Tag Archives: USA

WE Fest and the Culture of Northern Minnesota

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What is American Culture? This is a much tougher question to answer than most people would want to admit. Sure, there are those things about America that foreigners notice right away. For instance, the portion sizes.

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But, large portions of food, large amounts of soda, big cars, loudness and exhibitionism are not the only things that define American Culture. In fact, they do not even unite the entire nation, as there are places in the United States where these are not the customs.

American Culture cannot be described in one sentence, one paragraph, or even one page because of how far from homogenous it is. Traveling within the country, one would find many different sub-cultures. It is even possible to argue that every state, every city, and sometimes every neighborhood, has its own unique traditions and customs.

Of course, to claim there are thousands of sub-cultures in the country would be, in a way, getting too hung up on minor details. However, there is definitely grounds on which to claim there are several dozen cultures with significant distinctions from one another.

The culture of Minnesota can generally be thought of as in the same category as Wisconsin and Michigan. The entire region has an abundance of lakes. Minnesota is “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”. This culture seems to revolve around going to the lake, being on a boat, fishing, and drinking beer. People from the metropolitan areas often own second homes or cabins along a lake and travel there on the weekends. This seven week old infant living in Saint Paul is already preparing for his third trip “up to the lake”.

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Northern Minnesota specifically is fairly sparsely populated, putting it one one side of the most obvious cultural divide in the U.S.; urban vs. rural. Generally speaking, on either side of this divide between large metropolitan areas and places more sparsely populated. The expectations are different, the attitudes are different, and, the music is different. There is perhaps no better way to get immersed in the culture of rural America than to go to a country music festival.

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WE Fest is a major country music festival in Detroit Lakes, MN. The attendance, in 2018, was said to have topped 65,000. Here, the different customs and attitudes were on full display.

The U.S.A flag was everywhere! So were messages, from performers and attendees alike (often on their shirts) showing support for the American way of like, the military, and other mainstays of American culture.

This is not to say people in the cities do not love their country. But, there does seem to be significantly less exhibitionism about it. There is also, in some sub-cultures, particularly the ones centered around major academic institutions, a greater willingness to criticize actions taken by the United States of America. In some cases, this comes across as downright cynicism.

To be honest, there is something about the flag waving, proud, traditional rural culture that feels warmer …  happier. It feels far better to believe in something and take pride in it than to succumb to cynicism and long for something else. Cynicism can feel quite cold at times, and self-loathing creates sadness.

Yet, the more traditional culture can also feel unnecessarily restrictive.

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Seriously, let the dogs and cats have fun too!

While exhibitionism can be annoying to some people, taking excessive pride in one’s country truly only becomes harmful when it leads to one of two outcomes.

First is the hostile treatment of outsiders. In the case of National pride, this would be treating non-Americans as lesser human beings. This is not to say that most, or even one-in-ten flag waving rural Americans have ever advocated treating outsiders poorly. It is to say that, excessive pride in a group of people, whether it be a nationality, a gang, or even something like a personality type, can lead to some form of non-beneficial disconnect from those with different traits.

Second, is when pride leads to an attitude where no criticism, even if constructive, is tolerated. Not all decisions are good decisions.

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Loving another human being can sometimes mean needing to tell that person when they are choosing the wrong course of action. Loving oneself means seeking ways in which to improve. The same can be said for a nation. Like an individual, a nation needs to try to avoid poor decisions and seek ways in which to improve. Pride can lead to avoiding all criticism and seeing no need to take suggestions or improve, which is detrimental.

Maybe this nation, like every nation, needs people to remind them that the nation is great, with a great culture and heritage. But, also needs people to point out some shortcomings, help it avoid repeating past mistakes, and point out areas where improvements can be made. These are the traits of a balanced individual, and hopefully, going forward, can be the traits of a balanced nation.

What Independence Day Means for Travel and Adventure

img_0231-1Every year, we Americans celebrate the founding of our nation on the Fourth of July. This commemorates the day in which the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776, officially declaring our intention to separate from the British Empire and form our own Nation, or more accurately at the time, confederation of states.

It is an active day, and often an active weekend for the country as a whole.

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Some use the time off to explore some of the country’s most spectacular places.

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Others use it to visit vacation homes, or have quiet weekends by the lake.

Some also flock into cities, to visit friends, and attend festivals.

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As is the case with many holidays, I often wonder whether or not this one loses its meaning. Those that know the true meaning of Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Memorial Day will often observe that the way most people celebrate these days is inconsistent with the actual intent of these particular holidays.

What about Independence Day?

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Are these large firework displays appropriate? What are most people thinking about, as they are exploring parks, visiting friends, barbecuing and watching these colorful displays?

How many people are thinking about their own lives vs. the Nation we are celebrating? Or are our minds on regionally specific considerations? For example, in the Rocky Mountains, the Fourth of July is kind of the start of the season for high altitude hikes. After a three-month process of snowmelt in the highest terrain, many trails are finally free of residual snowpack and mud.

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In fact, there is even a trailhead just south of Rocky Mountain National Park that was named the Fourth of July Trailhead.

