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Back Roads: Poetry poses photographic challenge

Jakob Myrah crawls out of a cave where Spring Grove poet Joseph Langland once went to write poetry. He helped his mother, Kathrine Myrah, who was photographing the land near Spring Grove where Langland grew up.

SPRING GROVE — For her part in celebrating the life of Joseph Langland, who grew up near Spring Grove and grew to be a nationally known poet, Kathrine Myrah needed a big camera and a small boy.

As part of the opening of Sunday's celebration at the Giants of the Earth Heritage Center in downtown Spring Grove, there will be readings of his works and photos of the small farm where he grew up.

That's where Myrah came in.

The rural Spring Grove woman was hired to take photos both of the farm — which was actually across the border in Iowa — and also offer her photographic interpretation of some of the poet's works.

She liked the challenge of interpreting, not just recording.


"I was very excited about it," she said. "My favorite photo job would be where it's more of an artistic view rather than taking pictures of a tractor."

Myrah likes to spend time on a shoot, looking for that special shot. "I could spend all day getting that zinger," she said. "I get lost. It's almost a feeling. It's euphoric, fun."

She read some of Langland's poems and was struck by his earthy, common imagery. She tried to show that via her photos.

"I really liked his poems," she said. "I could just picture him in most of them as a younger man on the farm."

Her first trip to the farm, now owned by Langland's nephew, was March 1 after a snowstorm.

"It was magical because there was this blanket of snow," she said.

It was also very cold, but she loved being there, seeing how snow piled up on fence posts and rocks in the small creek where Joseph Langland once went for inspiration.

The next time was May 3 when she brought along her son, Jakob, 13. While they were walking in Langland's footsteps, he was to slither on his belly to follow Langland.


The story was that the poet as a youth knew of a small cave where he would go to write, Myrah said. According to the story, only a small child could get in it.

Langland's nephew took them to a tall bluff overlooking Bear Creek and showed them how to get down part way to where the cave might be. He hadn't been back there for 20 years, so he wasn't sure where it was.

When Myrah, her husband, Matt Myrah, and Jakob went down the bluff, the boy took off on his own. Soon they heard him yell, "I found it," Matt said.

"I crawled in right away," the boy said. It was "pretty cold."

His parents followed. They slithered into a small room maybe big enough for a card table and four adults around it. Katherine didn't stop taking pictures. She was fascinated by that cave.

"Everyone has their own idea of why he did it," Matt said.

Langland might have gone there for the quiet, the solitude or that back then, when there was no air conditioning, he went to the cave to cool down, he said.

Kathrine Myrah wasn't too concerned why. Just that Langland was there, and now she was there with her beloved camera, looking for that zinger.


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