In June 1973, Minnesota Gov. Wendy Anderson was on Basswood Lake on the Ontario border, fishing with Gerry Bibeau of Ely, who in addition to being an excellent angler was a first-rate barber.
Fishing was good that day. The governor boated five walleyes and a similar number of northern pike. All the while, nearby, a Time magazine photographer clicked away as Bibeau and Anderson enjoyed themselves in the same way a million and more Minnesotans enjoy themselves every year.
Two months later, a photo of Anderson holding a northern pike graced Time's cover, together with a headline proclaiming, "The Good Life in Minnesota.''
The flattering story inside was not about fishing, of course, but about how, at the time, Minnesota successfully educated its kids, paved its roads and paid its bills while providing a pathway to success for many of its residents.
Any number of photos could have been used on the magazine's cover to trumpet the Minnesota story. The Minneapolis skyline. The Mississippi River as it bisects Minnesota north to south. The Guthrie Theater. Or perhaps one of the state's Fortune 500 companies, say 3M or General Mills.
Instead, the photo was of the beaming Minnesota governor wearing a folksy plaid shirt hoisting a northern pike.
The iconic image literally screamed "Minnesota,'' and the good life the state offered.
Any chance a similar photo of the current governor, Tim Walz, with a similar headline will grace any magazine cover anytime soon?
Not only because many Minnesotans believe that whatever Time magazine was celebrating about Minnesota 50-odd years ago has lost some of its sheen. But because Walz on May 14 will be the first Minnesota governor in more than a half-century to skip the formal celebration of what Anderson and Bibeau celebrated so joyously that day on Basswood: rocking in a boat, fishing rods in hand, passing the good time — fishing.
Walz, of course, would disagree.
True, he would say, he won't be the star this year of the state's traditional Governor's Fishing Opener. But on the state's big day, he'll be fishing somewhere in Minnesota — and his people will let us know if he catches anything.
And the traditional Minnesota Governor's Fishing Opener, whose roots date to 1948?
Well, that's going by the wayside, as the Star Tribune's Tony Kennedy has reported, to be replaced by a handful of bogus non-events — moms can fish for free the weekend before the opener! — that in any other year would be considered April Fool's jokes, and bad ones at that.
By tradition, the Governor's Fishing Opener moves around the state, community to community, showcasing what each has to offer. Public spiritedness is the common denominator, as volunteer guides and their boats — some 70 in all — are rounded up, and funds are raised to pay for banquets, parties and even bait.
These events are a lot of work and the economic payback is questionable. But Minnesotans are proud of the places they live, and anyway they're hard-wired for potlucks. So they put their shoulders to the wheel and the annual celebrations unfold.
Yet the importance of the Governor's Fishing Opener — and similar gatherings that celebrate the pheasant and deer openers, which Walz also miniaturized last year — are linked neither to their planning nor successful execution, but to their metaphorical representation of what many Minnesotans value.
Fishing is part of this, yes. But more important is the role Governor's Openers play in the continuation of state traditions and rituals, both of which are vital to the health of individuals, communities and entire cultures.
As life's touchstones, traditions and rituals build trust among people by synching their behaviors in shared experiences, researchers say. Among Minnesotans, few days in Minnesota match the Fishing Opener for shared experiences, and, arguably, fewer still bring more joy to more people. This includes those living in Minnesota's lakeside communities who for generations have hosted the state's chief executives on the Governor's Fishing Opener.
"When people act as one,'' sociologists say, "they feel as one, and build more trust in one another.''
Not only is the Fishing Opener a heartfelt holiday in Minnesota because it helps shape and organize people's lives, but because it marks the end of winter and beginning of summer.
This rotation of seasons, from cold weather to warm, ice-covered lakes to open water, is uniquely joyful in Minnesota because it ties residents closely to nature.
Just as anglers in May land on the state's lakes and rivers, so do returning ducks, geese and loons. Similarly, beneath the water's surface, walleyes and other fish swim into shallow water to spawn.
Amid these constant seasonal changes, perhaps particularly in the northern latitudes, rituals and traditions are all the more important, and are lifelines for many people for whom consistency is otherwise elusive.
In defense of his Fishing Opener abandonment, Walz raises the COVID flag. But last August, as the delta variant was gathering steam in Minnesota, Walz was maskless at Farm Fest in southern Minnesota, delivering the keynote address. Later in August, he was at the State Fair.
But in between, he couldn't manage to attend any one of the six days of Game Fair, the annual gathering in Anoka of hunters and anglers that last year drew record crowds.
The governor is also said to have been bruised by the cold shoulder given him at times at last year's Governor's Fishing Opener. If so, he should look to his predecessor, Mark Dayton, as a role model. Dayton not only endured extreme back and hip pain at times while participating in governor's openers, he was greeted with "Dayton go home'' signs at his last pheasant opener wingding for his support of streamside buffers.
Through it all, Dayton smiled.
The last two years have perhaps been more disquieting to Minnesotans than to any previous generations in the state's history.
COVID. Social unrest. Job losses. The deaths of friends and family members — followed by funerals beamed to mourners connected by Zoom.
Resilient as people are, many have been cast adrift, and more now than ever, they need structure, something they can depend on.
This year on the Governor's Fishing Opener, Walz isn't offering that.
Maybe next time.