Rain drizzles, sometimes splatters, across the windshield of our van as my husband and I aim toward the southwestern Minnesota prairie, driving toward Lamberton for a day of making horseradish with my extended family. It is a time-honored tradition, started by my father, dead 10 years now.
For me, this 120-mile trip from our Faribault home is not as much about the horseradish as it is about family and memories and spending a weekend in my beloved native prairie, the place that shaped me in to the person/writer/photographer I’ve become.
Even after 40 years away from this place of big skies and flat open spaces, of small towns and family farms, of corn and soybean fields stretching into forever, I still miss this land.
Especially at harvest time.
As we journey, my head pivots toward the corn and the beans, ripened mostly to muted gold.
I can almost hear the corn leaves rustling in the bendy wind under moody grey skies.
I can almost smell the intoxicating scent of earth that prevails only at harvest time.
I can almost hear the chomping combines and rumbling grain trucks, the roaring tractors and the lumbering grain wagons, parked and silent now as rain sweeps across the acres.
Later that day, after we’ve reached our rural destination and dug, washed, peeled, chopped, blended and bottled the horseradish, the heaviest of the clouds lift and shift east.
By Sunday morning we awaken to the clear and crisp skies of autumn in rural Minnesota.
It’s a perfect morning.
Sunshine upon fields.
Sunshine pooling upon my lap as we aim east, past bins and barns and bountiful fields, back home.
Past the ripening crops. Through the small towns, like Lamberton and Springfield and Sleepy Eye.
And when we reach the western outskirts of New Ulm, I feel as if we’ve crossed a line. Menards and Walmart loom to the left. U.S. Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, is now a four-lane through this German community, busy with traffic and drivers racing to get ahead before the roadway once again narrows to two lanes en route to Mankato.
My mood shifts. I’ve left the peace of the prairie, the one place on this earth that holds my soul in solace.