Winter in a place called ‘North’

Aaron J. Brown

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

Talking weather in Northern Minnesota is dangerous business. There is very little chance of being right about anything. Conditions change too quickly to allow anyone but a hibernating bear to be properly prepared. In short, conversations about weather are just meaningless filler between meaningful nonverbal grunts, the sounds actual Minnesotans use to communicate language, art and culture.

Still, with up to eight inches of ice on some area lakes *before* Thanksgiving — and no heat wave in sight — we can now perhaps safely admit something concrete: Winter came early this year.

Some persist that the Siberian trend here in the Upper Midwest implies that global warming couldn’t possibly be real. Scientists have essentially argued, however, that our weather patterns represent the Arctic Circle spewing out its waning frigid air like what Nick Cage does at the end of “Leaving Las Vegas.” Or what Nick Cage does in most of his movies, for that matter.

In any event, we’re clearly caught in an ongoing weather pattern designed to challenge the mental, physical and spiritual mettle of our people.

That’s important, because not only do we have to live here, we benefit from not appearing like mad tartans to the greater world. This seems a good time to talk about how we talk about place.

As it stands, the nation has four regions: East (sure), South (yup), West (Go There, Young Man), and then … the Midwest. Which one seems out of place?

If you missed it, and it would be easy for people not ensnared in Minnesota Twitter lists to miss, there is a move afoot to rebrand Minnesota and surrounding states as “North.” Just “North.” Like Kanye and Kim’s baby. “North.” This would take the place of us just being part of the Midwest, or as TV weather people have long described us, “Upper Mississippi Valley,” a term that means absolutely nothing to almost everyone who lives here.

North is short. North is catchy. North makes it clear that we’re not talking about Kansas here, or the Oklahoma panhandle. North is North; Brick buildings splattered with plow snow, steam clouds rising above town, arcing light bent in cold skies. Starlight on the icicles. They say the South will Rise again, but it’s all speculative. The North won the war.

Critics, however, suggest that branding ourselves as “North” accentuates one of our weakest selling points: the aforementioned perpetual Polar Vortex otherwise known as winter in Minnesota. One well regarded Twin Cities corporate headhunter says weather is the top barrier to bringing the best and brightest professionals to the region. And that’s talking about the metro. Enticing fancy up-and-comers down my snow packed dirt road is an even tougher get.

North, to critics, just suggests Canada. And you can’t out-Canada Canada. (Though, to be fair, Canada would probably let us out-Canada Canada, just to be polite).

Regardless of label, and irrespective of weather, we have much to celebrate here in Minnesota as 2014 enters its final month. The state’s economy continues to expand. The jobless rate fell again last month. The Twin Cities and Duluth continue to cement their distinct artistic and cultural identity in the minds of young and new Minnesotans. Here on the Iron Range? God bless us, we’ll figure it out eventually.

In this season of gratitude, we can be thankful that winter is just one of four seasons, just as North is one of four directions. “To every thing there is a season; and a time to every purpose under heaven.”

Call it what you will. It’s home. Winter is a good time to be home.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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