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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hiding Out in Driftless with the Ghost of Harriet Hosmer

In this political season, it is good to unplug and go on a road trip into one of the less celebrated areas of our nation. One of the things that is especially great about the United States is the abundance of elbow room and beautiful places that are relatively unoccupied.  One of the places I head to when I need to hide out is the Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Refuge, a massive swath of the northern section of the Big Muddy, covering  over 200,000 acres and 260 miles of the river's path.

This is not a densely populated area, and it is pretty dang far from major cities.  It is over 250 miles to Chicago, 193 miles to Milwaukee, 198 miles to Minneapolis.  There is lots of farming, hunting, fishing and Harley riding happening in this region.  They call it the Driftless Area, a lovely name that sounds philosophical  but refers to the fact that the great glaciers didn't drift this far south back in ancient times.  There are plenty of forested hillsides and sculpted valleys cut into limestone bedrock.  When you pass a car on the road, the occupants invariably raise their hand in a peaceful, friendly greeting.  Life is slower here, and much quieter.  You can see all the stars when you step outside your cabin door at night and gaze skyward.

The media is blasting news of Romney and Obama into our brains all day and all night.  The Artic ice is melting at an alarmingly rapid pace.  The United States is lurching insanely toward the Fiscal Cliff. The Cubs are on track to lose 100 games this season, which, remarkably, wouldn't be their worst season (they lost 103 games in 1962 and 1966).  In spite of all this distressing crap, the Driftless Area cruises on, basking in local joys and coping with local sorrows.

On the east side of the Mississippi, in Lansing, Iowa, there is a city park, Mt. Hosmer Park.  As you would surmise, it contains Mt. Hosmer.  The view form Mt. Hosmer is pictured above.  At the summit is a lovely World War I memorial and on the cliff overlooking the spectacular Upper Mississippi region is a 60-foot flagpole erected by a local committee that included the American Legion and VFW chapters.  Mt. Hosmer was named for Harriet Hosmer, a noted 19th century American sculptress who spent time traveling the "wild Mississippi" in the early 1850's when she was a young woman.  The little mountain was named for Miss Hosmer because she won a footrace to the summit that occurred during a steamboat layover in 1851.  Miss Hosmer was known as an "independent woman" - she didn't marry and preferred the company of other women, specifically spending 25 years with a certain Lady Ashburton (mostly in Europe).  Harriet was quite the cut-up - Henry James called her "the life of every party."

Now, I didn't expect to learn that a mountain in Lansing IA was named after a wild and crazy 19th century lesbian sculptor.  This is one of those pieces of information that makes me feel quite pleased with the bone-deep quirkiness of the USofA.  Good, old Iowa!

I can go back home now, a bit refreshed and a little more confident that we will all muddle through somehow.

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