6/5/2003

The Most Beautiful Place on Earth

By Doug McGill
The McGill Report


ROCHESTER, MN -- I'm lucky to have lived in some very interesting places around the world. For most of my adult life I've worked as a journalist in New York City and in Tokyo, London, and Hong Kong. I've also traveled extensively through China, Europe, southeast Asia, central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Since I moved back to Rochester, Minnesota, where I grew up, two years ago, the most common question I got (and still get) is: "Why do you want to live in this tiny Midwestern town?"

I'll try to answer that question in this column, once and for all.

Rochester is as beautiful as any place on earth. Please come visit our Silver Lake Park on a summer afternoon. Plunk down at a picnic table and watch the Zumbro River float by like liquid chocolate fringed with weeping willows, pines, maples, aspen, elm, and oaks as green as emeralds. Check out those same trees glazed with ice during the winter, encased in diamond sheaths to the last twiglet, shooting off sunbeam rainbows like cut-crystal chandeliers.

Drive through the dun-colored southern Minnesota prairie of late autumn. Take a look at the popcorn clouds, the corn-row clouds, the spun sugar clouds, and the Zeus'-anvil clouds that populate our Midwestern sky. Take in the mighty Mississippi River.

Minnesota is as interesting as any place on earth. Oh, sure, England is where our language and lots of our science, politics, and culture (Newton, Locke, Shakespeare, Dickens, etc.) was born, and it's got the Royal Family, too. Japan has a fascinating social system; and Switzerland makes watches like works of art; and 5,000-year-old China now has the world's largest population, the fastest-growing economy, and is exporting sports stars (like Yao Ming), scientists (David Ho), Nobel novelists (Gao Xingjian), and virtuoso musicians (Lang Lang) as if by assembly-line. So what else is new? There will always be more in the big wide world than there is right here, or in any other specific locale.

Meanwhile, Minnesota is a specific marvel. We've got great men (George Bonga, Father Hennepin, O.E. Rolvaag, Floyd B. Olson, Will and Charlie Mayo, etc.) and great women (Harriet Bishop, Martha Ripley, Nellie Stone Johnson, Meridel LeSueur, etc.) in our history. We've got a tradition of civic service that is the envy of 49 other states. We are a sane and sober bunch (e.g., we elected Gov. Tim Pawlenty), yet interestingly and endearingly we go absolutely nuts from time to time (we elected Mr. Petulant Loudmouth with a pink feather boa).

Did somebody say Minnesota is boring?

I don't miss living abroad because foreigners are us. I love the variety and challenge of living abroad, yet I find plenty of both commodities right here. I volunteer teach at the Adult Literacy Center here, where my students are Somalis, Sudanese, Russians, Chinese, Bosnians, Mexicans, Colombians, and many other nationalities. That's more ethnic variety than I ever saw in Tokyo.

Most ethnic groups have churches, restaurants, and festivals that are open to all. I take Chinese language lessons from a Shanghai native who lives in town, and along with words and sentences I try to soak up Chinese history and attitudes and points of view.

One in 10 citizens of Rochester wasn't even born in America, and every immigrant I've met here has a vital perspective they're ready to share.

At some point in my world travels, I concluded there are really only two basic puzzles a person needs to solve in life. Puzzle No.1 is to decide what "home" really means, and then to find and make your own true home. Puzzle No. 2 is how to live in a way that's consistent with the fact that in a wider sense, the whole world is our home and all people are our neighbors.

To be honest, I'm pretty well stumped on Puzzle No. 2.

But I do know this: You can't solve No. 2 until you've solved No. 1. And in Rochester, Minnesota I've found the perfect place to try to do that -- because it's beautiful, because it's interesting, and because it's my home.

Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report