Hi. My name is Kate Wallace and I'm a photographer, graphic designer, and writer.

I went to the College of Saint Benedict for a liberal studies major with an emphasis on graphic design. Three years later I decided that wasn't enough and got a master's degree in mass communications.

I like the creative side of logistics. There are many times when I identify with being a left-brainer, then there are other times when I completely understand the right side of my brain. I may not be a very innovative graphic artist, but I am definitely a graphic designer. I love to write creative non-fiction and revel in the rules of punctuation and spelling. Photography combines the artistic and the logistics in everything about it.

Take a look; have a peek; chance a glance.

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Extra Ordinary

Once a year, Spicer, Minnesota, becomes a phenomenal town.

Until then, the little town located in Southwestern Minnesota is rather mediocre. The people number 1,083 according to the green sign with white lettering on the side of the road at the edge of town. There is a Hardware Hank, a Family Video where the selection fits into a teaspoon, a Dairy Queen that’s open year-round, three bars, a Green Lake “Mall” with a grand total of three stores and a dentist, and about 10 churches. If it weren’t for Green Lake, Spicer would have no attraction. The lake’s claims to fame are tracked on a wall in the laundromat. According to the left side of the wall, during one fishing opener Governor Arne Carlson sat in a boat on the lake and waited for a fish to tug at his line. The right side shows the pictorial of Green Lake ice creating the ice palace in St. Paul.

Other than its few brushes with almost fame, the lake is just like any other slightly large lake. It has a few more pontoons, speedboats, water-skiers, and swimmers in the summer than most lakes, and even more ice-fishers in the winter. Still, it is just a lake with houses surrounding it and a small town on its west side denoted by an aluminum water tower with a red top and the words “Spicer is Nicer” scrawled across it. The people are simple, also. The summer people come and go with the seasons, so during a winter drive around the lake you can point them out by whether or not a driveway is plowed. The year-round people are mostly graduates of New London-Spicer High School, never having the money, ambition, or gumption to leave the area. These year-rounders don’t live on the lake; they tend to live in Spicer or out in the country where the houses are more modest (like them) and the property taxes cheaper. Many have to commute to Willmar, 15 minutes away, to earn a living, because in a town of not quite 1,100, there aren’t that many jobs.

Every Friday, there is a mini “class reunion” in the bars because those who still live in the town have nothing better to do on a Friday night. The bar where these take place is usually O’Neils, kitty-corner from the park adjacent to the lake. The bar is smoky, dirty, and sticky on the shoes. It serves food until 10 p.m., and then the minors get evicted and the regulars trickle in. The bartenders are usually younger graduates of the high school. The bartending women wear tight shirts that say “Go home, Take a nap, Get more money, Come on back,” usually with short shorts in the summer and tight jeans in the winter.

It’s a rite of passage when a class turns 21 and can finally go to the bar on the weekends. By that time, half the people in the class are married and have two kids, but the 21st birthday is still highly celebrated. Even 20 years after graduation, if they live in Spicer, they go to the bar to see people they have known since kindergarten. Such is the nature of Spicer.

The seasons in the town are similar to any other Minnesota community’s. Fall lasts a week, with spectacular leafy trees surrounding the lake in oranges, reds, yellows, and earthy browns. The boats stay on the lake as long as possible, and even after it freezes, a few boats try to navigate their way through the icy water. Then comes the interminable wait for the ice to thicken enough to pull the icehouses out behind 4 X 4 pickups, sit on the ice, drink beer, look into a hole, and wait for a fish to take a nibble at the line.

Ice fishing, combined with the constant snowmobiling across the lake and between the surrounding small towns, is the main sport during Spicer winters. It’s not uncommon to see a fully clad snowmobiler with his snowsuit, helmet, facemask and heavy, thick thermal gloves in the gas station paying for gas he just put in his rig.

Come late-February-March, the snow wanes, the temperature rises, and the ice-fishers are trying to get the most they can from the lake’s ice before it breaks up, melts, and becomes one with the liquid water once again, or the fateful mandated day arrives when it’s decreed all ice houses must be off the ice. But soon fishing opener comes around again and the boats are back in full force.

