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Great Lakes & Upper Midwest: First Conversations

After a few years of slumber, the second installment of the CWU project began in Duluth, MN on July 17, 2015. This tour will encompass Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. I've named it "Water, Steel & Grit" in a nod to the importance and natural beauty of the lakes, the traditional but challenged manufacturing industry of the region, and the determination and work ethic that folks around here are known for.

Week one was awesome. I have to just say it: Minnesotans are some of the nicest folks I've ever met! I guess it takes a certain positive attitude to endure those gnarly northern winters. Below are some brief introductions to the folks I spoke with during my first few days on the road. I am so thankful to all of them for taking the time to share their thoughts with me.

Over the next few weeks I will post two or three more pages like this with short clips from the conversations that form the basis of the project. The best way to keep tabs on CWU's daily progress is the project's Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, all of which I try to update every day that I'm on the road. I use the platforms to present different aspects of the same day, so check out all three to see which you like most!

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Spread along the westernmost shore of Lake Superior, Duluth has always been a hub of water transportation. It seemed fitting, then, to hear about optimism from retired Captain Tom Mackay, a dinner-boat captain who has probably logged more hours on Duluth's waterways than just about anyone else. Here, Captain Tom describes his response when he hears his friends complain about the state of things.

Heading southwest from Duluth the beautifully-maintained Munger trail passes through lots of small towns. I came across Ryan Schmidt and his son working to clear away brush near their trailside home in Carlton, MN. Among other things, Ryan and I discussed how Minnesota's open enrollment system for public schools can sometimes affect small communities.

I got to talking to about CWU with the good ladies at Peggy Sue's Cafe in Willow Springs, MN, and they put me in touch with the "Wikipedia of Willow Springs", Rosie Mielke. Rosie had a lot to say about the history of the area, including describing her job as a young messenger when her family ran the local telephone switchboard.

Former city-slickers Bryan Rippey and Kyla Nelson saw my overloaded bike and wondered what the heck I was doing in Stanchfield, MN. They didn't believe me when I told them I had come into town to "see what all the fuss was about," but they did invite me to come see their new and growing farm, where I met their goats. And dogs. And chickens. Cats, too. Did I miss anyone?

Shari Albers has lived in the Powderhorn Park area of Minneapolis, MN for some 30 years, witnessing from her front porch many changes in neighborhood during that time. Incidentally, we sat on that same porch and enjoyed fresh cherries and a cool breeze while chatting about the area and the things it takes to form and protect a community, even when it means confronting the nefarious goings-on in front of one's home.

Alan Childs grew up barefoot but happy, hunting and fishing along the Mississippi River in the Prairie Island Indian Reservation near Red Wing, MN. He didn't get electricity until he was 9 years old. Fifteen years after that, he was a supervisor at the local nuclear power plant.

Check back in a couple of weeks for the next update!

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