I’ve read of a traditional Japanese belief that you don’t choose a place, it chooses you. Well, for me that place is Minnesota. The lakes and bikes, the harsh winters and glorious summers—the Land of 10,000 Lakes grabbed ahold of my heart two years ago and it hasn’t let go.
I moved to Minnesota in 2012, with a new job and a desire to explore a place outside Ohio, where I was born and raised. I realize, of course, from a global perspective, Minnesota is not unlike Ohio: it occupies the same region of the same country on the same continent, being separated from Ohio by a measly 700-some miles. I’m sure many folks consider the two states to be so similar as to be practically indistinguishable. What’s one part of flyover country compared to another? But to someone who had lived in one state for the near entirety of her first 30 years of life, my new home in the Twin Cities was a novelty.
It was strange, living in a new place. Everything was noteworthy, or at least, I was attuned to any differences, however small. Sometimes it was just a matter of vocabulary: parking ramp instead of parking garage, hot dish rather than casserole, and the inexplicable, some may say anti-American, referral to the popular children’s game as duck-duck-grey duck as opposed to duck-duck-goose.
During my time living in Minneapolis and working in St. Paul, I learned it is entirely possible to enjoy sunbathing beside a lake in the warm April sun while ice still floats atop the water. I realized snow is no reason to stop biking—simply throw some snow tires onto your Trek or Surly frame or pull out a fatbike, add a few more layers of clothing, and don’t let a sub-freezing temperature keep you from your bike commute.
Residing in the State of Hockey and being a lifelong sports enthusiast, I found myself helpless to resist the lure of the Greatest Game on Ice. Indeed, I became so wrapped up in the Minnesota Wild’s Stanley Cup playoff run a few months ago that I’m not sure my dad—a devoted football, baseball, and golf fan—quite knew what to do or say about my new interest. “Boy, that puck moves fast!” he’d exclaim after I cajoled him into watching a game with me.
Winter is, needless to say, no joke in the Upper Midwest. I may only have lived through two snow-filled seasons in Minnesota, but, as each one lasted a good six months each, I soon became blasé about, even comfortable with, significant amounts of freezing precipitation. Anything less than six or eight inches of snow was nothing to worry about; snow removal is serious business throughout the state and they have it down to a near science. Still, you shouldn’t be so cavalier as to drive your tiny sedan through an unplowed lot, as I realized one day during my first winter while trying to find a parking spot at Theo Wirth park. After a few kindly cross-country skiers attempted to help push my car out, I ended up having to call for a tow and out myself as a foolish girl from the south (that is, the Lower Midwest).
I received a musical education every morning on my drive to work as I faithfully listened to The Current’s—a Minnesota Public Radio station—morning show with Jill Riley and Steve Seel. As a lover of music, but whose exposure had been confined mainly to her parents’ oldies stations and the ubiquitous pop music stations with their corporate overlords, I never realized how thirsty I was for something else. Enter The Current, KCMP 89.3 FM in the Twin Cities (with other frequencies throughout the state and streaming live online), which plays everything from Etta James and The Clash to Run DMC, The Black Keys, and Grace Potter. The station additionally provides significant airtime to local and regional artists, demonstrating that the Minnesota music scene is much more than Prince and Bob Dylan—though those two are proudly showcased not infrequently. My musical tastes will never be the same.
While I still don’t understand the state’s passion for bloody marys (give me a screwdriver any morning of the week) or the icing penalty in hockey, and even if pulltabs and how they’ll somehow pay for the new Vikings stadium remain a mystery, I have found much to love in the North Star State. Riding my bike around Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. Meeting friends at the nearest restaurant patio as soon as the weather turns nice in the spring (read: 40 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny). Mostly, though, it’s not what I love, but whom.
Yes, after a two-year courtship, I admit to being in love with the people of Minnesota. Their warmth. Their spirit. It takes a certain type of person, having grit and resolve, to put up with six long months of snow and ice. Like a group of hockey players who bond in mutual hatred of their demanding coach, so, too, do Minnesotans join together every year as they face, even embrace, that relentless, unforgiving winter weather.
They are undoubtedly Minnesota Nice, though I’ve found the “nice” to be more akin to “polite” than “friendly.” That’s not to say Minnesotans aren’t friendly, but it is a friendship outsiders must earn. Perhaps it stems from a natural modesty that presumes a person would want to be left alone unless she indicates otherwise. That’s probably why I fit in so well—because I’m the same way. I’ve found Minnesotans to be a winning combination of typically Midwestern traits—hardworking, reserved, genuine—with a sophisticated and refreshing open-mindedness about people and ideas. There’s also an authenticity that I admire: combating the elements month after month, year after year, seems to strip away a layer of artifice folks in other parts of the country don as a matter of course.
I love that Minnesota is mine. Not one family member or close friend had lived there before me. I moved to Minneapolis “knowing” only a few friends of friends, so it was exclusively mine to explore and stake a claim on first. Maybe I have a bit of that American pioneer spirit in me—go West, young woman, go West! I never before understood the desire my ancestors had to uproot one’s family settled in the East for the unknown West. But I suppose now I have an inkling. Being born and raised in Ohio, and as fond as I am of the state, it has never been mine alone; everyone in my life shared it with me already. I did not choose it—my German ancestors selected the west central Ohio farmland as a place to settle, and their descendants, as it turns out, declined to stray too far from the hometown. Even as I moved around Ohio in my twenties, it was never to a “new” city: I followed my older sister to Columbus for college and my younger sister to Cincinnati for my first job. In moving to Minnesota, by contrast, I followed no one.
And yet, as much as I love Minnesota, it didn’t love me back job-wise. So I made a strategic career move and relocated back to Cincinnati, where my friends will most assuredly find me insufferable next winter, as sub-freezing (even sub-zero) temps will not faze me. Hey, I didn’t live through the ninth coldest Minnesota winter ever—where 20-degree days were cause for celebration in requiring only one pair of socks, not two—for nothing. As excited as I am with my new job, however, a part of me aches to have left Minnesota. It’s a different feeling than when I left Ohio two years ago. With my family and friends firmly entrenched in the Buckeye State, I knew I’d be back to visit with some frequency. But now, leaving Minnie, I don’t have that same reassurance. Nothing truly ties me to the region except for a few friends (who may turn out to be as itinerant as I am), and so, return trips to Minnesota are less certain.
Because I can’t bear to think that my Minnesota Adventure is over, I’m going to consider it merely paused. Hopefully someday I’ll make enough money to buy a cabin on a Minnesota lake where I can spend my summers. I’ll be like a snowbird, but wintering in Ohio rather than Florida. When I shared these plans with a friend, she replied: “The fact you want a cabin makes you a true Minnesotan.” Words that could not have made me happier.
Minnesota, I will always claim you as mine. I like to think we leave pieces of our hearts behind everywhere we have lived. Well, I’m leaving a big chunk in the North Star State. Take care of it, until we meet again.