What’s there to celebrate? Where to begin?

I heard last week that a high percentage of famous plane crashes have happened in the Upper Midwest.

It didn’t totally surprise me. I thought immediately of displays I saw in May on a spring vacation while traveling through Clear Lake, Iowa — which commemorate the famous Buddy Holly plane crash after a concert at the Surf Ballroom. It became known as the day the music died.

I then thought of two other crashes, each involving one of the region’s foremost elected officials. One involved South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson. The other occurred near Eveleth in early winter weather conditions, leading to the 2002 pre-election death of Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone and his wife Sheila.

The plane crash memories are something to remember but not to celebrate. They’re not the No. 1 source of fame for the Upper Midwest.

If they were, it would validate the idea that we’re “fly-over country”; just the flat, mostly open land that planes go over before or after they make their way over the Rocky Mountains on their path to one of the two coasts.

Instead, there are actually many more things that deserve to be remembered. They’re all part of a list for why it’s actually worth driving through the region. It’s even a great place to go for a lengthy vacation, especially at the height of the summer.

Obviously there’s a need to be concise in explaining that. My chosen method is to focus on three words starting with the same first letter, which together serve as a “Triple AAA” summary.

The first word is aquatics. That’s a reflection of how we’re part of the uppermost reaches of the Mississippi River. The basin that encompasses the middle third of the United States begins as a shallow, narrow, walkable outlet on the edge of Lake Itasca.

We’re also the location of five of the largest lakes in the world, collectively known as the Great Lakes. Like the Mississippi, they act as a corridor to the world because of how they lead to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean.

Somewhere near water is a very good place to be in the summer, and the Upper Midwest offers an abundance of choices. They number well into the thousands.

The second word is ancestry. Our region’s historic sites, architecture and cultural traditions acquire more of a historical context every year.

They also offer a homecoming experience for huge numbers of former residents who make it a point to return for summer holidays, family reunions, class reunions, community celebrations, and sometimes for no particular reason.

When those personal and community-based traditions are kept alive, they create a valuable connection between the past and the present. It serves as an indication that the same sort of quality of life that was enjoyed in the past and gets talked about on visits home can carry over into the 21st century, in a way that can be shared by those who are comparatively new to the region.

For the third and final word, I’ll go with ambiance. I chose that because it’s what has to be perceived in order to really know what any particular place embodies.

It’s what some writers have called “sense of place,” a partly intuitive sense of why a location has its own individual identity. It might take years of daily routines before large percentages of that quality of life can be truly understood.

We can, however, get a very real indication in a much shorter time somewhere that’s small enough and local enough to take note of details.

Again, as with aquatics and ancestry, there’s plenty of that sort of ambiance in the Upper Midwest. Many thousands of back roads, natural settings, street corners, and cultural connections all have a story behind them. They don’t get lost in a backdrop of busy modern activity. Instead they can easily get noticed in quieter surroundings.

Life might be the same in certain basic ways almost anywhere you go, but at the same time no two places are exactly alike. Also there are many one of a kind particulars to notice by taking the time to look. All of them need to be seen to be appreciated.

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