Why do we live here?

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Like most Iron Range children of the 1980s, I once dreamed of a future in my state’s metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul. My family’s rare visits to the Big City bright lights, shiny tall buildings and teeming freeways were such a contrast to the dull world of trailer houses, shuttered windows and forever grey skies of my North Country youth.

A few weeks ago I found myself in one of those Twin Cities restaurants with heavy mahogany chairs and menus bigger than the placemats. We were having lunch with some friends, including an internet entrepreneur who has lived in 17 different states, and who is looking to move again. I was telling him about our battle to bring faster internet to rural Northern Minnesota and our struggles to inspire community activity in a place where technology and change are still distrusted. His response, interspersed with libertarian philosophy, came in the form of a question.

“Why do you live there? Why don’t you move?”

This isn’t a question people ask very often back home, and not one that most people think about. Perhaps we should.

Why do I still live on the Iron Range?

I live on the Iron Range because an entire generation of my ancestors and yours sacrificed their bodies, ambitions, time and lives to the iron mines, not because they loved mining, but because they had a one-time opportunity to make a better life for their children. Their work, and their organizing, made it so that today’s miners have some of the best paying jobs in the region. Their children can, and have, become anything they want. In fact, most people who live here aren’t miners anymore.

I live on the Iron Range because we see all four seasons in their purest form. Hot summers of shimmering lakes and verdant forests. Crisp, colorful autumns, perfect for long walks and a return to schools that elevate poor kids from trailer houses to colleges and careers. Winters so cold and quiet that the only sound you hear is lonely call of a crow or the tapping of a woodpecker miles away. Spring comes every year, an annual test of our faith, our hope, our sanity. We are always rewarded with another summer.

I live on the Iron Range because when lakes freeze, they play symphonies of notes only nature can play. If lakes freeze fast, before the snow comes, waters expand into acres of ice rinks smooth as a dinner table, clear as a looking glass. When the seasons change, birds and insects of all varieties pour over the land as a living, breathing, singing rainbow that returns annually like a boomerang, always in orbit.

I live on the Iron Range because even though our towns took a punch in the 1980s, we still have clinics and community colleges, street dances and stories. I live on the Iron Range because when my classmates and friends leave, they feel pulled back — even if they went through dark times here. It’s the draw of home, the weight of fate, the sign of a place touched by the spirits long ago.

There’s an old Chinese saying, often misinterpreted, possibly made up: “May you live in interesting times.” Some call this a blessing, but in its original form it was a curse. Regardless, we live perpetually interesting times on the Iron Range, even if our teenagers still sullenly declare that nothing ever happens here. Life is learning that things never stop happening here, and you don’t have to buy a luxury car or a house on a cul-du-sac to fit in. In fact, you really shouldn’t do either of those things.

Some say the only reason to live here is to mine rocks and serve tourists, but we know that’s not true. There is so much more. And so much more that could be.

Otherwise, why do we live here?

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


  1. Molly Bonner says

    Fantastic piece – thank you!

  2. We have a pastor who has been here just over a year. He said that he and his wife find it remarkable that so many people move back here, and even that so many of the young people want to stay here. “Here” in my case is just-north of the Range. We live in a shrinking and aging community, but a community that hasn’t lost any of its community feeling and caring. One of the biggest changes here is that the “summer places” are now rarely little modest, drafty cabins, but rather houses or even McMansions. I’m sure that this indicates a change in the types of interactions that the people in those buildings have with the year round people, because the summer people are less a part of that constant community.
    And all the other things you mentioned are exactly right.

  3. Interesting article. I will say that trying to fit in if you are not from there is nearly impossible. We moved w my daughter in 5th grade. She was shy and in 4 years not one peer reached out to her. They had their cliques and that was it. She sobbed nearly every day, and when she came up with her dad a few months after we moved away although 6 girls said they were meeting her for lunch at Danny’s not one showed up. She’s a doctor now but I would never advise anyone new to move there. Only those from there can move back. A cultish area of the state

    • Cultish is exactly correct. Many people outside of the Iron Range brought the cult aspect to my attention over the years. I don’t mean they brought it to my attention in a derogatory sense or to be negative. I heard it from teachers, mentors, and professors a few times over the years. They were simply trying to help me learn and creating an example from my life. The definitions of the term cult are comparative to Iron Range society.

      All that being said, I am sensitive to a negative treatment of Iron Rangers when we try to leave and make a life somewhere else. Seems the common interpretation of Rangers carries a negative connotation in the imaginations of people. My belief is that there is a good comparison to being from the Range and being Catholic. Both require the individual to carry a burden that is largely misunderstood by larger society. Both are complicated and basically cannot be communicated to those who lack the life experience to comprehend. Compare the way in which liberal groups try to put words and thoughts into the pope. That is very similar to greater Minnesota’s liberal community trying to pigeonhole Rukavina over the years.

      This is why people from the Range, whether still there or not, will usually probably take Ranger47’s side in a fight if it goes that far. Yeah, I disagree with him on many issues. But if outside society wants to draw a line in the sand, I will probably have to stand with him. People from the Range are used to the R47s in our lives. He is still one of us. We still care. Normally we’d keep him on the porch, but Aaron created this platform.

  4. Chris Hammer says

    I don’t know if “cultish” is the right word. I grew up in northern Minnesota. Very few people moved in or out of my small town so we’re used to being around the same people. You have your established friends. I live in San Francisco now and most people are not natives so we’re in the same boat. Most people have a need to make friends because their high school or college friends aren’t around. I wonder if that’s what your daughter experienced…people/girls who already had friends. Meanwhile, it was thoughtless and inconsiderate of the girls to not reach out to your daughter.

  5. Great article. Thanks Aaron.

  6. This is my country,
    The land that begat me,
    These windy spaces
    Are surely my own.
    And those who toil
    In the sweat of their faces
    Are flesh of my flesh
    And bone of my bone.

    Alexander Gray

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