Monday, September 8, 2014

A "New North" and a New Economy for Minnesota's Iron Range?

Victor Hugo, a French writer and poet of the 19th century, has a quotation that has been paraphrased as "Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come." I hope that's true because there seems to be an idea forming that could, I believe, truly power Minnesota's Iron Range to a better future. The idea is that public lands desirable for recreation surrounding an urban area can be the basis for a 21st century ecosystem and economy. Timothy Egan wrote about this in the New York Times on August 30 of this year. He relates it to the "New West." I respectfully suggest it could be adapted to facilitate a transition of the Iron Range's current economy to one even less dependent on mining. This is what I believe is the key paragraph from Egan's story:
The big story of the West today is how the urban and the wild have produced a unique lifestyle — a new-century ecosystem. Each depends on the other. And the lands, though badly scarred during the last century, are being restored, showing the power of people to mend places they love. This is not to say there aren’t endangered plants and animals, drought-shriveled grasslands, oil-plundered prairies or entire forests killed by a surfeit of beetles in a climate-changed West. But another narrative is more compelling.

Northwoods Art Fair products for sale
Photo by J. Harrington

Now, that story all by itself isn't what got me excited. It was when I put that story together with Aaron Brown's recent Up North Report about "Death by conventional wisdom on Minnesota's Iron Range" that 2 plus 2 started to add up to maybe 5. Brown writes that "Recent months, however, have provided new data showing that though overall population losses have had their effect, young professionals are indeed gradually returning to most rural Northern Minnesota counties."

harbor entrance at Port Wing
Photo by J. Harrington

Some of you may have read that we recently traveled to northern Wisconsin's south shore of Lake Superior. The B&B we stayed at was a treat, made more so, for me at least, because I learned that the bacon we had for breakfast (second "B") was locally produced, as was the maple syrup. The fruit preserves had been put up by one of the B&B proprietors. The community's only restaurant had recently closed but my Better Half and I were delighted by the combination art gallery / ice cream shop and the breakfast coffee we had before leaving was great. The B&B was following a couple of guidelines I learned about when I was working in economic development. First, they were building on local assets, rather than trying to cure deficits. Second, by sourcing things locally, they were plugging the holes in the bucket of the local economy. It seems to me that Minnesota's Iron Range can follow a similar strategy. It could also work with the mining industry to make mining more sustainable and reduce environmental risks associated with it. After some poking around on the Internet, I came across this report: Hardrock Mining and Beneficiation Environmental Management System Guide. Maybe using the kind of approach described in the EMS would be another way for the Range to build on its environmental assets and help retain or regain its human assets. Just a thought. Seamus Heaney would have us know ours is not the only North to be raided.

North

By Seamus Heaney 

I returned to a long strand,
the hammered curve of a bay,   
and found only the secular
powers of the Atlantic thundering.

I faced the unmagical
invitations of Iceland,
the pathetic colonies
of Greenland, and suddenly

those fabulous raiders,
those lying in Orkney and Dublin   
measured against
their long swords rusting,

those in the solid
belly of stone ships,
those hacked and glinting
in the gravel of thawed streams

were ocean-deafened voices
warning me, lifted again
in violence and epiphany.
The longship’s swimming tongue

was buoyant with hindsight—
it said Thor’s hammer swung
to geography and trade,
thick-witted couplings and revenges,

the hatreds and behind-backs
of the althing, lies and women,   
exhaustions nominated peace,   
memory incubating the spilled blood.

It said, ‘Lie down
in the word-hoard, burrow   
the coil and gleam
of your furrowed brain.

Compose in darkness.   
Expect aurora borealis   
in the long foray
but no cascade of light.

Keep your eye clear
as the bleb of the icicle,
trust the feel of what nubbed treasure   
your hands have known.’ 


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