Northern Minnesota 2013 Year in Review

The Hull Rust Mine pit, Hibbing, Minnesota; Summer 1998

The Hull Rust Mine pit, Hibbing, Minnesota; Summer 1998. Fifteen years later the water is gone and much of this terrain is completely rearranged by new mining. (See the 2013 view at the bottom of this post)

Happy New Year, dear reader. And Happy Cold Time of Pregnancy and Eating Bark, deer reader. (See what I did there?)

Great Northern Radio Show

The Great Northern Radio Show with Aaron Brown entered its third season in 2013. This seasonal production of Northern Community Radio broadcast its blend of music, comedy and storytelling live from Bagley, Grand Rapids, Crosby and Fosston. PHOTO / Charlie Pulkrabek

I’ve already written about my excitement over turning Kirby Puckett (34) in the year of Hrbek (’14). So I have reason to be optimistic about the new year. But it’s also time to look back at the previous year, which brings us to the annual Northern Minnesota 2013 Year in Review.

In this post I share the top 20 posts based on page views. I’ll also review some of the top issues I wrote about in 2013. Finally, I’ll share some of my favorite posts, regardless of whether or not you liked them … you know, because I can.

  1. Iron Range Fourth of July 2013
    This is the most consistently popular post every year. The Fourth of July is one of the Iron Range’s biggest holidays and people want to know where to find the parades and fireworks. I’ve ended up calling bars and people known only by inappropriate nicknames to complete this post. Accept no substitutes.
  2. The Whistling Bird to reopen: Caribbean food on the Iron Range!
    Though all I did was stumble across a very early version of the Whistling Bird’s Facebook page, I did technically score a scoop in reporting the beloved restaurant’s reopening. It’s always fun to scoop *great* news. The Whistling Bird is one of the most unique dining experiences you can have north of the Twin Cities. It’s not just that it’s quality Caribbean food in Minnesota (odd enough, perhaps). It’s that you have to drive over ore dumps and railroad tracks into Gilbert to find it. It’s a full experience.
  3. Tall Ships will return to Duluth harbor in 2013
    The return of the tall masted wood ships to the Port of Duluth was a hotly anticipated event. Though many media outlets had deeper coverage of tall ship news than me, I managed to catch some of the wake.
  4. Duluth mayor Don Ness does Gangnam Style
    This is what you think it is. In the future this occurrence will be remembered for two reasons: 1) as a strange asterisk in the political career of one Donald (“Don” “Donny” “Hipster King of the Zenith City”) Ness Jr., and 2) evidence of the fleeting nature of pop culture trends. This happened. This year.
  5. Hot air balloon festival coming to Duluth this year
    The fullness of time gives us the knowledge that it was too windy to fly balloons in Duluth, Minnesota. It was always going to be too windy to fly balloons in Duluth, Minnesota. But many hoped they might, and said so via their web browsing habits.
  6. Bob Dylan: ‘I’ve been around iron all my life’
    This was one of my favorites this year. Bob Dylan, born in Duluth and raised in Hibbing, opened an exhibit of iron sculptures in a London gallery this year. In the pre-publicity he spoke openly of the influence his Iron Range upbringing had on him. This is required reading for anyone who still assumes some kind of feud between the Range and its most famous son.
  7. No hope on the Iron Range, but for hope we create
    I am glad people seemed to like this one, because it was my favorite project this year. This isn’t just a post about the Iron Range, economics, mining or politics. It’s a mission statement for a generation of Iron Range residents, present and future.
  8. Range newspaper resurrects 26-year-old boner joke
    If one had the time, one could craft a viable Tumblr of ridiculous things found in the Mesabi Daily News, the Iron Range’s largest daily newspaper. In a landscape of decaying print media, the MDN stands out as a blazing beacon of enduring early 20th Century values. Its Snidely Whiplash editorial stances, thinly veiled sexism, and unremittingly insane Orchids and Onions are earnest, heartfelt and delivered without a hint of irony. The staff there clearly works hard and cares deeply about their out-of-touch product. In a Venn diagram, the MDN resides in the overlap between respect and contempt. For most of the state, that’s the same place you find the Iron Range.
  9. Everclear to headline Merritt Days in Mt. Iron
    Remember Everclear? From the ’90s and early 00s? They came to Mt. Iron. They were very, very late, but did show up eventually. More people read about them coming to the Iron Range on my blog than who actually got to see them, but I’m not complaining.
  10. Minneapolis mayor candidate’s weird ad goes viral
    This was just a stone cold news jacking that worked to my favor.
  11. The Iron Ranger who would not hunt
    The annual firearms deer hunting season is a big deal in northern Minnesota. But for those of us who don’t hunt, it’s a season of excuses. I talked my way through this in one of my more popular, amusing newspaper columns this year.
  12. Dylan sculpted music, now hometowns etch him in history
    Another column about Bob Dylan and northern Minnesota. This one showcased a Kickstarter project to put a Dylan statue in downtown Duluth. That project ultimately failed to reach its fundraising goals.
  13. Amazing video of deer rescue from lake ice
    Right after deer hunting season, this video of a man rescuing a deer from a hole in the ice using a canoe was a feel-good hit.
  14. Christmas City of the North charade
    In covering the frigid tradition of the Christmas City of the North parade this year, anchors from Northland’s News Center wore winter jackets in front of a green screen from inside the warm studio. Shame.
  15. Confessions of Ely: Post Secret + Northern Exposure
    I still don’t know what to think of this fascinating, awful, disgusting, informative Facebook page exposing the raw emotions of people in Ely, Minnesota. I’ve almost unliked it twice now, but can’t seem to turn away. It’s like being able to read peoples’ minds, which sounds good but is actually horrible.
  16. Hot air balloon festival opens today in Duluth
    By the time the failed balloon festival actually arrived, people began to understand that the balloons wouldn’t be able to fly safely in a windy port city. So this one’s down here, while the earlier post is up there.
  17. Walking the footsteps of the working poor
    This post about Rep. Jason Metsa’s attempt to live on minimum wage was a well-read introduction to the issue of increasing Minnesota’s wage. The minimum wage will be one of the hottest issues during the 2014 legislative session and quite possibly the election that follows.
  18. Duluth tall ship festival tickets on sale today
    Just trying to catch some more tall ship magic with this one.
  19. Candidates break loose on Minnesota Secretary of State race
    This was a strange one. While I cover politics, nitpicking the rumored candidates for a low-level Minnesota constitutional office isn’t usually at the top of my editorial priorities. But with a logjam of incumbents atop the Minnesota Democratic ticket, this thing became the arena for all the younger, ambitious politicians in the state. For about one day.
  20. Northern MN’s Locally Laid eggs up for Super Bowl ad
    We’re still waiting to find out if northern Minnesota’s Locally Laid egg farm won the free Super Bowl ad after last month’s online voting, but for a time they had managed to unite the whole northern Minnesota internet … for whatever that’s worth. Go Lola!
Fall Colors

