Or “Wabi Sabi and Johnny Law go Head to Head.”

Four images.

Five miles from the UWGP ethanol plant in Friesland is Cambria, a village of fewer than 800 souls, but look what they have! Another ethanol plant! This one is far larger than the ones in Stanley or in Friesland.


There are actually two big plants here (I believe they produce more than ethanol) and they are separated only by the width of a street. A public street! Giddy with excitement, Wabi Sabi forced her long-suffering driver to circle the plants and make three swings down the street to the dead end and back, pausing repeatedly so that she could jump out and shoot both sides. On the second pass, two men with clipboards and hardhats stared us down.


On the third, the plant Security and Environmental Safety officer stopped us to inquire just what exactly were we doing taking all those pictures, what with terrorism concerns and this being an ethanol plant and all?

However, as soon as the windows were lowered and he caught a glimpse of just whom he was dealing with, Mr. Security immediately changed his tune.

Wabi Sabi talks smack but can only strike fear into the hearts of people 14 years of age or younger. As soon as I began to babble something like “Oh this is so beautiful” and “I take a lot of industrial photographs,” I knew in my true heart that I sounded like Wabi Sabi: Confused Uber-Dork. I could sense that the security officer was suddenly thinking with great tenderness of the cooling cup of coffee he’d left on his desk and thinking that maybe if he nuked it and grabbed up some of those chocolate cookies in the lounge, the morning would not be a total waste after all. Smiles and nods all around.

“Any questions I can answer for you?”

“Nope.” Because, how do you tell someone that you really don’t care how many tons of corn are processed in their plant each day? That all you really care about is steam and cooling towers and ginormous vats? Far be it from me to hurt the poor man’s feelings.


I related this story to a friend of mine who said “Why didn’t you say ‘Why, yes I do'” and then quiz him about the number of security officers employed at the plant, whether they were armed and, if so, with what sorts of weapons and if there was possibly ever a time between shifts that the plant was unguarded?

There are reasons that some of my friends are never asked along on photo shoots.


  1. sedge808 says:

    My excitement levels get so high, i sometimes shake. lol.
    I have to breathe and try and calm down.
    fab story. really loved it and related to it a lot.
    I got caught recently….was a surreal experience…being driven out of the plant in the security car…in total silence…(he wasn’t in the mood for casual chatter. LOL)

    • Not everyone would understand that, but I surely do. I don’t shake, but I can feel my soul standing up on tip-toe and then I start just…talking. I make no sense. It’s as though I have photo-specific Tourette’s.
      You were caught?!? Escorted out?!? Okay, I’m laughing aloud, but…holy cow!

  2. I love this, both your story and the photos. That third photo, with the electric wires… Wow, it’s for my eyes pure bliss!
    It seems fair somehow that we learn to see the beauty of industrial areas, learn to appreciate the patterns and shapes that hide under the immediate ugliness. You have such a great eye to let us do that!

    • Oh, thank you. Thank you. If you just blow them up (the wires) they would make a lovely lavaliere or brooch. If only I knew a jewelry designer…

      I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your comment because that is exactly what I am trying to do always: show you something that you might walk right by or dismiss otherwise.

  3. andykidd says:

    I want to be an industrial designer when I grow up and I’ll plan those pipes and wires and factor in the rust and steam just for Wabi Sabi type people to drive around in the snow ⛄ Love this set especially the wires

    • Andy Kidd, I am going to take issue with that “growing up” business because I have been flirting with it as well and I am here to tell you: no good can come of it. 🙂

      Thank you–glad you liked the shots. I considered cropping to just the wires–that made a pretty cool picture, too.

    • I thought the same thing as I was looking at the close-up details. Sort of Rube Goldberg-y with pipes and stairs and vents all over the place. Did not emerge fully formed like Venus on the Half-Shell.

  4. Lignum Draco says:

    Why didn’t you join him for a coffee? After a bit of smooth-talking, you might have been allowed to do some interior shots.

  5. John says:

    Great photos…

    And, I’m thinking that between the photos, the post title, and the story, there’s a Springsteen song …

  6. andykidd says:

    No good has come I am repeating myself, both here and there 😦

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