_DSC7472I 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, 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.

357ec8df10ca83c4f2e33ccde455ab4e317e382e3fb28f11b535ae742af65a0f_fullI 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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 10.17.43 PMWandering 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._DSC7488



My last write-up was a while ago.  Shortly after that post, Melissa and I headed to Gray Summit, Missouri, for the Basset Hound Club of America’s annual gathering.  This gathering is usually in a different place each year; in 2011, it was in Kentucky, last year, it was in Massachusetts, and next year, it will be in Wisconsin.

The trip to Missouri kicked off a strange bit of travel – completely planned – for myself.  We drove to Missouri – it’s an eight and a half or nine hour drive from Saint Paul – on Saturday, October 5th.  On Monday morning, we were at Purina Farms in Gray Summit.  By mid-afternoon, I was heading to the St. Louis airport – a friend of Melissa’s was kind enough to give me a ride there.

I was flying to Hibbing, Minnesota; my hometown.  Meghann, my sister, was already back in Hibbing; she had arrived from Japan earlier in September.  Our grandmother was turning ninety years old and Meghann had made plans for a photo shoot with our parents and grandmother.

The last time I flew into or out of Hibbing was August of 2000.  I was still living in Hibbing at that time and I was heading to Colorado to visit my cousins.  I remember flying south and seeing Lake Mille Lacs pass underneath as I headed to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.  That flight was rough; it was in a twin engine turbo prop.

Flying north from St. Louis to Minneapolis, farm fields stretched out under the airplane; small streams dart here and there; now and again, a river whittled its way through the landscape.

I have flown into and out of the Minneapolis/St. Paul area many times; the trip to the west coast in July being the most recent prior to October.  By no stretch am I a frequent flier.  I fly more often than I did when I was in my 20s; as household income and my age have increased, the occurrences where I take flight have also increased.

For much of my life, the act of passing through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area was seen as an unfortunate have-to.  With Melissa having grown up in Saint Paul, and her parents having always lived there, the metro area turned into an occasional destination.  With move to the metro area now heading toward being eighteen months ago, it has turned into my new home and it’s a homecoming for Melissa.

The flight to Hibbing was odd; the doctor who had delivered me was on the flight along with several others who seemed vaguely familiar in that I’ve-seen-you-before-maybe-twenty-years-ago sort of way.  No turbo prop, this time.  It was a small jet.

The time in Hibbing was brief – around 36 hours – and then it was back to St. Louis; by the end of the week, we were back in St. Paul and soon there after, back to the daily routine.  Back to this place that is now my home.



Hibbing’s Jubilee Parade, 2013

I seem to have fallen out of the habit of frequent posts, as I did while on the road in Canada and, then, throughout June; so, in lieu of many frequent posts, here is a longer-than-usual post. I seem to also be following a law of motion – things in motion, tend to stay in motion.  Two months ago, I was driving across the Great Plains to Montana and then north into Canada.  This weekend, I am flying to Portland, OR, to attend to OSCON 2013.  But the following is a bit on my travels from the weekend of July 13, 2013. Enjoy.

I headed north on highway 35, from the southeastern edge of Saint Paul through Saint Paul, into and out of Little Canada and Vadnais Heights – making it through into the exurbs and beyond into stretches of the state where the edges of a city do not touch the edges of another city.  I was heading to Hibbing.

Shortly after 2:00 PM on Friday (July 12, 2013), I bugged out of the office.  Melissa had an appointment, and I had yet to clean out the Dodge – it contained the remnants of at least three recent projects: bags of topsoil, several eight feet long 4″x4″ posts, random receipts from Menards, The Home Depot & Linder’s Flower Marts and a single bag of dry fence post concrete – which I suspect is now a solid bag of concrete given the recent high humidity.

Melissa had a dog show in Duluth over the weekend, and by chance, she would be catching a ride with a friend and not needing the Dodge.  With a nearly empty van – a crate in the very back for Henry – I rolled out.

Through the turn off to Mora, past Hinckley, a quick stop in Sandstone for iced tea, and then back on the road.  Listening to MPR, I learned that Moose Lake was having its annual Agate Stampede this weekend.  I laughed to myself thinking that this is the annual event where agate ranchers drive their herds of long horn agates into town for auction; the ranchers would line dance and drink bad beer.

Just past the Fon Du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s Black Bear Casino Resort I could see the steam stacks of the paper mill in Cloquet.  Traffic had been heavy coming out of the metro area, but much like workers pouring out of a bee hive to work over the neighborhood, the farther a bee is from the hive, the greater the distance between the next nearest bee; the farther north I drove, the number of vehicles within my general vicinity decreased.

I made a stop in Duluth at the Duluth Grill to visit and have dinner with my friend, Peter and his girlfriend, Maria.  We exchanged pleasantries, discussed in greater detail some of the topics we had been emailing each other about previously in the week, and ate dinner.  Every time I am back in Duluth, I realize just how much I miss the area.

Pulling out of the park spot, I was careful to avoid the man picking up garbage and blowing his nose in each piece he picked up; It’s Duluth, Baby! I turned out of the lot, and headed up 27th St to 3rd Ave.

It was not until I was through Cotton and nearing the highway exit for Minnesota State Highway 37, when a thought hit and an expletive jumped from my mouth, “*&%@, I bet this is the weekend of the annual street dance…”  As it turned out, it was the weekend of the annual Jubilee parade and street dance.  Think less dancing and more public drinking; for a select cohort of the population, their collective blood alcohol content asymptotically approaches the stellar proof of malt liquor as the clock approaches the wee hours of the morning.

Last year’s festivities, I understand, included a stabbing, a possible counter-stabbing, and all with a hint of racially charged undertones. There were 16 arrests last year.  This year proved to be more peaceful – it may have been the greater police presence; at dusk, while walking Henry around the highway grounds, I spotted several squads from the city of Virginia patrolling the side streets.

I am not sure what the cultural significance of the street dance is, but it is now deeply woven into the fabric of Hibbing and that region of the Mesabi Range.  If memory serves me correct, it was some in the early 1990s when – around the time Hibbing was turning 100 years old – that street dance entered into the vernacular of Hibbing.  (If you, the reader happen to have documentation on when the first jubilee-related street dance was, please add it to a comment).

Aaron Brown, writer, political organizer, random acquaintance of mine, and instructor at the community college in Hibbing, had a book published, Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range, in 2008, highlighting the rapid changes in Range culture.  Aaron tends to be impossibly upbeat on the general trajectory of the Range and its people.  As down as I am sometimes on the Range, it is there and I truly love the region.  Part of me is saddened that I left the Range, and part of me is jealous of Aaron, who has been able to carve out a spot in academia while maintaining a foothold in the community he grew up in.  In other aspects, I am quite happy with life’s direction at the moment.

Saturday afternoon rolled around; my dad wanted to check out the parade.  The main drag of the city is about a block north of my parent’s house.  We headed out on foot – chatting along the way.  Conversations with my father tend to not be profound or deep; usually town-chatter or recent outings he has had with friends – he also has the tendency of knowing many of the people in town, but only when their age is greater than or equal to about that of my age.  With the exception of his stint in the army in the early 1970s and a brief time in the Twin Cities metro after the army, he has called Hibbing home for the majority of his life.

We made our way up Howard Street, stopping along the way to chat with people my dad recognized.  My dad would introduce me to people he knew.  There was always the chance that I had met some of them in a former incarnation – I was likely shorter with larger glasses, and they were likely not to have been sporting gray hair.  Maybe I had met them when I was in grade school, or, there was also the possibility that my sister or even myself had gone through high school with their children.

Turning onto First Avenue, we walked south.  We paused for a bit to watch the Hibbing High School marching band proceed by; as long as I can remember back, the marching band has performed in the parades of the Range.  When my sister was in the marching band, they even performed in Hawaii.

My dad and I kept walking down the avenue.  I recognized a middle-school friend along the way.  We both recognized one another and said hello and then, simultaneously, we remembered the last time we had run into each: it was in Bloomfield, Colorado, at a hotel, during the summer of 2010.  He had been there to attend a wedding, and I was in the area to attend a funeral.

Again, my dad and I moved on.  As the end of the parade came into view, we were nearing the neighborhood my dad had grown up in.  He made a couple of quips about the old times; I suggested we walked back to the house.  As we retraced our steps down First Avenue and on to Howard Street, I marveled at how few people I actually knew in the town I had grown up in.  I opted to stay in for the night, and not attend the street dance.


Uncomfortable with Excellence

Meg reminded me that it’s time to renew our passports.
So I stopped in at the post office here in Hibbing, Mn. and was told that they no longer have a passport center. I was handed a sheet of paper with two town addresses on it and was told to go there for help. Both towns were about twenty miles away… in one direction it was Virginia, Mn and in the other direction it was Pengilly, MN.
PENGILLY?Wait a minute! You have got to be kidding!! Pengilly must have a population of 200. Hibbing’s is roughly 20,000!! Virginia’s is about 10.000. What’s up? Does the Post Office know something about Hibbing that  many here won’t admit?
I’ve been mulling this over and have concluded that this is just another indicator of the continuing downward slide of our town.
Hibbing used to be the jewel in the crown of the Iron Range of Minnesota.The largest city. The hub. The site of the largest open pit mine in the world.
But things have changed. And despite a new marketing push to get Hibbing back on the map, the glaring reality is that the Hibbing we used to know and love is fastly disappearing.What remains is a mere shadow of it’s former self.
I awoke thinking of this and decided to have a slogan contest for the new Hibbing.  Here are some of the mottoes I came up with. … I think i can see these as bumper stickers.. or on the water tower.

Hibbing- Uncomfortable with Excellence
Hibbing-Ore and not much more
Hibbing-Striving for second best and proud of it
Hibbing-going, going, gone
Hibbing-what’s a “Hibbing”?

Poor Hibbing. Instead of cleaning up its streets, tightening up its standards, it chooses to use a smoke and mirrors campaign to lull the already slumberous inhabitants into thinking that black snow is the true color of snow; that a Memorial building parking lot so thick with trash left by the high school students that it spills over into the street and the adjacent homeowners yards is totally alright;that holes left in the street after work is done by the public utilities is not only acceptable but the industry standard ;and that a downtown “retail” district with 5 stores is a bustling hub of commerce.
Poor Hibbing, where every block has a 2 or 3  houses for sale and just as many sex offenders.
What’s not to love about our little burg.
Hibbing, the town that closed its eyes, turned its back and insists that it’s moving forward.
Poor Hibbing.