COLUMN: Spring map madness saves season

This is my Sunday column for the April 28, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I shared #springmapmadness maps on Friday, and will share the rest of the maps when they arrive.

Spring map madness saves season
By Aaron J. Brown

This year the team photo for the Hibbing High School baseball team shows the boys in full game gear, holding bats and gloves, sitting on a tall snow bank outside the school. When that snow finally melts, probably soon, those boys will actually get to play baseball.

So it goes in northern Minnesota this spring. Two big snow storms in the middle of April, the snowiest on record and we’re on track to have the latest snow melt in modern memory. After the tiniest glimpse of warmth back in very early March, we have endured winter weather for six weeks straight.

Yet, today, the day you read this in the newspaper, forecasters have predicted great warmth. It is entirely possible that you went outside yesterday and never returned, perhaps to find this column upon your return from a long, romping frolic. I hope so.

Weather like this spring’s unravels minds. As winter dragged on, we all found our own ways to survive just one more week, one more day until the promise of spring, a promise long withheld.

As a joke, my wife sent me a link to a post explaining how to request free highway maps from all 50 states. It was crazy! Just think of all the work you’d have to do to fill out an online form 50 times in a row, being sure to click the right buttons so you weren’t spammed with 1,000 e-mails about the Oklahoma Dirt Festival. And for what? Maps? Truly, only a mad man would do such a thing.

Well, I did that. Exactly that. And just as the snow storm of last week was piling on its final misery, my maps began arriving in the mail.

Good thing, too. For the last several weeks as feet upon feet of unwelcome snow fell, I have enjoyed the daily mail, each delivery bringing a lovely color map of places where it just might be spring. Oh, I was never planning to leave. I was just … thinking.

In an ironic twist, the first state I received was Minnesota – the very state causing me so much emotional suffering when I started this endeavor. I accepted this as some sort of crude apology.

As of now I’ve received about 20 state maps. The difference between a state’s reputation and the message put out in their tourism material is a story in itself.

For instance, when I think Arkansas, I think Wal-Mart and Bill Clinton. They’d like me to know about their flowers, though, and many natural wonders, presumably all located relatively close to a Wal-Mart.

Georgia went about how you’d expect: a great deal of peaches, Civil War history and Old South charm. Nevertheless, their tourism magazine featured a scruffy bearded hipster chef and teased an article about Atlanta’s “Walking Dead.” This gives new meaning to “The South Will Rise Again.”

Illinois also led with fine dining, though the lady on the front of their magazine appeared to be wearing jeggings (tights that look like jeans). Was she really wearing jeggings? I’m about 80/20 on that. But it was my main observation. My wife’s family is from Illinois so maybe I should ask them about the jeggings.

With Kentucky I was expecting horses and I got horses. Two young women ride horseback along the beach of what appears to be a massive lake dotted with sailboats. I didn’t know Kentucky had lakes this big, but learned of the gigantic manmade lakes right in the heart of the state. I wanted to know about mining, but Kentucky’s tourism team keeps the mining on the down low. They are brutally frank about bourbon, though. They wanted me to know about the wide availability of bourbon and the loose social mores surrounding its consumption.

Though Utah is a state known for its relative abhorrence of alcohol, they sure would like you to know about skiing. They also provided by far the most explicit description of what a “temperate climate” is, explaining how you should dress if you come to their state. Polite, though.

Missouri showed a lone tractor-trailer hauling down the interstate. Missouri was the only state that exactly matched my previously-held perception.

North Dakota tried the hardest. Their entry came in a two-day bracket: one day a map, the other an actual box filled to the brim with brochures. Whereas most states tried to emphasize that they are more than their cities, North Dakota reminded me that they really do have cities, restaurants and such. You could go there and eat or see a show, or meet friends. I got the feeling that North Dakota would provide friends if I did not have any of my own. North Dakota was a little clingy.

Texas sent the thickest road map and I don’t think they’d mind me describing it that way. It was also the map my son Doug was most interested. With snow outside, he pointed to Laredo and said he would escape to Mexico there. I said that I would miss him and he agreed to stay … for now.

There were other maps and more yet to come. The boys and I unfurl these maps to learn about places we’ve never seen. It gives us just the slightest inkling of a world outside our snow-locked home in the woods. That’s the kind of thing you need when spring rolls in like fog over a frozen lake.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts 91.7 KAXE’s Great Northern Radio Show on public stations.

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