Festival of the Five Herring Scales

Harry Drabik

The Church Ladies Hot Dish Marching Band, entertaining during the Fourth of July celebration in Tower, Minnesota. Photo credit: Mark Sauer.
The Church Ladies Hot Dish Marching Band, entertaining during the Fourth of July celebration in Tower, Minnesota. Photo credit: Mark Sauer.

I am not sure how to explain the enormous sense of relief felt at not having a summer over filled with weekend-long events where Art Fair of the Weaver is a two week breath away from Arts of the Artist Parade. Event names change weekly with critter name appeal used to break the monotony and draw tourist attention to the Loon, Moose, or Bear of season. It’s mammal supremacy at its best with hardly a hint of the amphibian except in subservient supporting roles. But in the bias world of PR warm-blooded birds will always out poll newts in public affection.  

You won’t doubt that I’ve often suggested other names and themes for festivities. You will also understand why I’m ignored. A Salute to Rice Pudding or Fish Cakes may be locally suitable, but it lacks the posh appeal of art or the awkward cuteness of a moose. Urban dwellers seem to need reassurance that nature is benign and cuddly. Stuffed bears won’t maul and painted moose will not stomp you to death. Nature art is mostly safe, though Korf, (who you won’t see featured among the acceptable) was a North Shore import with a skill for showing a moose’s last stand.  

You see, that’s primarily the problem with touristy festival. The event names changes weekly, but not the content. One week’s fare is essentially identical to that before and that on the way. The climate of a whooped up festival is based on kissing up to people’s innermost desires to see a better world. In other words its nature sanitized. There are no two-headed calves or garbage seeking bears in that universe. It’s all very nice, but also boringly repetitive in images of glossy niceness. I doubt any amount of thematic twiddling can change that. Artist crafters will continue to make what sells on the popular tourist platform where shallow sells better than deep.   It’s a relief not having to dodge series of routine of weekend events. The Range celebrates, but a festivity here is very unlike its touristy Shore cousin. There is a lot more baseball and a lot less art.

Racing is a common denominator, but you know where you are based on presence or absence of motors. And the Range will have a beer garden rather than a beer terrace; both selling beer but with names and prices varying accordingly. A summer weekend event up here is one-shot for the season with a result more like a Hungarian family picnic than a debutante parade. Range towns also put effort into activities for kids, a group essentially ignored on the grand tourism scale. Well, kids don’t buy much art, do they, so why bother with them aside from the useful area of face painting. Always handy when the urge to stand out bites.  

With the exception of (in my limited experience) the Grand Portage Powwow it’s darn hard to find an event anchored in and honoring of a local culture or tradition. Maybe it’s simply that as events grow in size they bleed out into less and less of what began it all and more and more of what doesn’t belong. As with a hangover, bigger doesn’t mean better. In any case, distinctions can be difficult to draw or explain. But I’d sure appreciate it if someone out there is able to tell why North Shore mosquitoes are like lumbering C 47s’ and the Range variety come in swarms of Piper Cubs.

But you know, the critters around us might be indicators. Gray squirrels have reached well north thanks to us, we’ve been successful helpers of the zebra mussel, and spreading ticks of sizes according to their hosts. One of these days someone will have a pet elephant and then we’ve had it with ticks the size of raisins intent on growing into ripe cherries.

Fewer smelt and more ticks is not the tradeoff I’d have wanted, but change is change even if it is not always what we’d want as progress.   Regardless, the Northland is fortunate. Look how close we are to a long border and essentially no problem. Perhaps, as we northerners would like to believe, all the racists/racism is far away south. But I’ve a theory that illegal border crossing isn’t about ethnicity. Any of us can test this idea by appearing at a northern entry port into Canada. They’re not that far. Arrive on foot with little or no luggage and a meager amount of cash. Tell the official questioning you at the border (they are nosey about who you are, where you’re going, and why) you’re off to visit a relative at Pickle Crow.

Put it to the test, see what happens, and decide whether border security is racist or not. If everyone who attempts the test gets the same result regardless of their ethnicity we’ll know what that means, won’t we? Well, some of us will. The unconvinced will argue on as do those who hold their habits essentially faultless while blaming overweight on corporate giant food manufacturers. You know what I mean because I’m sure there’s someone you know who avows to high heaven the awfulness of a former spouse or mate. Think there’s another side to that story? We can bet there is and be confident feeling blessed it wasn’t us who was stuck trying to live with someone well on the impossible side of the line.  

I wonder if the southern border might have a concern with Aztec Supremacists coming up to rebuild former glories. Cutting the hearts from captives was a big thing until the Spanish stopped it. Bet we’d see a pyramid built in record time is a promise to sacrifice the President was made. Ah, will of the people, Oh democracy.  

I believe, and I hope you’ll bear with me, big national or political issues can be usefully viewed on a personal or local level. The migrant question is one such. Consider this. What if an unborn was seen as a migrant in search of a better life and should not have to suffer separation from its parent? Let the “But, but, but” begin, but think about it and smile at the waves of possibility.