I spent the past weekend on the Range. That’s what those who inhabit the region call it, that’s what I called it when I was growing up there. The Range. While traveling to the Range and to my specific destination of Hibbing, I stopped in Duluth. Compared to an average Saturday morning and the time I would get up, it was very early.
I love arriving in Duluth at this early hour – minutes after sunrise; you get the feeling you have the town to yourself. Maybe there is a jogger or another amateur photographer in the harbor area waiting for that rosy-red-orange sliver of sun to sidle up at the edge of the horizon – out there, where the big lake bends with the curve of the Earth. Battling the wind and heavy spray from the lake, I took several photos, and then headed back to the car to roust the hounds up for a pee-break. My hands were getting a bit numb — two of our hounds were with me. The coonhound and basset just wanted to get their business taken care of and then back into the warm car. The coonhound looked at me with a bit contempt – all while nearly getting his own urine blown back at him; the look was that of seriously? you lived in this area for how long; and you miss this place?
With the hounds packed up, the camera and lens separated and wiped down from the mist, I headed to a cafe in the Lakeside neighborhood. Breakfast with a couple friends. Good coffee, good cafe-food, good company; one of my friends reiterated that I should come to Hawaii in December for his wedding. I said I’d give it serious thought, but at the moment, I needed to get on the road again.
Heading north from Duluth, you pass through Hermantown, and onto Pike Lake; as the highway curves and then flattens – going east/west – you pass the familiar Fisherman’s Corner, then a Dairy Queen on one side and a gas station on the other. You then cross a Midway Road. There is a distinct feeling of crossing into a different region. While living in the Duluth area, and those sporadic travels back to the Range, I noticed this division, this line that Midway Road draws, but never really had noticed it as much as I have the last few times I have headed back home. And heading back to Hibbing is something that I have done more of since moving to the St. Paul area than when I actually lived in Duluth.
The drive to Hibbing was uneventful. The drive was that kind of drive where you are watching and are fully alert, but when you try to recall what was witnessed on the drive, you draw a blank. Maybe I recall seeing the small grouping of white pines just before the juncture of Highway 33 with Highway 53 near the Cloquet River. Maybe I’m just conflating the dozens and dozens of times I have take that exact same road north over the last 15 or so years. Did I actually and actively look at the building in Cotton that was once a Bridgeman’s ice-cream shop, but now is vacant and for sale? Blended memories.
Hibbing, Winter 2014
Hibbing is and was Hibbing. Those who have lived in Hibbing, and have lived the majority of their lives there, might be standing too close to discern trees from forest or vice versa. There is nothing wrong with this. My parents likely fall in this category, even though both spent a few years during the 1970s, living elsewhere, I feel that because their span of years in Hibbing since their return is greater than my age, they qualify. There are also the individuals who have never ventured to the northern region of the state; those individuals, too, know little of the string of towns and cities in the state’s rust-region. Then, there is a cohort of individuals who spent an amount of time on the Range – two years, four years, maybe twenty years, but for reasons – whether a conscious, thoughtful decision, or just wandering thru a bit of their life – they left, but have reason to return now and again. I fall into this category, my sister falls into this category, I have a colleague who also falls into this category. As an aside, the picture above is of what you might expect if you looked to the west, down Howard Street in Hibbing; it was taken this past winter – there was no snow this past weekend; the temperature did go below freezing at night while I was visiting, but, during the day, it was remarkably spring-like.
Puttering around Hibbing in my Volkswagen, I often found myself reflecting upon or evening humming a song by Canadian folk singer Nathan Rogers (son of the late Stan Rogers). The song is called Hibbing (lyrics here). The song paints a fairly bleak picture of Hibbing, to an extent, however, it is spot on. It is spot on with the boom and bust of the mining cycle and the rhetorical grind mining. The lyrics, laughing at the tourists in their silly foreign cars, flashed across my mind as I filled up the tank of my car with gas at a station near my parents’ house; a family – I assume family – of locals – I assume locals – just stared at me; they walked and moved but their eyes stayed on me, on my foreign car. I overlaid staring in place of laughing as I ran through Nathan Rogers’ words with my inner monologue.
Internally, I feel like I am one of them. I’m still a Ranger, I’m from Hibbing, aren’t I? That group of individuals does not know that. They do not know that I lived in Hibbing for nearly twenty-one years. They do not know that, as I teenage, I jumped into and swam in that rusty mine pit Nathan Rogers’ sang about. The family just saw my car and saw me; two things they hadn’t seen in town before. Maybe, I’m just self-conscious.
I spent much of time, while in Hibbing, visiting with my mom and bit with my dad. We talked about a bit of this and a bit of that. Some politics; my mom and I watched The McLaughlin Group. It was an enjoyable time.
My mother and I did take a walk-thru her mom’s house. The house that my grandmother occupied for many decades. Clarice, my mom’s mom – my grandmother, passed away just before Thanksgiving, last year. Walking thru the house felt weird. Even though I had stayed at the house since Clarice’s passing, the house, this time, was nearly empty, save for a bit of furniture, which was being used to stage the house for its sale. The front porch did not smell like the front porch of my grandmother’s house. Whatever was the source of that familiar scent had been removed; cleaned out by my mom’s brother or maybe even my mom. Traces of the scent stirred when I moved an empty box. It was quickly replaced with the sharper smell of clean.
Wandering around the small backyard, I remembered several of photos or videos that had been take of people and things in that backyard. Somewhere, I have a photo of my grandfather in a similar lawn chair. But, he has aged quite a bit and he has a nasal cannula hooked into his nose – a plastic tube leading to an oxygen tank; he wore a light green or tan plaid-like lightweight shirt and had a hat. The photo is from the early 1990s. I am now the owner of the light mesh fedora that was perched atop his head. I probably also have the shirt somewhere, too, in the back of a closet; likely pressed up against half a dozen or so of his wool coats. Maybe I’m conflating photos, videos and memories of photos and videos, again.
I videoed a walk-thru of the first floor of the empty house with my phone, and messaged it to my sister. My mom and I locked up the house and left. So many memories of people and gatherings at this house.
I grabbed the dogs from their slumber in my parent’s basement and then headed north. I wanted to get a bit more time to myself in the woods before completely packing up and heading south back to my regular, present day reality of living in St. Paul and working in Minneapolis.