RACHEL BEGLIN COLUMN: This town has grown on me
I love that there are people in this area who aren’t abandoning Bemidji when they see something they don’t like, but rather are digging in their heels and asking, how can we make this community better for everyone?
As I reflect on a year’s worth of opinion pieces about our little hub in northern Minnesota, I have a confession to make: I used to hate Bemidji.
When I was first evacuated from Central America in March 2020 and had landed a job in Red Lake, I felt like the universe had thrown a dart at a map to put salt in my wounds. My first impression of Bemidji was peak pandemic when there were no cars on the roads and every store downtown had an eerie sign up: closed until further notice.
Waiting to tour an apartment, I remember parking my car in front of Paul and Babe and glaring at them just as it began to hail. In April. Having just come from the tropics, the gray skies and shards of pelting ice seemed unwelcoming to say the least.
I struggled here at first, it’s true. I’ve changed jobs. I’ve moved five times since my arrival. But I’ve also volunteered at the Bemidji Community Food Shelf, seen "Young Frankenstein" at the Historic Chief Theater, hiked Beltrami County's Three Island Park and successfully foraged my first morel mushroom.
Slowly but surely, this town has grown on me.
I love living rurally. There is something comforting about meeting the same cashier in the store each time you go. Bemidji, although sometimes dominated by Walmart and Target, has so many great, small shops that are locally owned, some of them even dating back a century, like the Bemidji Woolen Mills.
Downtown, you can grab a farm-to-table meal at Table for 7, find an antique treasure in Grandma’s Attic, and can even take a plant-dyeing class in the yurt behind the Rail River Folk School, which hosted the first Bemidji Pride event a few months ago.
I love that Bemidji is a community of gardeners and that Facebook groups like Grow Bemidji help community members swap seeds, plants, recipes and more. Once, I even picked up worms for worm composting at one of their share tables. I love that last week, when I discovered a lost dog wandering in front of Harmony Foods Co-op and Minnesota Nice Café, it only took me two hours to locate the owner thanks to people spreading the word on social media.
This week, two tragedies occurred in Bemidji: a terrible house fire that took the lives of two young girls and a car that went through the ice on Lake Bemidji . Small towns make these news stories, which often seem far away, hit much closer to home.
The GoFundMe for the girls’ funeral had already raised over $28,000 on Monday. The Heroes Rise Coffee Company was supplying firefighters with coffee and water as they fought the fire. I love living in a community that cares. Where people are people, not statistics.
Perhaps in our relative isolation, Bemidji strikes me as more and more community-minded every day. The fact that we are home to several cooperatives, including Beltrami Electric, Harmony Foods and the Country Store (through the Bemidji Cooperative Association) indicates that we value shared ownership and spreading the wealth throughout the community.
And if I had any doubt, I’d just have to look at the work of the Beltrami Area Resiliency Team who this year downed 100 cups of coffee with 100 locals to find out more about what the community truly wants. I love that there are people in this area who aren’t abandoning Bemidji when they see something they don’t like, but rather are digging in their heels and asking, how can we make this community better for everyone?
Bemidji, like anywhere else, is not immune to societal ills. We have our issues. Poverty, addiction, political division and racism are prevalent in our town. It’s cold as (insert swear word of your choice). We’re far away from most attractions.
Some of these problems used to make me think I needed to get out of Bemidji. But in a streak of something like maturity, it has dawned on me that nowhere is perfect. It is easy to fall into the very American problem of choice overload, of wondering if the grass is greener somewhere else.
Although our grass is covered in a few feet of snow right now, I know that underneath, it is just as green as anywhere else.
Thank you to anyone who has made this town a little more welcoming.
Originally from Phoenix, Ariz., Rachel Beglin now resides in Bemidji. She is a former Peace Corps Volunteer, sustainability advocate, gardener, writer and coffee enthusiast. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .