Tag Archives: Hibbing

THE MANY-FACETED MR. DYLAN

I SWEAR THERE WERE A FEW UNDER-60s IN THE AUDIENCE...A FEW.
I SWEAR THERE WERE A FEW UNDER-60s IN THE AUDIENCE…A FEW.

 Last Tuesday night, my friend and I went to see Bob Dylan at the Kiva Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Friend Bob has been a Dylan fan since age 18 or so when he heard his first Dylan song; he doesn’t exactly say it changed his life—but close. This is around his tenth Bob concert and he knows most of the lyrics to everything The Bob has written.

I was a little older when introduced to the famous Bob from Minnesota and that was mostly from With God on Our Side which, as I’ve said previously, was my teaching aide for 6th grade social studies class, and from Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Blowin’ in the Wind.

 As I drove home Tuesday night, neither slightly inebriated nor stoned—as might have been the case in the past—it became clear to me I had in the space of that hour been attentive to several Dylans. Let me explain:

First there was Bob Dylan, practically a home town boy from Hibbing, Minnesota; my town Northome just a few miles and a lifestyle or so away, the difference between a mining town and a village of Norwegian lumberjacks. Given the remoteness of northern Minnesota from the rest of the world, and the fact Bob Dylan and I are almost exactly the same age, I choose to claim kinship and listened to that gravelly voice with thoughts of both of us coming home from school in the snowy dusk of a January afternoon. I wanted to get out too but my escape was Minneapolis and then Florida and marriage. Bob did much better—the Village and folk singers’ heaven and fame and fortune.

Those thoughts alternated with the pleasure of watching that famous old poet/song writer and Nobel Literary Prize winner  gyrating a bit stiffly on stage and actually appearing to be having fun. So it’s okay to be an elder in this crazy world—having lived through some pretty stimulating times and not having to face the long future riddled with Trump-alikes.

Then there was the background music introducing me to my Albuquerque life. While not specifically Dylan, it was rock n roll of the folk variety generally, and it was playing when I moved to Albuquerque and met the ‘cool kids’ working in politics and for George McGovern. So, Tuesday night when I couldn’t understand a word being sung in some of the numbers, I metaphorically closed my eyes and drifted back there…

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

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Literature of Travel II: Way up North

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The Epic Summer Road Trip 2013 was accompanied all along the way by books. I introduced this summer’s most important literary companions last week. Here are the others that were part of the journey. My intent is to talk generally about the pleasure and benefits of this ‘literature for travel’ rather than review any one book.

 “How the States Got Their Shapes” by Mark Stein is an interesting if rather dry account of exactly what the title indicates. It is handy to have along as a reference if not exactly exciting as a straight-through read.

 I knew that our journey would take us as far north as Winnipeg, Manitoba so I wanted an update about that spot of Canada without doing a lot of research or reading. I remembered a book I read with great pleasure awhile back, “Maple Leaf Rag” by Stephen Brook, an acerbically funny Brit. I pulled it from the shelf intending to read a chapter or so and wound up going back through much it because, even though it’s written in 1987 and feels somewhat dated, “Maple Leaf Rag” still manages to be informative, friendly-enough and chock full of chuckles.

 My favorite late night companion before I left was “North Country: A Personal Journey Through the Borderland” by Howard Frank Mosher. I grew up in North Country so the territory felt simultaneously familiar and exciting although Mosher’s journey extends all along the U.S. Canadian border, east to west. Mosher writes, From coast to coast it’s known as the North Country: an immense, off-the-beaten-track sector of America inhabited by remarkably versatile, resilient, and, most of all, independent-minded people, most of whom are still intimately in touch with the land they live on and with their respective communities. (p.3)

  Naturally I most enjoyed “North Country” when Mosher was in my home territory—Minnesota. I grew up just west of the Iron Range and hardly knew of its rough and rowdy towns until my brother and sister-in-law made their long-time home in Grand Rapids on the edge of the ‘Range.’ Hibbing is 35 miles to the east and ground zero for iron mining. It used to have an airport where my brother could pick me up when I flew home for a visit so I’ve had a few burgers and beers on main street but never made it to Bob Dylan’s old house. Mosher spends quite a few pages on the good/bad old days when iron mining was booming in the gigantic Hull-Rust Mine and “…every night was Saturday night …It wasn’t unusual to see half a dozen different fist fights raging up and down the main street simultaneously.” (p. 87)

 In my personal travels along the Minnesota/Ontario/Manitoba border, and the wildly picturesque North Shore of Lake Superior from Duluth to Thunder Bay, I’ve come to realize my personal patch of north woods in Koochiching and Itasca Counties is just not that pretty or interesting—except to me. Mosher justifiably spends most of his Minnesota time in the northeast territory, but he does get to two border towns with which I’m quite familiar.

 Mosher reaches International Falls by way of one of those gas station/beer joints that hide out everywhere in the Minnesota woods. They all have a dispirited/cynical/friendly vibe and smell of cigarette smoke and old Grain Belt or Hamms (From the land of sky blue waters…comes the beer refreshing…) absorbed into every surface for the last 20 or 50 or 100 years.

 Mosher describes International Falls as having a “raw look” and he’s right. I drove here summer before last, taking the Canadian side of the border from Warroad MN to Fort Francis, Ontario, then through a cranky border crossing. Back in olden times, we’d just drive back and forth between countries with no one paying the least bit of attention. The ‘Falls’ is where those of us from South Koochiching made contact with the bureaucracy since it’s the county seat. It is primarily famous for being “the icebox of the nation,” so dubbed by the national media when iceboxes still existed and the temperature still dropped to 50° below zero. My only other personal connection with the Falls was when my classmates and I came here by school bus to tour the paper mill, probably the most exciting class outing of my high school years!

 Mosher is heading west and when he reaches Warroad, another border town, he says, “I imagine that I can sense the looming presence, just to the west, of the Great Plains.” (p. 115) My cousin moved from the woods of Koochiching County up here to the edge of Minnesota and the edge of the woodlands and it took some adjusting. It all starts to open up here and the sky will just get bigger and bigger until western Montana. My mother loved this kind of country, she being from ‘civilized’ South Dakota and never quite trusting the wildness of northwoods ways.

 This is simply a great book. I immediately wanted to change my routing and follow Mosher’s tire tracks exactly. When I have time to do that I’ll have an excuse to read “North Country” again! It is geography/sociology/history (social studies!) all wrapped up in a warm, nostalgic and beautifully written memoir.

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Paper mill on Rainy River, dividing Minnesota and Ontario.