Like any rural place, here on the Iron Range we have our own distinct culture. When I taught “culture” at our local community college, I would begin by asking my students to describe the clothes, hobbies and behaviors that were “Ranger.” Invariably students would begin by noting flannels and Carharts. They would say we hunt and fish, and we ride ATVs. But then a student would disagree, sharing they didn’t like those things. They liked to ski! We would add mountain biking, snowshoeing, soccer… Students were photographers, and dancers, and artists. The longer we talked, the more diverse the descriptions of Rangers would become. So what is Ranger culture?
Culture is defined as “all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation.”
Attending a conference in Maple Grove today, I was asked about Bob Dylan. One of our most famous natives, Bob Dylan has been called “the voice of a generation,” and he won the Nobel prize in literature in 2016. Unsurprisingly many associate him with Hibbing, the Iron Range town in which he grew up.
In the song “North Country Blues,” Dylan describes the heartbreak of the mining boom and bust cycle as told by an Iron Range mother’s perspective. “Oh, the years passed again, and the giving was good/ With the lunch bucket filled every season…”
While the Iron Range has not succumbed into the ghost town depicted in the song (“The summer is gone, the ground’s turning cold/The stores one by one they’re all folding…”), the life and cycle of mining has and still plays an important role in informing the culture of our region. The history of the industry–displacing the Ojibwe and attracting immigrants from dozens of different countries, hiring then firing then hiring, and turning over the “sleeping giant” as the Ojibwe call the iron formation–have informed who we Rangers are today.
Iron Rangers have a unique, hybrid culture made up of the people, place and economy. Our favored art is continually surprising. I once attended a crooners cover performance at the famed Hibbing High School and found the room PACKED and vocal, hooting as “Frank Sinatra” sang. And in high school, the Jewish musical Fiddler on the Roof sold out each night. The theater teacher told us, “Fiddler ALWAYS sells out here.”
Iron Rangers believe in autonomy. Hard work. Family. Many are still traditionally religious. But some are alternatively spiritual. We believe in real. No faux logger look here. If you are wearing a stocking cap, beard and steel toes, you likely have sawdust in your hair too.
I think folks crave real. In a world where so much is virtual, human beings like to feel grounded. The Iron Range is just that. We are no frills beautiful. Fresh air. No traffic. And like the magnet it is, the “sleeping giant” calls some of us to her. Hello Range!