Dave Skoloda: Wisconsin, Minnesota and clashing symbols
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Dave Skoloda: Wisconsin, Minnesota and clashing symbols

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Minnesota has a state bumble bee (the Rusty-patched), but Wisconsin doesn’t.

Why is that? Minnesota also has a state mushroom, a state photo and a state muffin. Why doesn’t Wisconsin have a state muffin? one might ask.

The answer is the Wisconsin Legislature isn’t keeping up with the demand for state symbol creations, among other deficiencies.

Dave Skoloda

Dave Skoloda

Minnesota’s muffin (the blueberry) was advocated for state symbol status by third graders from South Terrace Elementary School in Carlton, Minnesota. Legislators leaped to make it so.

According to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Bureau, “the third graders were inspired by a Massachusetts class who lobbied for the corn muffin to become an official symbol in that state.

The Minnesota school children chose the blueberry muffin because wheat is an important crop in southern Minnesota and wild blueberries are common in northern Minnesota.”

Our state has blueberries, too. Where’s the muffin love here?

The Republican-controlled Legislature, its policy making slowed by the sands of political discord in its gears, can’t seem to tackle the hard stuff, you know, like protecting the citizens of the state from gun violence or cleaning up the state’s waters. Maybe a little light housekeeping in the state’s symbols would be right up their alley.

Legislators could start by finding a new state waltz. The old one “The Wisconsin Waltz” is not quite the uplifting tune one would expect from a state so musically inclined. It’s on You Tube if you want to form your own opinion.

And there seems to be a problem in the choice of corn as the state grain.

Extension tells us “corn seed is actually a vegetable, a grain and a fruit. Corn seed is a vegetable because it is harvested for eating.

(Usually sweet corn when grain is harvested at the milk stage.) Corn seed is a grain because it is a dry seed of a grass species. (Usually field corn when harvested after the grain is relatively dry.)

Corn seed is a fruit because that is the botanical definition.”

So is corn the state fruit and state vegetable as well? The cranberry is already designated the state fruit but there’s no state vegetable. Why is that?

Minnesota had a similar issue. The reference bureau noted, “While designated our state grain, wild rice is actually a hardy aquatic annual grass.”

As to the state photo, Minnesota chose the familiar picture of the an old bearded man praying, head on folded hands, over a soup bowl and small loaf of bread and titled “Grace.”

The photographer, who staged the photo about a hundred years ago using an itinerant salesman as a subject, was a Swedish immigrant who meant to “evoke the spirit of religious faith, thankfulness and humility he associated with many of the newly arrived European immigrants to Minnesota,” according to a story about the photo in MinnPost using information from the Minnesota Historical Society. The photographer wanted “Grace” to represent survival in the face of hardship.

To equal Minnesota’s photo in a modern Wisconsin context, the Legislature might search for images of immigrants who serve the dairy industry, a particularly apt nod to the prominence of the industry in the list of state symbols: state domesticated animal, dairy cow; state beverage, milk; state dairy product, cheese; and, last but surely not least, state slogan, “America’s Dairyland.” Speaking of survival in the face of hardship ...

And then there is the matter of the state flower — the common, delicate and modest wood violet, which is also the state flower of Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Minnesota has the spectacular pink and white lady slipper as its state flower, a flower of singular beauty.

Wisconsin has such a flower as well, a brilliant red cardinal flower that shares its name with the University of Wisconsin Madison’s school colors — cardinal and white.

How did we pass up an opportunity to make that connection official as in a state flower designation? An easy fix: since we already have three state animals — the badger, the cow and the deer — so we could certainly have two flowers as well.

So many beautiful flowers and so few designated — state wetland flower, state prairie flower, state woodland flower, state garden flower.

The list goes on, with endless opportunities for the enterprising legislator with time on his or her hands and a record of progressive legislation to uphold.

Dave Skoloda resides in La Crosse.

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