My northern Minnesota back yard nearing peak fall colors.

The Top Issue

For another year, the top issue in northern Minnesota was the controversy over proposed nonferrous, or sulfide, mining projects. Regulatory agencies released the revised EIS late in November, and the public comments period is underway now. I wrote a lot on the topic, and appeared in the media as a commentator quite often. It appears I’m one of the few public voices on the issue that doesn’t work for one side or the other. This keeps me busy and poor, which is how you get to heaven.

PolyMet EIS released
Governor urges caution on Northern Minnesota mining
Freshman Iron Range lawmaker hit on mining claims
PolyMet EIS set out Friday; what happens next?
Northern Minnesota mining on Al Jazeera America
500 years is a very long time
Range paper hits Otto over mining lease vote (Otto would later respond during a Range trip).
Mining schism threatens Minnesota DFL coalition
Nolan rankles environmentalists with pro-mining vote
Lake County DFL hits Nolan for mining support

Christmas morning from my house on the hill.

Christmas morning from my house on the hill.

Other Politics and Regional News
Iron Range Rep. Tom Anzelc fights cancer (Tom is now in recovery and the prognosis is good)
Community college education breaks barriers
Highway 53 Reroute a generational test for the Iron Range
Iron Range has 53 problems, mostly a highway
Major layoff announced at International Falls paper mill (A huge year of economic turmoil in this small border town)
Mt. Iron to get Wal-Mart Super Center (A post that spurred 1,000 rumors about other things opening or closing, too)
A tale of two Marriage Equality Days
Hampton Inn plans Hibbing hotel (the local paper has been frothing over this for weeks … I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s their top story of the year)
Iron Range media brushes aside Hillcrest neglect allegations
Leading by Skype? Not at public meetings, says attorney (Do you think city councilors should be able to snowbird and conduct business by video link? Well, legally, they can … and one is doing just that).
Essar plans for 2017 pellets from Iron Range (Construction at Essar continues in spurts, despite ongoing financing delays)
Highway 169 expansion makes road project list
Huntley retires; open House seat in east Duluth (Several candidates already announced to replace him)
Stewart Mills officially announces MN-8 GOP candidacy
Anzelc bill would put $10 minimum wage on MN ballot (Anzelc’s bill putting the minimum wage on the ballot as a constitutional amendment is now widely seen as an option on the legislative push to raise the wage)
Chisholm coach Bob McDonald to retire after season (He just got his 1,000th win)
Range town mergers could protect jobs, services
Ciao! Rustic Italian in Side Lake to close (Their last meal will be served up New Year’s Eve).
Rethinking Laws of Attraction on the Iron Range
Duluth’s sister city Petrozavodsk elects young reformist mayor Galina Shirshina
Beargrease sled dog race back on after ‘peaceful coup’
Why American Internet is Lagging

