Grand Rapids, MN
Jean-Paul lived above a coffee house in downtown Rapids. Within the unassumingly modern walls lay a bathroom in which all the tile and porcelain fixtures were a classy pink. From his second story windows could be seen Burger King, Pluemer's fine furniture, and the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe railroad tracks, which lay about fifty feet away. The trains didn't pass terribly often, nor late at night, luckily. When they did, the trains would blow their whistles with gusto. In preparation, whenever he heard a train approaching, Jean-Paul would don a pair of orange industrial earmuffs, like the guys on airport runways wear. He said the noise was horrible, but it didn't seem that bad to me.
Up north, I saw a lot of freight trains adorned with graffiti pieces in even the smallest towns. In these isolated places, tragically, television may be most people's only window into the broader world. (Television, not isolation, is tragic, especially for children.) But every day a train whistle blows, and an ever-changing gallery of authentic youth culture rolls through town! It amazes me that these archaic lines of communication still operate. The most authentic, raw, and potentially important visual art on earth is seen not just by city-dwellers, but by country folk thousands of miles away! God bless freight bombers!
After a meal and a nap, Jean-Paul and I went out into the dusk and mounted our bikes. He led me a few blocks away to the head of the Mesabi Trail, a beautiful, paved trail through the woods that stretches, mostly completed, forty miles eastward to Hibbing. Then it continues over forty more miles on semi-completed stretches through such notable Iron Range towns as Buhl, Eveleth, and Virginia. Right outside of Rapids we saw a giant butte of crushed red rock from the iron mines. It was surrounded by water, and sprouting all over with trees.
We only rode about nine miles out, to a town called Bovey, which Jean-Paul said was "the home of the Picture Grace." I had no idea what he was talking about, until he led me off the trail and into the old mining town, past a building on the main street with a mural on it depicting that picture my grandparents had, of the old man praying with a Bible, bowl, and bread. The mural read, "Home of the Picture Grace." That picture was made in Bovey, Minnesota!
Another question this brought up: Now that I know the picture was made in Minnesota, do people in other states, or mostly just Minnesotans have it hanging in their homes?
Jean-Paul also led me past an old church with sadly boarded-up windows. Its field stone foundation and façade were playfully irregular, its upper half was wooden, and folkishly-designed. A historical marker stood in front, yet the church was condemned, and had been privately owned for decades. Why? Its stained-glass windows deserve to be seen!