I've always called the area that I'm from "the Midwest". For a lot of people, it's a given that once you hit the Dakotas from the west, or Indiana from the east, you've entered the flyover zone; the flat, farm-based states in the middle of the country that produce a lot of food and have cold winters, but not much else. Except...that's not true.
I will be the first to admit that I have taken Minnesota for granted. I traveled abroad, and when I came back, all I wanted to do was leave and go to a different country forever. That didn't happen, but I ended up moving to Los Angeles (which sometimes feels like it's on a different planet), and I declared that I would never, ever return to the stupid Midwest with its lack of mountains and oceans and its horrible, frigid winters.
Do you know where I am right now, as I type these words? Hello from my apartment. In the Minnesota. Where I live.
If there's one thing moving away taught me, it was an appreciation of where I come from. And now that I'm home, it's my goal to keep the spirit of exploration that I discovered within myself while in California alive and kicking. There might not be mountains here, but there are giant lakes and forests, and a culture of outdoorsy, tough, creative people who have a passionate love for their homeland that I would argue is hard to find in other areas of the country. It's easy to take the place you grew up in for granted; much more difficult to see familiar surroundings with fresh, excited eyes. But that's what I'm going to try to do.
In order to motivate myself to explore, and to scratch the never-ending itch of my wanderlusting heart, I've decided to embark on a little personal journey to learn more about this place I come from, and to take some pretty pictures and help others appreciate it a little more as well. I have decided to call it The North Project, and I'm pretty excited about it.
I've become the queen of having ideas and then never seeing them through to fruition (see: my long list of blog series that died after the first post). The biggest reason for that is my perfectionism; I want to have everything figured out before I start, which means I...never start. But not this time. Instead of waiting to get everything figured out, I'm just going to dive right in and let the project shape itself as I go.
I actually got the idea for the project while I was still in California. Last winter, I read an article from the Wall Street Journal that my Minnesota friends were sharing on Facebook, about the concept of rebranding Minnesota and the surrounding area as "North" instead of "Midwest"; to recognize the region by "its innovative, sturdy character honed by long, cold winters" instead of lumping it in with eight or nine other states just because they're all in the middle of the country.
I was instantly drawn to the idea that the article presented, so when I decided to move back, I thought that focusing on the concept of North would be a good way for me to spark some excitement for rediscovering a place that I assumed I knew well. My project is going to be less about economics and branding, and more about the culture surrounding this region's land and the people who live here and love it; I'm going to be spending lots of time exploring the outdoors and interviewing people who have made this place their home, as well as thinking about what it actually means to be a "Northerner", and hopefully learning to do some new activities along the way.
Okay, so now here's where you can help. I am looking for people who know how to do the following activities and would be willing and able to teach me/let me observe them doing said activities/take some photos/write about it. The list of activities I have thus far includes:
- Cross-country skiing
- Gardening/farming regional plants/foods
- Regional wild botany
- Regional environmental/conservation issues
This is an ever-growing list, and no, I'm not kidding about any of those, I've been going camping my whole life and I still do not know how to build a campfire. Suggestions and ideas are also welcome, so if you can think of anything North-related I should add to the list, please let me know. This is happening, people. It's happening, and it's going to be fun.
I'm looking forward to seeing where this project goes. More to come soon.