The Arts
Dylan lets his music do the talking in Duluth concert
‘Duck Dynasty’ trend blossoms in Iron Range towns
Hibbing native’s homegrown indy film premieres at LA Film Fest
You could not axe for a better movie than this
Bob Dylan and the Iron Range
Minnesota native Bob Dylan awarded Legion d’honneur
Here’s what you won’t see: thousands of floating candles (An amusing PR gaffe serves as a portent of later problems with Duluth’s hot air balloon festival)

Video of northern Minnesota tornado near Remer
It’s official: July frost advisory issued for northern MN
This is a photograph of local police chasing a bear
Ely man to ‘Bushwhack the Boundary Waters’
MNDOT phasing out deer crossing signs
Iron Range pumpkin patch power void
Don’t feed the Park Point foxes
Insider tips on how to dress for the cold
Emerald ash borer at the gates of northern MN forests

Unfortunate sign malfunction implies Unitarian damnation
12,000 feet, wings fell off, everyone OK
I can’t believe we never saw the signs
Finnish baby boxes for everybody
From me, dialectically to you (Yes, the Iron Range has its own distinct dialect within American English)
Inauguration stage graphic shows Minnesota stoicism
Marge Simpson was an Iron Ranger?!!
Saving cute animals on the Range by eating delicious ones

I continue to write a Sunday column in the Hibbing Daily Tribune. I cross-post the columns here on Sundays and, unless they take off on social media Monday morning, I think people often miss them. So here are some of my favorites you might have missed:

The art of building an Iron Range economy (On how using public art and creativity could be an inexpensive way to encourage economic diversification on the Iron Range).

A new world behind the trees

Now entering the Minnesota century

Fly, bird, fly

Federal government shutdown bears down (What if Congress was composed of woodland creatures?)

Alas, my shirt is also on vacation

The broadband crossroads

11,700 miles by dog, ski and sea

Spring Map Madness

I requested road maps from all 50 states to battle cabin fever during our delayed spring this year. Read more.

Spring Map Madness saves season

Hail to Lake Agassiz, the mighty inland sea

Getting to the bottom of yoga ‘pants’emonium

Failure is theme in top words of 2013

The iron ore space race

A Midsummer’s Range Dream

The Oracle is Keen on 2013 (See how my predictions column turned out and stay tuned for the Oracle of the Sax-Zim Bog’s 2014 predictions next Sunday).

I also started writing for The Daily Yonder in 2013, the New Yorker of rural regional nonfiction. I introduced the modern plight of the Iron Range and talked about the woes of rural malls.

Great Northern Radio Show
We did four more episodes of the Great Northern Radio Show in 2013, with stops in Bagley, Grand Rapids, Crosby and Fosston. We’ll have shows in Virginia on March 22 and Ely on June 14. After that, we hope to turn  heads with some big shows in the new season.

The Blog
It was a year of change for the ol’ web log. In fact, what you’re reading is less a blog and more a website. We moved over to independent servers and implemented a new Word Press-powered theme. This was a big project and I honestly can’t say it’s done yet. Some new features are in the offing for 2014.

I’ve had better years. 64,218 unique visitors came to this year, for a total of 158,579 pageviews. I could live with the first number if the second weren’t so low. I posted more than 550 items, averaging 11 posts a week, 5-6 days a week. I figure I spend about 12 hours a week working on the blog. For this, I net about $10 a week with advertising minus expenses, or approximately $0.85/hour. (Just so you all understand how the internet works).

You might ask why I do all this for so little money. The answer is simple. 1) I like writing; it’s my hobby as well as a professional outlet. And 2) it’s a loss-leader, generating interest and a platform for the work I do that makes a little more money, namely my radio production and writing gigs.

In the works for 2014 will be new attention paid to my audio and video work. I’d like to make use of the MinnesotaBrown YouTube channel as a way to share augmented versions of my audio essays and sketches. We’re going to do more with the Great Northern Radio Show’s web presence and there will be some overlap there as well.

Another election year means a return to political coverage. I’m planning interviews with the MN-8 congressional candidates, including Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN8) and his GOP challenger Stewart Mills. I’ll have an eye on the competitive state House and Senate races and primaries.

Happy New Year! Do me a favor and share posts you like with friends and followers across the internet. We’re trying to build a community here. More people means more advertising, which means I can spend more time writing original, useful content. Please subscribe via e-mail (you can set the frequency of e-mails) or feed reader.

Did I miss a favorite post of yours? Nominate it in the comments. Suggestions for the new year? Fire away.

Hull Rust Mine view, 2013 (PHOTO:

The view of the Hull Rust Mine pit in June 2013. PHOTO: ndwick, Flickr Creative Commons


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