A lot can change in 12 months.
It’s been a year since Christopher Ingraham wrote a controversial, data-driven article for the Washington Post that named Red Lake County as the “worst place to live in the America.”
Fast forward to today, and Ingraham and his family have packed up their life in Washington, D.C. and are now living in the county, getting acquainted with life in rural northwest Minnesota.
On Tuesday, the journalist met with Minnesota’s Gov. Mark Dayton, who was paying a visit to TnJ’s Bar and Grill in Red Lake Falls “to discuss why Red Lake County is such a great place to live and raise a family.”
As is often the case when a national media outlet besmirches the good name of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, proud Minnesotans don’t always take it too kindly.
Ingraham’s piece definitely struck a nerve, but the indignant response also came with an olive branch in the form of an invite from Red Lake County officials, who wanted the reporter to pay the county a visit.
After accepting and visiting Red Lake, Ingraham went one further and moved his whole family to the quiet corner of the state so they could raise their two boys in a rural setting, away from the hustle-and-bustle of the nation’s capital.
On Tuesday, he wrote once again about Red Lake County as he mused on the changes in his life this past year, and this one is far more complimentary and warm towards his new home.
He admits that because of its flat landscape, hot summers and “brutally cold” winters, it’s not surprising it came last in a study of America’s “Natural Amenities Index” that ranks counties by their natural beauty, but he realizes that data can only tell you so much, writing:
“My relocation to Red Lake Falls has been a humbling reminder of the limitations of numbers. It has opened my eyes to all of the things that get lost when you abstract people, places and points in time down to a single number on a computer screen.”
On the Natural Amenities Index, he says “it misses out on so much about that landscape: the sound of the breeze rustling the grain or the way the wheat catches the light at different times of day, the dry-sweet smell of a field full of sunflowers.”
His new hometown of Red Lake Falls, meanwhile, “feels like the kind of town your grandparents would live in, and I mean that in the best possible way.”
Ultimately, it’s the people who make the difference, with Ingraham noting the “industriousness” of residents who have multiple jobs and who pull together in times of hardship (such as water mains being frozen by the ridiculous winter cold) and who have been nothing but welcoming since they arrived three months ago.
“Folks have gone out of their way to help us feel at home. Friends have stopped by to share their abundance of fresh-caught walleye and pickles from their gardens, or to give us tips on how to make chokecherry jam from the tree in our yard,” he says.
“People who grew up on the property we live on now stop by to share stories of playing sandlot baseball in the yard as children, or of climbing the massive oak tree that still sits at the edge of our driveway.”