Prairie Center: Midwesterners Speak (Part 3)

This is Part 3 of my exploration of what is “quintessentially Midwestern” and a theme of flatness and lakes seems to be emerging. It’s interesting to follow. I don’t know that I’m any closer to an answer to this question, but perhaps by way of elimination some clarity will emerge. So far, what seems most true to me (in my limited knowledge) is that the defining characteristic of the Midwest is in fact a lack of defining characteristics. Is that unfair? Or is the label “Midwest” simply too limiting?

If you missed Part 1 of this series, click here. For Part 2, click here. Additional comments are welcome on this blog or via Facebook, and thanks to all who have contributed! If you recently sent a quote in, stay tuned for Part 4…
What is quintessentially Midwestern?
Professor and poet Darla Biel shared a quote from Michael Martone: “The flatness informs the writing of the
Midwest. The flatness of the landscape can serve as a foil, the writing
standing out, a kind of Blue Hotel, in opposition to the background.
There is enough magical realism to go around here. A friend, Michael
Wilkerson, goes so far as to call the Indiana Toll Road the Bermuda
Triangle of Highway Travel. It’s true. People who drive through the
state have stories. They report mysterious breakdowns, extra-dimensional
rest stops, the miraculous appearances of state troopers. In the
white-out of the passage through the flatness, dreaming can take over.
The dull colors richen. The corn in the field begins to sparkle like the
cellophane corn on the set of the Wizard of Oz. And that movie with its
film noir depiction of the Midwest suggests another way of capturing
this place.” 
Writer and editor Lesley Weiss wrote: “There’s a
lack of pretension that sets the Midwest apart from other regions. But I
don’t think the ideas surrounding flatness or sameness can be said to
apply here in Wisconsin–we have flat stretches, but we’re pretty hilly
and varied throughout.”
Leann writes: “I grew up in a small paper mill town of about 20,000 in central
Wisconsin and ended up in Minneapolis/St. Paul for college, until I moved to
Asheville, NC in 2005…I tell people the town I grew up
in was a cultural wasteland which is why I left and never went back–there is not much of a sense of history. Minneapolis/St. Paul is
different, of course. I miss the landscape sometimes and I miss lakes, which don’t really exist much in the Appalachian mountains.”
Author Anne-Marie Oomen wrote: “Though Michigan gets lumped in the
upper Midwest category, I think we are really part of the Great Lakes
region/culture and I see us as different from other Midwestern states to
the degree that we relate to water–I mean Big Water.”
Teacher Katie W. wrote: “I do view Michigan as part of
the Midwest, but a bit different. Same slower lifestyle, where we are not
as hip as either coast. But maybe the lake boundary sets us apart?…I grew up
in Northern Michigan…While living in Petoskey, Traverse City, and
Interlochen, my home has always been less than two miles from a lake.
When I fly home and catch a view of the bay, I can’t imagine not living
near water. Going to college in mid-Michigan was a very different
experience because it was so flat and land-locked. I do feel like the
lakes and rivers are in my blood.”

  • bikegirl

    I grew up in the hilly part of Wisc, the area known as the Driftless. Lots of bluffs & long ridges. Not what people envision when they think of the Midwest. Some visitors never leave the interstate to see what the area is really like.

    Another thought on flatness: You can't truly judge the terrain until you travel by bicycle, which is why people ride rail trails. You should check out that part of Wisc. I still know people there.

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