Al Batt: It’s one of Lester’s dirty little secrets in the state

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

What is the official state muffin of Minnesota?

Al Batt

Please phrase your answer in the form of a question as the state song “Hail! Minnesota” plays.

Time’s up. It’s the blueberry muffin. Not all states have an official state muffin. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? And they call themselves states?

I’ll give you a much easier question. What is the state soil? 

It’s Lester. If your name is Lester, I can’t believe you didn’t know that. The soil is found in 16 counties and was named for the city of Lester Prairie.

What is our state grain, state gemstone and state photograph? Wild rice, agate and Grace. The state bird is the loon, making Minnesotans lunatics. I think the black-capped chickadee should be the state bird while the loon is wintering in the south. It has a remarkable ability to recall the locations of hundreds of stored seeds because its hippocampus, responsible for memory, expands in volume by approximately 30% in the fall. In spring, less memory is needed and the chickadee’s hippocampus shrinks to its normal size. I digress.

The state drink? Milk. Did you guess Grain Belt or Hamm’s? The state fish is the walleye, the fruit is the Honeycrisp apple, the flower is the pink lady’s slipper, the mushroom the morel, the tree the Norway pine, the bee the rusty patched bumblebee and the butterfly is the beloved monarch. You could fill a tent with them and charge admission. You couldn’t do that with mosquitoes or wasps.

Our state sport is ice hockey. The state status symbol is owning a Zamboni. The state motto is “L’etoile du Nord,” selected by Minnesota’s first governor, Henry Sibley. The French said it meant, “Star of the North,” but can we trust them? They say snails are good eating.

We have unofficial state symbols. The Land of 10,000 Lakes was promoted in a tourism campaign in the 1920s and it must be true, it’s on our license plates. Depending on the source, the Gopher State has 11,482 to 14,444 lakes 10 acres or larger. The nickname, Gopher State, derives from a political cartoon depicting either railroad tycoons or legislators as thirteen-lined ground squirrels pulling a train car.

We need other official state symbols. The Zildjian, the world’s largest maker of cymbals, should be the state cymbal. The state conspiracy theory is there is no Iowa. The state disappointment, the Minnesota Vikings.

Yesterday, when I was younger, I headed home after working in South Dakota. It was a beautiful winter day as I listened to the radio of a car whose motto was “be repaired” when I heard the whispers of a storm — heavy snowfall and my choice of two sides — low temperatures, high winds, icy roads, dangerous windchill factor or whiteout conditions. Snowstorms surprised us in those days. Prognostications weren’t as astoundingly accurate as they are today. Still, it was a frowny-faced forecast. It began to snow. I thought I could beat the storm. The dire weather prediction was a 99% possibility. “So, you’re saying I have a chance,” I said. I wanted to get home. If I could just get home, everything would be fine. It kept snowing and I kept going because I had nowhere else to go. It became an epic blizzard. The National Weather Service defines a blizzard as blowing or falling snow, winds of at least 35 mph, and visibility of a quarter-mile or less for at least three hours. In other words, an average winter day. As I drove, for each degree the temp dropped, the wind speed gained 2 mph. I nearly made it to Worthington, but I and a dozen other stranded motorists bunked with a farm family who believed what is written in Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” Their angel detector didn’t go off in my presence, but I was able to hole up there until things blew over. The kindness of those good people echoes many years later. I made it home.

Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” said, “There’s no place like home.” 

That symbolizes Minnesota for me.

The most significant state symbol to me is my home.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.