Day 442: North Country Girls

When Bob Dylan wrote the Girl of the North Country, he might have been thinking about Ely, Minnesota. Laetitia brought her group to the former coal-mining town of 3,800 inhabitants, which is now one of the gateways to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness. Tipples, head-frames, and other remnants of the eleven mines that once operated in the area can still be seen, but tourism is what the town is about today. There are numerous outfitters providing canoes, clothing, and gear for those who have come for a Boundary Waters excursion.

Laetitia took her group to the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Afterward they went to the Dorothy Molter Museum. Dorothy was a nurse who came to what is now the BWCA in the 1930s to work at a resort. She ended up staying and, when the owner died, operated the resort until 1975. When the BWCA was created, her property was condemned, and the law required that she leave, but as a result of massive public protest on her behalf, she was allowed to stay until she died in 1986. She was known as the “Root Beer Lady,” because she offered root beer made from concentrate and lake water to BWCA visitors who stopped at her cabin.

From the Dorothy Molter story one can imagine that the women who live around Ely are somewhat unique. There were also the Chainsaw Sisters, Michele Richards and Marlene Zorman, who started a saloon by that name 18 miles from Ely in what some might describe as the middle of nowhere. The named derives from the fact that both at one point previously worked for the Forest Service using chainsaws to clear trees. Their saloon was very popular with groups on the way to the BWCA, snowmobilers, and with visitors who drove out from Ely to have a drink in a unique place. The saloon was in business for 20 years, but is now closed.

After arranging to meet at a designated restaurant for dinner, Laetitia stopped at a local bar. She distilled the afternoon’s gossip into the limerick of the day about a local woman who epitomized the adventurous spirit of the women of the north woods.

A lass from the village of Ely
Is well known for giving love freely
Adrift in canoes
On a bed wearing shoes
Or a Harley while doing a wheelie.

Day 441: Blackduck Pluck

Laetitia and her group drove west of Hibbing along the Laurentian Divide to Blackduck, Minnesota, presumably named after the large dabbling duck that is a close relative of the Mallard. They drove through an area of bogs, rock-bound lakes, pine trees, and rock outcroppings characteristic of the Canadian Shield that extends across northern Minnesota. On the way they stopped to hike along the shore of Lake Winnibigoshish.

When they arrived at their motel in Black Duck, Laetitia left her group with instructions of where to meet for dinner and went to a bar for a drink and to write the day’s limerick. At the pub she was invited to join a table of waitresses who had just finished their day shifts and were heading home. Most were single, and they talked mostly about men, especially those who talked big and pretended to be cowboys but were “all hat and no cattle.” One waitress in particular complained about men who said, in effect, “Let me take you away from all this,” but were always just a bit short of the lucky break that would bring on the gravy train. Laetitia mostly listened, and when they finished their drinks and went home, she wrote the limerick of the day.

A young waitress who lived in Black Duck
Was a girl that men tried hard to pluck
From her job waiting tables
By telling sweet fables
How her true love would bring them good luck.

Day 440: Fibbing in Hibbing

In the United States, there are two places where continental divides converge to create triple watersheds. One is in Glacier National Park in Montana; the other is in Minnesota near Hibbing, where the Laurentian Divide and the St. Lawrence Seaway Divide meet. Chippewa Indians referred to the place as the “Hill of Three Waters,” having noted that from this spot water flows in three directions: south to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River watershed, east to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, and north to Hudson Bay.

Laetitia and her group started the day at the Continental Divide Marker and then visited nearby Hibbing. The town is named after Frank Hibbing, a native of Hanover, Germany, who prospected the Vermillion Range and found indications of extensive ore deposits. Later, when the mining industry developed in the area, Hibbing was home to the world’s largest iron ore mine.

The group visited the house Bob Dylan grew up in on a street that is now called Dylan Drive. Dylan was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth in 1941 and grew up in Hibbing, where his parents were part of the town’s small Jewish community. He got involved in folk music at the University of Minnesota and later performed at a variety of clubs in New York’s Greenwich Village before he got a manager and his music career began to take off. Laetitia’s grandmother was a Bob Dylan fan, but she preferred his music from the 1960s, before he went electric.

At happy hour that afternoon, Laetitia was thinking about doing a limerick about Bob Dylan, but decided at the last minute to use some other gossip she heard about a local Lothario wannabe who seemed to be all show and no go.

A callow young fellow from Hibbing
Of his prowess was constantly fibbing
‘Til an amorous conquest
In which he failed the test
Made him the object of much ribbing.

Day 439: Bock Cock

Laetitia’s already quirky mood became quirkier when she looked at the packet of coffee next to the grinder at the Emerald Victorian. It read, “The Bad Ass Company of Hawaii—100 percent Kona.” From the Internet, she learned that the “bad ass” term came from the ornery and noisy donkeys that the company used to haul coffee beans down the mountain on the big island. She walked into the library with a steaming cup of the rich dark brew in hand to plan a Minnesota tour for the day.

It is likely that Minnesota is seen by some as a quirky state, especially among Weird Al Yankovic fans that are familiar with his song, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. The ball in question is located in Darwin, Minnesota and was the obsession of Francis A. Johnson, who spent about four hours a day for two years building it in the 1950s. The ball, 12 feet in diameter and weighing almost five tons, is Darwin’s major tourist attraction. Another kitschy Minnesota tourist stop is the giant turkey in Frazee. Turkey farming has been an important industry in Frazee for many years, so in 1984 a group of turkey growers commissioned an artist to put up a statue of a giant turkey (22 feet tall). The original statue was constructed of cement, fiberglass, cardboard, and insulation. In 1998, an errant cutting torch set it on fire and it went up in smoke. It was replaced shortly thereafter with a bird constructed of steel and fiberglass.

Laetitia found all this information when trying to decide where to go on today’s tour. Rather than visit the giant turkey, she chose to take her group hiking and wildlife viewing in Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. She would have nothing to do with tourist kitsch, or so she thought. Late that afternoon the group arrived at Bock, where they were spending the night. Bock is a community of 106 people whose claim to fame is that it is “seven meters closer to God than Milaca” (presumably the seven meters refers to altitude). Milaca is a community a short distance away from Bock that is large enough to have an airport. There is obviously a bit of rivalry between the two communities.

 After dropping her group at the motel with arrangements to meet later for dinner, Laetitia went to a bar for a drink and sat next to a poultry farmer who liked to talk about himself and his big plans. His dream was to erect a large statue of a rooster on his farm. He spoke enthusiastically about how it would attract tourism to Bock in the same way the turkey statue brought tourists to Frazee. His story provided the limerick of the day.

A young farmer who lives close to Bock
Brags he’ll soon have the state’s largest cock
Driving chicken hawks crazy
Like the turkey in Frazee
As it stands in the field on a block.