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Trails originating from here provide access to a series of high peaks just east of the Continental Divide. This particular section of the Central Rocky Mountains is commonly shadowed from the sun and heavily forested. At places like this the snow melts the slowest in the springtime. This trailhead was given this name because it is generally not recommended for hikers to hike here until the Fourth of July!

What people chose to do on the Fourth of July may have something to do with how people view the United States of America.

There’s a spectrum of people across this country, from those that take extreme pride in being “American”, to those that take a more critical view and may wish we adopted some policies of other nations. Where someone stands on this spectrum may have something to do with whether someone sees July 4th as extremely meaningful, or just as a convenient day to have off in the middle of the summer.

Being who I am, I cannot help but reflect, and come to a conclusion that is a bit more nuanced. One of the virtues that this nation was founded on is individual liberty. Even if we have fallen short of that ideal on certain occasions past and present, it still represents an ideal that we aspire to. Liberty, and self-determination are considered a justifiable end here. There are other places where it is not.

As someone who yearns for adventure, it is easy for me to view, with envy, European countries where vacationing for the entire month of August is common practice, and work weeks tend to be shorter. However, that is not the full picture. There are large areas of the world where most people cannot take vacations at all. There are places where the majority of the population lacks the prosperity and/or individual liberty that makes everything we do here possible.

Reflecting on this, it needs to be understood that we are indeed quite fortunate. This does not mean we should not yearn for more, as, in many ways, we can and should do better. It does mean having everything put into proper perspective. With the right priorities, most Americans at least have the opportunity to have an adventurous life. This is something we all should be grateful for.

Happy Independence Day

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In honor of the holiday today, I decided to write a somewhat different kind of blog than what I usually write.  Typically, as is the case with most travel writing, I visit a specific destination (or multiple destinations), and write about the experience.  Following the lead of some of my favorite travel writing, I also tend to include my thoughts on the place I visited, the experience I had, or the significance of something related to it.

But last night, I traveled all of 12 blocks to Denver’s Civic Center Park to watch the firework show put on by the City of Denver.  Not exactly a major trip- I walked there!  However, just as certain places and experiences can lead to significant pondering and revelations, specific events, especially ones of historical significance like this one, can also lead to similar conclusions.

I found myself pondering what it means to be  an “American” and whether or not this is something I should be proud of.  Over the course of my life I have heard a wide variety of perspectives on this.  Many in this country sincerely believe the USA to be the greatest country in the world.  Some say this based on blind Patriotism, but some say this based on well though out reasoning.  On the other end of the spectrum, we have those that do not place that much pride in their country.  They either believe that taking pride in a specific nation is a silly concept, or are ashamed of this country based on something about it that they find foolish.

I grew up being pretty certain of America’s greatness.  But, that was at a time, the 1980s and 1990s, when it was quite easy to place a lot of faith in the USA.  The new millennium has been a bit rougher for this country.  Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve had a more shaky economy, more controversial events and political decisions, and some social movements that have angered people on all sides of the spectrum.  Nearly every American, from every part of the country, from every sociological, economic, political, or ethnic group, and of nearly any personality type, can point to something that the USA has done since 2000 that has made them feel utterly ashamed of our country.

What I realized while watching the fireworks last night, and pondering the anniversary of our Independence today is that while there are some things about our society and our country that are messed up, unfair, and inefficient, in the grand scheme of things, we are still pretty well off, and we are still a truly great country.  Most of us can count on a lot of the basic necessities of life, like clean water.  When we speak our minds, about any issue, we worry about being shunned, or dismissed, rather than being imprisoned or executed by those in power.  Anybody can make their best effort at being anything, and we are all free to associate with whoever we please.  And, while we have a political culture that has become polarized, and verbally vicious, violence between “warring” political factions in the U.S. has been very minimal thus far.

And, we have a variety of different adventures we can pursue right here in the U.S.  The breadth of the travel opportunities is quite possibly our greatest asset.  Within the borders of the United States, you can find everything from the frozen tundra of Alaska to tropical Hawaii.  We have the peaks of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, as well as the perfectly flat regions of Northern Illinois and Indiana.  From the Grand Canyon in Arizona to Isle Royal National Park in Michigan, many different types of natural scenery can be found right here in the United States.  From the hustle and bustle of New York City to the quiet ranches of Wyoming, every pace of life can be found.  And, nearly every activity, from skiing to sailing can be found in great abundance here.  As a matter of fact, I cannot even keep track of the number of places I would like to visit, the list just keeps on getting longer as I hear about more and more great places.

I am not one of those rare people that has absolutely no shame regarding any aspect of my country at this point in time.  Like most of the rest of you, I have a list in my head of things I would love to change.  I undoubtedly count myself amongst the clear majority of Americans that believe this country is on the wrong track.  And, I would genuinely like to see some action taken on certain items to make this a better places to live.  However, on this Fourth of July, I would like to show some appreciation for what we do have, and how fortunate we are to have enjoy the freedom and prosperity that we do enjoy.  And, while I do not believe there are no other great places to live in this world, I am still proud of the one that I call home.