseen, disregarded, and non-existent by the majority culture. I work every day to uncover and correct the cultural blindness of the falsehood of white supremacy.

There is much more to seeing a culture than with the eyes. Culture is meant to be experienced with all of the senses. Immersed, if you will. There are the smells of fry bread, the sounds of the drumming, the sensation of the very earth moving with the feet of the dancers, the sight of dancers representing all ages and abilities. All I need to do is have the openness of mind needed for true cultural humility. The traditions of Native Americans are equally as rich and vibrant as my own Scandinavian heritage.

To say that there was a strong connection to the sacred on the Wacipi grounds would be an understatement. I do not know much of the particulars – there is always more to learn. I listened to the prayers. I heard the respect paid to ancestors and elders. I saw the admiration for veterans. The gathering place itself was in the form of a circle. Everything and everyone connected. I was honored to be part of the circle. I leave the rest of this post to the pictures which tell the story much better than I can.

Dancers at the 2021 Wacipi, Lower Sioux Indian Community.
Dancers at the 2021 Wacipi, Lower Sioux Indian Community.
Dancers at the 2021 Wacipi, Lower Sioux Indian Community.
Dancers at the 2021 Wacipi, Lower Sioux Indian Community.
Drummers at the 2021 Wacipi, Lower Sioux Indian Community.

Driving in Dust, A Good Filter’s a Must

This adage is as old as I wrote it – that is, about three minutes ago. A cab filter can only do so much good when driving in dust. I suppose, rolling down windows and opening doors to take pictures do not help the cause either. The gritty, muddy taste I had in my mouth on Sunday after a morning barn trip was reminiscent of stories I’ve heard about the Dust Bowl. This dust storm was much smaller and it was one created by some guy driving on hot and dry gravel roads taking pictures of barns and things (me.)

Barn and steel grain bins as I was driving in dust.
This barn probably thought it was pretty big until the grain bins arrived on the block. (Central Minnesota)

It wasn’t just me covered in dust. Everything in the car seemed to have a fine layer of country road soot – the dashboard, the steering wheel, my cell phone, and the camera bag. I’m going to have to take my camera in for a good cleaning.

This horse didn’t seem to mind the dusty day

I’d do it all over again. Till next time.

Silo, windmill, cupola – the Barnyard Skyline – Priceless

A hot day to mow hay (it usually is)

Timing means everything to get the hay crop in from the field. That means when the weather cooperates, its time to get out there – even when the temperature soars.

A farmer mows hay in the heat of a summer morning
A farmer mows hay on a hot summer’s day.

The heat was on this morning in barn country. It’s been in the 90s over the past three days with humidity levels rising. With hot and dry weather in the forecast, this should be a good week for the hay to dry and to be baled for storage.

What’s with Round Barns?

The intrigue, the mystique, the circular nature. Behold, Round Barns!

Round Barn in Central Minnesota

This was a jaw-dropping, head-turning, car-stopping scene to come across (that’s a lot of dashes.) Admittedly, I’ve seen this beauty before, but it was in the winter. Six months later, with temperatures above zero, it was a whole new experience for this barner. It was one of those times when I dawdled at the end of the driveway hoping the owner would come out so I could ask for a tour of the inside. A truck left the place but the occupant was not interested in confronting some stranger taking a picture of their place. You win some, you lose some.

The green grass highlighted the white wood which combined together to give well-deserved attention to the bright red cupola. The shingles looked to be brand new and the foundation was in near perfect condition. This barn is well taken care of into it’s second life. That’s the barn. But why is a round barn so exciting?

Speaking for myself, there’s a couple of reasons. Number one: there aren’t that many. Number two: the barns couldn’t have been easy to build. So, rarity plus ingenuity equals a pretty high cool factor.

Enjoy!

Buyer Beware!

Writing is one of the best ways to become a stronger writer! Imagine that! Follow along as I use my own photographs as spring boards for original short stories. Welcome to Unhinged, where the buyer needs to beware!

In this second segment of “Unhinged” we are transported back to when the nightmare began for our two promising home renovators. Arvid’s desire to make a quick buck at an auction sets the gears into motion for bitter regret and disappointment.

An ornate photo frame worthy of the best auction buyer

Auctions in the country are more than out-bidding your neighbor for a dining room table and three chairs. You can buy yourself a sloppy joe sandwich, bag of potato chips, and a can of pop for $3.75, proceeds benefitting the local 4-H club. You can then eat your sandwich, start the bag of chips, and drink the can of pop while you check out the lines of housewares, yard wares, and trinkets for sale.

