Tuesday, June 21, 2016

One River Many Stories Project: What It Meant For Me

Ol' man river,
Dat ol' man river
He mus' know sumpin'
But don't say nuthin',
He jes' keeps rollin'
He keeps on rollin' along.
~Lyrics by Oscar hammerstien

This spring a project was announced regarding the 192-mile waterway that pours itself into Lake Superior here beneath the hills of Duluth, the St. Louis River. Strangely enough, when I got transplanted here 30 years ago, I somehow thought this river was related to city of St. Louis, which didn't make sense. It flows north into Lake Superior, and how could it flow south at the same time? I eventually figured it out.

The project's aim was to have writers and journalists tell stories about the river during a one month period, and to share those stories via social media. The stated purpose, as I understood it, was to get our regional writers working together on a single theme. Too often all the news media, print and television, compete to scoop one another rather than share information.

The project actually began the year before, though it as yet did not have a name. Again, this was how I then perceive the efforts to pull local writers together in an experiment in networked journalism. My commentary on that first meeting ended with the observation, "It waits to be seen how the seeds from this hour-long program will take root in the minds of our various local journalists."

Like all things that emerge into public view there is always a backstory. Here at Perfect Day Duluth is a good summary of how the One River, Many Stories project was given birth.

* * * *
There were indeed many contributors to the project. As it turns out, to my surprise I was one of the most prolific. So I was sent an email that included the following:

“One River, Many Stories” is a journalism, media and storytelling project and resource hub for journalists, educators, and citizens to foster deeper conversations about our community. This University of Minnesota Duluth Journalism program project is funded in part by the Knight Foundation Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

Any thoughts you have on the project, your writing and contributions, etc. would be welcome.

* * * *
So... Here are some of my thoughts...

Once you begin to notice, you'll find rivers in all sorts of places you maybe didn't expect. They've been a part of my life from early memories to the present. And they've played a significant role in all facets of human history from the river that watered the Garden of Eden to the river of the water of life that flows in Revelations 22. And then there are the multitude of stories in between about rivers in history books, literature, science and the arts.

Great books that feature rivers include Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Nobel Pize-winning author V.S.Naipaul's A Bend in the River,  Thomas Wolfe's Of Time and the River, Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. This past year I began an interesting book called River of Doubt about Teddy Roosevelt's journey up the Amazon. Hollywood films featuring rivers include Deliverance, The African Queen, Apocalypse Now and The Man from Snowy River, among a host of others.

Rivers used to be the highways of commerce, until trains, planes and automobiles got involved. When Abe Lincoln was a young attorney in Illinois he represented a case which involved the construction of a railroad bridge across the Mississippi in which steamboat interests were pitted against the emerging railroad industry. The case involved the building of a bridge and had commercial ramifications that are echoed in our own river's story to some extent.

What was this river project all about? And what did I really gain from being part of it?

I have since learned that the stories would be accumulated to become a documentary. (Noted in the Paul Lundren PDD link above.)

Some of what I learned included a strong awareness that there is a fairly substantial herd of talented writers in this region, not that I was surprised. The event in which journalists discussed the impact of the Polymet project showed me that our local journalists have some pretty challenging roles to play that are vital to the community.

The DAI event at the Depot showed me how art and the arts community could draw the public into the project in ways I could not have imagined. (Kudos to Ann Dugan and Ivy Vainio, among others.)

Even though my personal memories of the St. Louis River are limited (though probably many more than I shared) I myself connected to the project because rivers in general have been a part of my life in many ways.

This ol’ river keeps on rollin’, though
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here
And watch the river flow
~Bob Dylan, Watching the River Flow   

* * * * 
My impressions of the project? It gave me an opportunity to reflect on things I may not have taken time to reflect on otherwise, being immersed in so many other projects. In this case I began as an observer, like fans in the stands who watch to see what the players on the field will do. Somehow I ended up in the game.

It also gave me a chance to see why that Native American community is so woven into this community, in contrast to the East Coast community where I grew up. There the pre-history of European settlers was hundred of years ago, and the native influence has been subsumed. Here, a rich native culture existed a mere hundred-fifty years ago, and has not been subsumed. Many in the arts scene especially appreciate this rich contribution of heritage. So it was that the project One River, Many Stories had two hashtags for accumulating the social media expressions related to this project: #OneRiverMN and #ChiGamiiziibi.

* * * *
For personal reasons I can't help but comment on the unusual disposition of the river as a connector between Duluth and the Iron Range. Bob Dylan began his life in Duluth and in his sixth year the Zimmerman family (his birth name) moved to Hibbing on the Iron Range. The headwaters of this river are on the Iron Range. The river follows a circuitous route to Duluth where it runs into the vast expanse of "the open sea." One wonders if maybe this is one of the rivers where Bob watched the river flow.

Meantime, life goes on.... flowing like the great river that it is, sometimes gentle and comforting, sometimes turbulent, always inspiring, never the same.

Thank you to the One River, Many Stories project developers for sharing your idea with our writers and region. 


French Family Blog said...

Wonderful Ed. Thanks so much for writing this. Yes, both Duluth and Hibbing are located in the St. Louis River watershed - a very special place indeed. Minnesota is the starting point of three major basins as at a point just north of Hibbing is the point where a drop of water dropped and split three ways will flow to Hudson Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Think about it - the water starts here.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the note. I planned to work that insight about the triple watershed into this post, but felt I'd layered in so many other things I should just let it go. I think that it's just another unique feature of Northern MN that many people are unaware of.
Best to you

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