A world that grew from stumps and slash

The Lost Forty (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

This weekend, I’m giving another lecture stemming from an unexpected twist in my book research. “A World That Grew From Stumps and Slash,” will be Saturday, Jan. 20, from 1-3 p.m. at the Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The cost is regular park admission, but that means you can check out the museum and grounds, too. 

Now, I’m not a logger, a forester or a scientist. I’m a journeyman writer and apprentice historian. But when you go into the past to extract stories, you get a lot more than you need. (That’s why the book isn’t ready to print yet; it’s too long). Nothing quite stoked my imagination like the descriptions I read of the forest — or lack thereof — that existed around Hibbing and the rest of the Mesabi Iron Range during the early 20th century.

When most of the Mesabi Range towns were founded, the land surrounding them was covered mostly in stumps. In fact, the clear-cutting of the forest is part of what enabled iron ore discovery and the next stage of resource extraction in the region. Those who came here during that time found an absolute wasteland, just a few years after it had been an awe-inspiring natural wonder.

A couple months ago, I lectured about race, justice and the immigrant experience on the Iron Range. The fact that I’m now talking about forest ecology and silviculture — as a journalism major — tells you just how rich this vein of research has proven to be.

The audaciousness of my subject expertise is always sky high several months before these events. Then, a future version of myself must reckon with reality the week prior. It is here we find ourselves today.

See you Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Forest History Center!

This photo captures the change happening in the early 1900s on the edge of the Iron Range. Here, Walter J. Power (left), Fred Smith (right) and their driver (center) park one of Hibbing’s first cars on a dirt road outside Hibbing. Freshly cut slash lies about, while pipes from a sewer extension lie by the side of the road. The trees are second-generation, rising up from the undergrowth of the former white pine forest. (PHOTO: Courtesy Hibbing Historical Society)

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