Estate sales are probably the most common. Someone dies or goes to the nursing home (is there a difference?) and, before you know it, everything is out in the yard. The auctioneers voice moves in rhythm with the bidders hands up in the air. The lawn mower goes first, followed by a huge collection of garden equipment and six boxes of hand-stitched quilts – works of art really, which took someone years to complete. All this and more, gone in the first ten minutes of the auction.

Arvid needed a napkin. His beard was catching most of the hamburger from the sloppy joe but the grease rolling down his chin bugged him. “Shit,” he mumbled as tried finding something in his overalls to wipe his face. Without hankie or wadded up tissue to his name, Arvid did the next best thing and used his sleeves to wipe clean his face. “Evelyn won’t mind,” he tried to reassure himself, “She enjoys cleaning up after this type of thing.” Arvin could hear the voice of the auctioneer booming through a loudspeaker as he finished wiping off his chin.

And we have thirty, gentleman with the stained shirt in front. Thank you. Do we have thirty-five? Thirty-five…Thirty-five? Last call for thirty-five.

Arvid’s face turned pale. He broke the first rule of auctions – to keep your hands down at all costs, unless you are actually bidding.

Going once, going twice, do we have thirty-five, three times nothing folks. And…sold to the gentleman in front who has a hard time getting food to stay in his mouth.

Hold up your number there sir!

The crowd’s laughter made Arvid sick to his stomach. He held up his number (149) and walked over to the box he just bought for $35. Arvid grabbed the box, opened the card board flaps, and shook his head.

“I got screwed,” muttered Arvid as he collapsed into a folding chair with a box full of glass jars filled with an assortment of screws, nails, tacks, and buttons.

“Evelyn taking you down another peg tonight Arvid?” asked the guy from the hardware store. Arvid met the jeer with a full two middle finger salute. Of course, this left the box dangling precariously off his lap. Arvid inadvertently moved just right for the for the box to fall on the ground, sending the collection of junk scattering on the ground.

Unhinged: A Photo Inspired Short Story

Writing is one of the best ways in becoming a stronger writer! Imagine that! Follow along as I use my own photographs as spring boards for original short stories.

Part I

Evelyn and Arvid are introduced in this first installment of “Unhinged.” Will their dream of renovating an old farmhouse bring them together or will they be swallowed up in a money pit of their own making?

An ornate metal hinge on a freshly painted door
An seemingly benign metal door hinge.

The old woman gazed upon the wooden door with tender eyes blinded by years of anger and mistrust. The ornate door, temporarily unhinged and leaning against the wall, was original to the house. It was her husband’s first project when they began the renovation of this ancient farm house.

Her one regret in life, that she failed to see through his madness earlier.

“Oh, how naïve we both were back then. To think something that big would have brought us together,” Evelyn muttered as she shuffled to her closet,” Her meager collection of clothes still hung as she left them – neat and orderly. Evelyn took an extra moment to feel the satin of her favorite dress. At least she could rely on something consistent in her life.

“Mother!” rang the shrill voice of her daughter-in-law in the kitchen below, “I hear you moving around up there. You’d better be using your walker!”

Evelyn shuttered and responded with a forced smile, “As always, honey!”

She gazed around her bedroom but couldn’t make out the location of her walker. If push came to shove, she’d tell a little fib. It was something she took pride in. “A little falsity never hurt anybody,” she tried to reassure herself.

Evelyn closed the closet door and carefully shuffled the few steps between her and the beautifully restored bedroom door complete with it’s original hardware. She slid her hand across the meticulously painted door until she felt the cool metal of a door hinge. “Oh, who am I kidding? It’s going to be me who gets hurt. It always is.”

~

Auctions in the country are more than out-bidding your neighbor for a dining room table and three chairs. You can buy yourself a sloppy joe sandwich, bag of potato chips, and a can of pop for $3.75, proceeds benefitting the local 4-H club. You can then eat your sandwich, start the bag of chips, and drink the can of pop while you check out the lines of housewares, yard wares, and trinkets for sale.

Estate sales are probably the most common. Someone dies or goes to the nursing home (is there a difference?) and, before you know it, everything is out in the yard. The auctioneers voice moves in rhythm with the bidders hands up in the air. The lawn mower goes first, followed by a huge collection of garden equipment and six boxes of hand-stitched quilts – works of art really, which took someone years to complete. All this and more, gone in the first ten minutes of the auction.

