Sunday, February 16, 2014

Iron Range Mining, revisited

In a past post, I've wondered what a Sustainable Iron Range would look like and would work like. It took me awhile to discover them, but there's a local group working on the answers to those questions, the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability. They sponsor an annual Iron Range Earth Fest. According to the web site, the fest "will be happening this year in on April 26th, 2014 in Mt. Iron...at the Mt. Iron Community Center, Messiah Lutheran Church & Merritt Elementary School." I think I'll try to get there this year.

North Shore of Lake Superior close up
North Shore close up     © harrington

I believe the Iron Range Earth Fest is a very important initiative because I don't believe those of us in favor of responsible environmentalism and sustainable development can just say "No." To my way of thinking, that's too much like Tea Party Republicanism. Another reason is that I know the City of Minneapolis once depended on "basic industries" like sawmills and flour mills. These days, I don't know of any flour or saw mills that make a notable contribution to the city's economy unless they've been repurposed into historical/cultural educational uses and/or new uses providing commercial and residential space. The river which originally powered the mills is still there. Power sources changed and evolved. That's been the way of the world and the way of growing economies. The city's economy became more diverse. I would think (and hope) that those who live there would find such diversity presents a preferable kind of future for the Iron Range than a continued reliance on mining, whether for taconite or copper-nickel. I'll admit, I don't live on the Range. I've visited once or twice and driven through a few more times. That's not enough to qualify me to offer suggestions on what the Range should become. But, when I look at what's proposed for the Iron Range, I wonder what, if anything, has changed, or, if the area continues to depend on mining, what will change from the lyrics written by a native of the Range many years ago. If I did live on there, I think I'd want something better for my kids and personally, I don't see mining as the way to get it. Apparently, neither did Dylan (last three lines).

Lake Superior's North Shore
Lake Superior's North Shore    © harrington
North Country Blues
                           by Bob Dylan

Come gather 'round friends
And I'll tell you a tale
Of when the red iron pits ran plenty
But the cardboard filled windows
And old men on the benches
Tell you now that the whole town is empty.

In the north end of town
My own children are grown
But I was raised on the other
In the wee hours of youth
May mother took sick
And I was brought up by my brother.

The iron ore it poured
As the years passed the door
The drag lines an' the shovels they was a-hummin'
'Til one day my brother
Failed to come home
The same as my father before him.

Well a long winter's wait
From the window I watched
My friends they couldn't have been kinder
And my schooling was cut
As I quit in the spring
To marry John Thomas, a miner.

Oh the years passed again
And the givin' was good
With the lunch bucket filled every season
What with three babies born
The work was cut down
To a half a day's shift with no reason.
Then the shaft was soon shut
And more work was cut
And the fire in the air, it felt frozen
'Til a man come to speak
And he said in one week
That number eleven was closin'.

They say in the East
They're payin' too high
They say that your ore ain't worth diggin'
That it's much cheaper down
In the South American towns
Where the miners work almost for nothin'.

So the mining gates locked
And the red iron rotted
And the room smelled heavy from drinkin'
Where the sad silent song
Made the hour twice as long
As I waited for the sun to go sinking.

I lived by the window
As he talked to himself
The silence of tongues it was building
Then one morning's wake
The bed it was bare
And I's left alone with three children.

The summer is gone
The ground's turning cold
The stores one by one they're a-foldin'
My children will go
As soon they grow
For there ain't nothin' here now to hold them.

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