When you think of the USA, which locations immediately spring to mind? New York City, Florida, California, Las Vegas? Yes, I think of all those, too! What about Minnesota? When my daughter told me she was moving there, my first reaction was – where the hell is Minnesota?
It's one of the USA's most northerly states and is on the border between the USA and Canada. Its most successful export is probably Bob Dylan, who was born in the mining town of Duluth.
The Mississippi River flowing through the Twin Cities - yes, the Mississippi starts its long journey to the sea in Minnesota!
I travelled round Minnesota during the fall when the autumn colour in its woods and forests was at its most magnificent – imagine driving or hiking unharmed through the most spectacular forest fire – and Lake Superior shone brilliant blue, turquoise and cerulean in the clear September light. The name Minnesota is Dakota Sioux for sky-tinted water, referring to the Minnesota River which joins the mighty Mississippi River at Saint Paul, and to the state's many other rivers and lakes.
Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park
I'd vaguely heard of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul because F Scott Fitzgerald – author of The Great Gatsby – was born in Saint Paul and I'd read his novels when I was in college. There's not much for the Fitzgerald pilgrim to see – just one small statue of the man himself in Saint Paul and a few Fitzgerald landmarks which are dotted around the Twin Cities and are sometimes open to visitors.
The citizens seem more interested in their most famous fictional son, the Native American Hiawatha.
Statue of Hiawatha and his bride Minnehaha in - where else - Minnehaha Park
Who was Hiawatha? He's the hero of a long narrative poem by the American author Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who wrote his poem back in the 19th century, a time when European settlers weren't exactly treating the native peoples they found in Minnesota with respect or even basic decency. A visit to a museum on a Native American reservation near Duluth reduced me to tears of shame as I gradually discovered how disgracefully many Europeans behaved as they grabbed/stole supposedly virgin territory from the people who already lived there.
Nowadays, Native American culture is valued or at least not openly derided. The Twin Cities commemorate Longfellow's hero and his wife Minnehaha in many place names and some wonderful works of art. While I was in Duluth, I bought a beautifully produced and illustrated hardback book of Longfellow's poem, which certainly repays reading today. It's an amazing and hypnotic piece of writing which presents its Native American characters and the landscape in which they lived in a hugely sympathetic and engaging way.
I took lots of photographs of what I'm sure you'll agree is a beautiful place. Here's a selection. I'm looking forward to returning in the not-too-distant future.
The mighty 'Old Man River'
The grand St Paul Cathedral