Arvid needed a napkin. His beard was catching most of the hamburger from the sloppy joe but the grease rolling down his chin bugged him. “Shit,” he mumbled as tried finding something in his overalls to wipe his face. Without hankie or wadded up tissue to his name, Arvid did the next best thing and used his sleeves to wipe clean his face. “Evelyn won’t mind,” he tried to reassure himself, “She enjoys cleaning up after this type of thing.”

Immersing Myself into the Fusion of Tree and Stone

Tree and Stone Fusion at Interstate State Park, Taylor’s Falls, Minnesota

I’ve been drawn for some time to the fusion of trees and stone. These images evoke within me feelings of strength and perseverance into a sort of juncture which benefits both tree and stone.

Movement is a consequence of time – whether it is at the fast speed of a super-sonic jet or at the relaxed movement of continental plates. When we think about it further, everything on the earth is moving as we witness the rotation of the planet resulting in dawn and dusk, morning and evening, day and night.

The stone is held in place by the roots of the tree.
The fusing of tree and stone
The tree roots mirror the shape of the stone.
It looks like the stones have provided a good place for this tree to grow and thrive!

Interstate State Park is a wonderful location for contemplation and meditation. It seems like I notice something new every time I go and yesterday did not disappoint. Usually I’m with a group of people and there isn’t much opportunity for self-reflection. So I took advantage of being alone with no set schedule by sitting down and letting the fusing of the stone and trees speak to me.

The long and slow opening up of the soul.

While I sit I allow my thoughts to come and go. I let other distractions come and go – the buzz of traffic on the nearby highway, the chatter of a group finishing a rock-climbing class, and a conversation I overhear between two people on past experiences of love. And I am open to a new understanding of this relationship between stone and tree.

The tree seems to sprout out from solid rock.

Whoa! Back up a Bit!

Whoa! Silos in Southwestern Minnesota!

“Whoa! What do we have here?” are the words I usually use when I’m about to back the car up. It’s also a cue for anyone else riding in the car with me to roll their eyes. Barning brings out the eye rolls from people who just don’t understand the thrill of coming across something really cool which is begging to be photographed. One of my previous blog posts introduces the “barning” phenomena.

Take a look at the two corn cribs above. These two beauties were simply standing there in a group of trees – the rest of the farm having been plowed under. It was a total back-up moment. How often do I see a landscape more suited for some science fiction movie? Whoa! Something not to be missed!

Whoa! This farm begs to be photographed!
Whoa! Stark colors paired perfectly.

The black soil of this plowed field, the barn-red buildings, and the white silo all go together so well. I distinctly remember the “Whoa” moment – first and foremost, making sure traffic was clear in both directions. Then I drove backwards through the cloud of gravel dust I created. Sa-tis-fac-tion. Looking through the camera lens, I knew right away I had a winner.

There are, of course, times when I don’t put the car into reverse or make a U turn to get a picture. I could chalk it up to a lazy moment but I also try to let some things just be – to just be seen. I don’t have to take a picture of everything, right?

Jeff

PS. If you have that “Whoa! Back up a bit” moment looking through the pictures on my website, I’d love to have you check out my store!

Wright County, you did not disappoint!

The remains of a silo off of a rural road in Wright County.

I managed to stay in one county during today’s barning trip. I came full circle today at least twice and I drove past a couple places I know I’ve seen on other trips. Barn trips have taken me to Wright County before, but it truly outperformed itself this time.

The caption above the flag reads, 1863. This vintage of red pairs with just about anything.

It can take a good hour or so to get into barn country even after leaving the Metro area. I’ve discovered there is a layer of suburbia after the suburbs. Newer homes with large acre lots, lake cabins and smaller hobby farms don’t lend themselves to a HBQ (High Barn Quotient.) Once I got out there though, Wright County did not disappoint!

About as cool as cool gets for abandoned farmhouses. Wright County

This abandoned farm house takes first place for today’s tour. I’ve never seen the remains of a brick facade over the wooden interior. It was one of those “so that’s how they do it” moments. The farm site included a worthy barn and other outbuildings still intact. Someone was planting in the field nearby and there was some traffic on the road. I thought if I stayed near the driveway entrance long enough that someone would stop and ask what I was doing. That would have given me the chance to ask for permission to walk around the site instead of getting pictures from the road. But, from the road it was!

Ever have a barn photobomb your picture of pelicans?

