is nestled on the side of a hill where Minnesota meets Lake Superior and the through it the seagoing world. Part dirty port town, part shining metropolis, and part bastion of urban civilization on the edge of the great northern woods. Creation gave it a location and its people have given it character.
In truth there are only four larger clusters of people living in Minnesota. St. Cloud to the west, Rochester to the south, Duluth to the north, the rim of a wheel in which St. Paul and Minneapolis are the hub. After them there is nothing else but expanse dotted with smaller towns struggling to attract 10,00 souls at best. The farms are too large and the woods too deep to allow anything else.
Even the towns on the rim of the wheel are still smaller, not one has progressed above 100,000 people. Only the Twin Cities with its sprawling suburbs have managed to become anything anyone would call “big” and even then people from a truly large place like Chicago, New York, or Houston would find the whole thing quite provincial. Yet of the towns on the rim it would seem that Duluth is the most useful.
You see there are towns that produce services and towns that produce essentials and Duluth produces essentials. Ore, grain, timber, the basic stuff that underlies what we call civilization all flows in and through Duluth. Behind the veneer of carefully manicured suburban lawns and gleaming metropolitan towers there is the raw products that made it all and the people who produce it. That is Duluth.
In our illusions we think that meat comes from neat packages in grocery stores and forget about the immigrants working the slaughter houses. Milk comes in cartons, flour in bags, gasoline in pumps, and wood from hardware stores. It seems a kind of magic to us because we’ve been distracted from what the magician’s other hand is doing.
Yet its the places where the factory lights are on all night, where derricks and cranes hug the shore, smoke floats through the air, and people get up early that keeps the whole thing running. So other places are more glamorous for sure but none are as important. You like your lawyer and your massage therapist is very nice but you need a farmer, the person who cuts wood, drives a truck pulling a tank of gasoline, or loads and unloads ships with the things that let us live when the lights go down and the cold comes ripping out of Canada. In other words we need Duluth and if we don’t have one we’re obligated to either create one or be beholden to those who do.
We probably shouldn’t forget that.