In a short chapter in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, (Chapter 33) Gilbert and her friend discuss how every city and its inhabitants can be defined in a single word, and that each community is different. For instance, their word for New York City was ACHIEVE. Their word for Stockholm, Sweden, was CONFORM. For Naples, Italy, it was FIGHT.
During a lunch outing a few years ago, my girlfriend and I decided that the word REMOTE fit our city of Duluth, Minn., not only for geography but for the people. Duluth is often the butt of jokes from the rest of civilization as being at the end of the world. This since it is so far north, and it serves as the end of the line (or beginning?) for highways, railroads, and shipping routes. If traveling north, we are a last bastion of goods and services before one reaches our friends in Canada.
As for the people, although we are “Minnesota Nice,” we can be hard to get to know. Some of us have lived here for several generations and we have our own cliques – like in the state of Maine, there are those from “here” and those from “away.” And you’re not really from “here” unless your grandparents were born here.
The harshness of the long winter can also make Duluthians seem remote – it’s too damn cold to shoot the breeze when you meet someone on the sidewalk, or we’re too tired from shoveling snow to have energy to socialize. It can take time for new residents to break through and find connections.
Imagine my interest when I saw an article, “Remote Minnesota: Where is the most far-away spot in Minnesota?” in the latest Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine (produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources). The author describes his quest to find the most remote and primitive spots in the state. He defined remote as a place farthest from any type of road, including Forest Service roads and private driveways.
Of course, with so many roads and driveways, it wasn’t Duluth. With the help of a Geographic Information System specialist, the author finds the spot on the shores of Knife Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota — twelve miles from a road.
The most primitive spot in the state is the bog country north of Red Lake. The author and his wife visited both places and described their experience. They found these wild spots “places where our imaginations can simmer.”
Now that the most-remote place in the state is official and it’s not Duluth, maybe I should change the defining word for the city. Also, several years have passed since my girlfriend and I defined it, and in the meantime, Duluth has earned national accolades, such as “Best Outdoors City” to live in. Not to mention all the microbreweries popping up everywhere. Perhaps we are getting too hip for REMOTE.
Duluthians, what do you think our defining word should be now? Readers outside of Duluth, what word would you use to define your community? I’d be interested to hear!