Pelicans are huge birds! I never knew how big pelicans are until I saw a flock today from the shore of a Wright County Lake. You’ve got to see one for yourself some day! If you haven’t been to Minnesota yet and you like bird watching, now is the time to visit just about any lake in the state. My camera could use a stronger zoom lens to get shots like this but I used what I had available. I think things worked out just fine with a barn even appearing in the background.

Perfect image for the end of a thrilling farm tour in Wright County.

There’s a great way for you to be part of today’s barning tour! I’ve already put today’s photographs together into a 12-note card variety pack. 2 cards of 6 images equal 12 opportunities for you to surprise that special someone with a handwritten card in the mail. Just click on the picture below to place your order!

12 note cards of images from Wright County.
May 8 Montage

Patience

Do I have the patience it takes to be a private eye?

Patience and a little luck combined for a great photographer of birds on the move.

This question comes up frequently as I work my way through all three seasons of “Jessica Jones” on Netflix. The physical strength of Jessica’s super-hero status certainly helps her out when confronted by bad people doing bad things. The combination of brawn plus brains definitely comes in handy in these cases.

Jessica’s superhero strength is equally matched by her superhero patience. Yes, patience can be a super-power. She has the patience to do a stake-out for days whereas sometimes I have just enough patience to get me through a red light.

I thought about patience the last time I was out in the field taking pictures. The thrill of finding a great photo shot keeps me going. The risk is, if something doesn’t pop out at me, I simply keep on driving. A scene catches my attention and I stop to take the picture. I don’t often sit down and wait for the opportunity to come to me. But giving someplace a mere thirty second window of worthiness might just make me miss my photograph of the year.

The thought of patience came to me as I recently strolled through a cemetery in search for some cool gravestone art. As I put my camera down to change the lens, a flock of red-winged blackbirds came swooping through the cemetery. No bird did something on its own. It was like the flock was part of a zombie collective with one mind directing all the actors. They all took flight at the same time and landed at the same time. The birds even performed a beautifully choreographed dance just to land in the branches of a neighboring tree. It made me proud to wait as long as I did before I had to grab the camera. The result was fantastic, if I don’t say (or, write) myself.

This is the image which came to me. This is the photograph given to me as an unexpected gift. There was nothing I needed to do in return except sit down and enjoy the show. Well, I did eventually reach for the camera. Letting things be without reacting to my need to take a picture of it is a constant struggle – and a perfect topic for a future blog post.

All in all, the birds got their chance to shine and I got a lesson in the wisdom of patience – with or without the superhero cape.

A Gray Day

How often are you driving down a country road when suddenly a bald eagle, just one size smaller than a pterodactyl, narrowly misses the car ahead of you as it swoops down to grab a road-kill snack? Not that often! Wouldn’t it be great to have a picture of that to post on your blog? It sure would! *sigh*

Luckily, today’s trip wasn’t a total miss. Actually, it was amazing! I was taken completely off guard by the numbers and quality of cool things to photograph. I shook off the whole missed bird fiasco and followed the scent of the barnyard to some stunning country scenes.

Images like a simple abandoned barn standing alone in a group of trees. The rest of the farm buildings were likely leveled years ago while the barn itself looked to be on its last minutes of life. Yet, there the barn stood with the freedom to go down on its own terms. The last wishes in its advanced care directive were being followed down to the letter.

East Side
West Side

I learned about moscovy ducks after posting a picture I took of a previously unknown variety of duck. I can say with certainty I did not wake up this morning thinking I’d photograph a moscovy duck today. But, hey, unknown wishes do come true!

The person in charge of grading the township roads is going to have her work cut out for her when things dry up a little. There were the usual ruts and holes to contend with, plus the soupy, sleek spots in the dirt roads which serve as ditch feeders (as in, they direct the car into the ditch with a mystifying power.)

There seemed to be more abandoned houses in today’s trip than I’ve seen for a while. I love to see what people haven’t done to the homes whose walls still reverberate with the stories of generations. The first floor of one abandoned house (what could be done without a ladder) was covered in graffiti. I would show it as part of this blog but there’s obscenity standards to follow. Believe me when I say the graffiti would win awards for best use of language and diagrams. I’ll play it safe by sharing one house with its front porch caved in and a windsock still flying from weathered siding.

And what would a trip be without the required red barn. The one pictured below is a true beauty. It looks well-kept but doesn’t seem to be used anymore.

You won’t hear me complain too often about all the barns out there which are falling down. I completely understand the high cost of renovating things days. Plus, I am captivated by the run-down and ready-to-collapse barn just as much as the one with brand new siding and a steel roof.

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Jeff Wallager