'My Ocean': On the Ordway Prairie in west central Minnesota

As a stiff west wind whips her long black hair and bends the tall green prairie grass she's standing on, Bethany Lacktorin spreads her arms wide. "When I was little I used to tell people that this was my ocean," said Lacktorin, motioning to the r...

As a stiff west wind whips her long black hair and bends the tall green prairie grass she’s standing on, Bethany Lacktorin spreads her arms wide.

“When I was little I used to tell people that this was my ocean,” said Lacktorin, motioning to the rolling hills of the Ordway Prairie, north on state Hwy. 104 from Sunburg, near Brooten.

She then slips an orange life vest over her head and leads a small group of people -- who are also wearing life vests -- into the prairie that is filled with the sound of wind, wind chimes, a gently plucked guitar and the dissonant humming of shape-note vocalists.

In a unique one-hour site-specific walking performance that weaves natural and instrumental music with history of the glaciers that carved out the hills, the Dakota people that once lived there, and stories from her own childhood, Lacktorin creates an experience that encourages people to listen to the land.

“Part of my hope is that by bringing you these stories, music and creating a shared experience on the prairie that it’ll give you a way to reconnect with the land,” she said, explaining the goal of her project, which is called “My Ocean.”


“To create a relationship between you and the land that you might not have had before -- or it’s just been a long time,” she said.

Lacktorin grew up across the road from the 565-acre Ordway Prairie, which was purchased by the Nature Conservancy the same year she was born in South Korea.

Lactorin’s adopted family has a long line of women -- starting with her great-grandmother and ending with her mother -- who operated a general store, telephone switchboard and coffee shop in the family home overlooking the prairie.

Lacktorin, an artist who lived in Minneapolis and Prague in the Czech Republic prior to returning to her childhood home to care for her mother before she died in 2014, is now telling her story of the prairie.

She will present “My Ocean” six times over two days -- Aug. 13-14 -- in performances scheduled at 12, 3 and 6 p.m.

In order to preserve the integrity of the Ordway Prairie, which is located west of Brooten in Pope County, each performance is limited to an audience of just 12 people. Reservations for the free performance can be made by going to .

Lacktorin collaborated with several musicians for the project, including James Everest, who plays guitar and harmonica and set up pre-recorded sounds that are placed in the Lacktorin’s front yard. The subtle musical sounds seem to surround the yard.


The old Lake Johanna Store burned down in 2001 and the family built a log house on the site.

Photos and newspaper clippings of the old store, where local farmers and tourists traveling on state Highway 104 would stop for everything from treats to farm supplies, are also on display in the yard.

That’s where the performance begins.

During a dress rehearsal in late June, the audience was invited to listen to the sounds and take in the visual stories.

“They’ll be in this place and cleansing the palate,” said Everest of the “ceremonial-” type beginning of the performance. “It’s really about slowing down and quieting down and really explore it spatially.”

Lacktorin enters the yard playing a small accordion that launches her first story of growing up on the prairie.

With an ability to smoothly transform from an adult telling a story to a child reliving the experience, Lacktorin takes the audience on a literal and figurative journey.

“As we walk through the prairie, so much of the compositions are about listening first and relating to the sounds we hear and finding ways to contribute to that sound,” she said.


The journey includes being introduced to her childhood wind god, Ivan Bin Lose. Dressed all in red and played by Jais Gossman, the wind god races across the prairie that the audience will slowly walk in.

The performance also includes a stop at the historic marker for the 1863-era military outpost of Fort Lake Johanna, which also serves as a scenic overlook to the Ordway Prairie.

When she was a little girl, Lacktorin said she would watch the people who would stop at the site for a five-minute stretch and then get back in the car and on the road. She wondered how they could be satisfied with such a short time of looking at the prairie, as if it were a painting in a museum.

Through her storytelling walk, Lacktorin said she wants to break down that invisible border and bring people into the prairie artwork.


Performances for “My Ocean” are 12, 3 and 6 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 14.

The performance is free but reservations are required and can be obtained online at .

The performance begins at 31505 State Highway 104, in rural Brooten, and entails about a 45-minute walk on uneven surfaces. It is not handicapped accessible.

Questions can be emailed to

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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