The first time I set foot in Bemidji was a whirlwind. I was a high school senior, driving up from Rochester to see the town’s university with my sister, MollyBea.

We left home around 5 a.m., and stayed long enough to shake a few hands, tour the campus and listen to an upperclassman on a panel explain how he chose Bemidji so he could hunt deer and fish walleye. We got a picture with the iconic statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox before getting right back on the road.

By the time we made it back home it was nearly midnight. My mom asked what I thought of the university, and I said it was a “definite maybe.” I’m sure I was just trying to keep my options open, but, in hindsight, it’s hard to imagine how the last decade of my life might have gone if Bemidji wasn’t part of the mix. That’s also something that makes the idea of leaving this town quite hard to think about.

Both myself and MollyBea did, in fact, go to college at BSU. She stayed after graduation and put down roots, and I moved to Nebraska for a few years to work at a small-town newspaper.

It was 2017 when I moved to Bemidji for the second time. I’d been looking for a new job opportunity, and that search just so happened to land me back on the doorstep of my college town.

A lot has changed since I moved into Oak Hall in the late summer of 2010. My perception of Bemidji was so narrow back then, confined mostly to the classrooms I studied in, the theater I performed in, and the ultimate Frisbee team I played on.

Upon my return, I worked for the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper and witnessed the worlds I never bothered to learn about during those early years. In doing so, I started to learn the larger story of Bemidji’s struggles, accomplishments and contradictions.

When I first set foot in Bemidji, it seemed like a quaint college town that could be featured in a Hallmark Channel movie. Today, I’m not sure how I’d describe it because I’ve come to realize just how many sides it actually has.

And now, as I move away from Bemidji again. I know that in the grand scheme of things, I haven’t lived in this town all that long. But, it’s left its mark in more ways than one.

The first time I heard of Bemidji was from a friend who told me it was one of her favorite places in the world. That conversation wasn’t the only reason I decided to go to BSU. But, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind when it came time to apply to colleges.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live in Bemidji again. Shortly after I told MollyBea that I’d accepted a new job out of town, I half-jokingly told her that maybe I’d retire in Bemidji some day.

Or, maybe Bemidji from this point on will simply be a source of nostalgia. Either way, I know what I’ll say in the event someone asks me to name one of my favorite places in the world.

Jordan Shearer is a former reporter with the Bemidji Pioneer. He recently returned to his hometown to work as a reporter with the Rochester Post Bulletin.