Many have moved to the North Country in the past decade or two. They seek the calm, silent woods, the sound of waves gently lapping at a rocky shoreline, the sound of a loon echoing across a pristine lake. They come here from all parts of the country, and some even come from lands across the ocean. They’re all seeking that idyllic place where they can live unburdened by the stress of the big city or the pressure of high paying corporate jobs. They come here to the North Country.
After a time, these folks begin to imagine that they are a part of the fabric of their environment. That would be wrong. They must first prove themselves to be worthy of being called a "local." Some of them never achieve that goal. Some of them become somewhat enmeshed in the local system. Some of them are embraced. Some of them flounder.
I moved to the North Country at the early age of twenty-two. I was bred and born on the plains of western Iowa. Cornfields and hay fields were my playpens. The wildest wildlife I experienced in those years was a rogue cow that tried to escape through a barn's window. Most wild critters in that part of the country had been poisoned or shot long before I came on the scene.
Moving to northern Minnesota was a change of gears. We moved on March 1, the day that most people moved if they had sold the farm the previous year. Our family hired a local livestock trucker to haul our belongings up to our new abode on Pelican Lake. Snow lay three feet deep in the driveway when we pulled in to unload. At first glance, it was beautiful. That was until we toted the piano off the truck, through the three foot deep snowdrifts and into the house. That night the temp dropped to minus forty degrees. My Dad frostbit his ears hauling wood into the cook stove. He was not yet a local.
I learned then that it takes a certain type of character to live and like it in the North Country. And to be considered a true "local" by the existing residents, the following goals must be attained.
1. Regardless of how low the thermometer gets, you make it into town for coffee. It matters not if your car tires are flat on one side, if your car battery needs a "jump" or if your garage door is welded to the floor with ice, you get into town. Your arrival at the coffee shop shows you can "make it."
2. To be considered a "local" you never run out of wood for the furnace. Only those with bad planning need to restore their woodpile in the middle of February. Not having enough wood means you didn't plan correctly and when you run out you are thought of as not knowing how to survive. Most northern people in the past had woodpiles larger than their house. That was before dual fuel, but having enough wood would qualify you in some cases to be considered a "local."
3. North Country "locals" know the hot fishing spots but never admit they've even had a nibble. Those who blab out where they caught a bunch of sunfish or crappies are looked on with disdain. The locals know that once a spot is divulged, you will no longer fish alone. It's like bees to honey. If you are to be considered a true "local", keep your secret honey holes to yourself or pay the price.
4. The same rule above pertains to those hunting blueberries or morel mushrooms or wild cranberries. Even the best of friends will send you on a wild goose chase to protect their cache. They will lie to you and I have proof. A friend of mine, who has since passed this life, sent me seven miles east to a cranberry bog when he went seven miles west to a cranberry bog. I returned with a dozen berries rattling in the bottom of my five gallon bucket while he returned with two five gallon buckets full of the prize. Enough said about friendship. But, I didn't complain. I knew that was part of being considered a "local."
5. My wife is one of the few people I know who was actually born here. She has attained her "local" status not by anything she has done, but just for the fact that she entered the world here. People confide in her things they would never confide in me because she is a part of the original fabric. I'm but a dangling thread that may be lopped off at any time. I have accepted my fate in that respect.
6. If you now live in Minnesota and want to be considered a local, you are going to be judged if you can list at least three songs written by Bob Dylan. You know, the Nobel Prize winner for literature? He was born in Minnesota and you get extra points for knowing he was born in Duluth, but moved to Hibbing. Bob is a true local, although some in the Gopher State tend to ignore this fact.
6. Taking on the cape of North Country "local-ism" takes time. You must drink countless cups of coffee, attend uncountable basketball games, eat lutefisk and learn to like it, buy your firewood from your neighbor, root for the Vikings no matter how painful that is, shoot and dress out a deer yourself, pound down at least one shallow well point and trap enough beaver to make a full length coat. Do those things and you may at some time be thought of as a North Country “local.”
I don't know if I'll ever be considered a true North Country "local" even though I've done most of the things mentioned previously over my 40 year stint. But, I'll tell you that I've learned to appreciate the tough, do-it-yourself, can-do attitudes of those who have crossed my path here where the North Star sits directly overhead.
So, pile your wood high, check your beaver traps, hide your blueberry patch and eat your lutefisk. You could have a chance at some far off time to be considered a real Minnesota "local." Just keep in mind that one other way thought to qualify is to have at least two people buried in the local cemetery.
Life as a "local" is not an easy path.