Then the weather gets a little warmer than comfortable, and the sun beats down more often than not. The lake-goers wear sandals on the walk to the lake because the black asphalt is too hot for bare feet. They carry blankets for lying on the sandy beach and a magazine or a pair of headphones and a CD player. The teenagers lie in the hot sun coated in suntan lotion to get the most they can out of the sun while yakking with their friends.

Parents sit in the shade where possible, reading a book or chatting with other parents. They call their kids over and slather sunscreen all over their bodies, making sure the tops of their ears are fully protected. Soon sweat from running back and forth on the beach combines with sunscreen and it runs in their eyes. They wipe their hands across their face until they need to jump in the lake to rinse off. Then their parents call them back to re-apply. It is the peak of summer.

It’s at this time that the energy level is buzzing at an all-year high. The excitement level increases among the locals as they chat with each other in the grocery store over the meat counter or in the check-out lane, over coffee and a pastry at their regular café, after church on Sunday, or while perusing the lures at the small sports shop. The auto and people traffic increase, the visitors to the liquor stores increase, and the retail of red-white-and-blue is up about 100%. Spicer is readying itself for its true claim to fame.

Graduates come back to Spicer and are a little proud of it. Summer people have managed to be in Spicer between their other vacations. And anyone who ever set foot in Spicer during a fourth of July celebration comes back.

It’s a combination of people from all sorts of backgrounds: the people from Willmar, the people from surrounding small towns, the summer people, the people who come back “home,” and the people who live there. Together in one conglomerated mass of bodies, sweat, swimsuits, food, and beer, they put aside their differences and celebrate the independence of the country.

Although many parts make the whole of the four-day celebration, the actual day is what is most important. Starting the night of July third, the parade attendees set out their lawn chairs, blankets, and towels to reserve their spots. Even if it’s raining (which has happened only twice in ten years: once a light sprinkle that ended by 2 p.m. and once a heavy rain early in the morning that let up so the sun shone brightly halfway through the parade), it’s not unusual to drive the parade route early morning and see the entire street’s sidewalks covered in blankets and chairs.

Each float has gobs of candy to throw. If you’re lucky, you know the woman pulling the float for Miss Spicer or the guy who drives the red, open-sided bus for Jimmy Appleseed’s, the local orchard. If that’s the case, you get a handful of pixie stix and bubble gum thrown at you. The Country Stop float hands fresh apples, oranges, and peaches to people; the local bank sails Frisbees with their name imprinted on them to the older people sitting in their comfy lawn chairs holding their icy beverages with their hat brims covering their faces. The parade lasts one-and-a-half to two hours. By the time it’s finished, the kids have bags filled with candy, their faces smiling broadly; the grandmas wave the Frisbees and fruit they received.

Until the fireworks begin just after dusk, Spicer is buzzing with excitement. People cross the busy highway that runs through the town to meander through the flea market that has booth after booth of junk no one really needs. One booth has an endless supply of tie-dyed clothes; another has pretty sparkly ribbons clipped onto the ends of sticks that children beg their parents to buy for them. The smells of mini-doughnuts, hot dogs, kettle corn, and cotton candy fill the air.

On the other side of the highway (past the state troopers conducting traffic - people and vehicular), the park next to the expanse of Green Lake is filled with blankets spread on the grass, lawn chairs, grills, coolers and people. All day people swim, eat, chat, linger, shop and enjoy the sun.

Come dusk, the park is filled to the max. Space is limited, and like setting out blankets and towels the night before for the parade, people have spots saved all day for the fireworks show. Boats cluster close to shore and slowly dissipate toward the middle of the lake, waiting for the fireworks. At about 10:30 p.m., little shoots of sparks start to fly toward the sky and a cheer goes up. Red, blue, white, yellow, gold. Umbrella, bursts, bursts that burst from bursts, smiley faces, multi-colored. All the fireworks imagined shoot into the dark sky, producing oohs and aahs. After 20 minutes or so, a horde of color is launched from the dock and a line of gold spurts over the ground as the grand finale.

Once the fireworks are over, the people trudge to their cars hauling their coolers and blankets and kids, and work their way back to their homes after spending 15 minutes trying to get out of Spicer. Over the next week, Spicer returns to its traditional ways as the visitors go back to their own homes. The summer begins to fade as the year enters August, and the regulars resume their old habits. Until next July, the town of Spicer is just another ordinary town of 1,083 with a slightly larger-than-normal lake and a few almost-brushes with fame.