It is difficult to say what draws a person to a particular place. I spent only four years of my life living in the north woods city of Duluth, Minnesota. My house sat 8 blocks uphill from Lake Superior, the world’s largest fresh water lake by area.Four years is a small portion of a 63 year lifetime but I sometimes describe my time here in such warm detail that my listeners assume that I grew up in Minnesota.
It is a cold part of the world,partly because of the northern latitude but also a result of the frigid water mass nearby. Yet I’m here with my easily chilled husband (Bill says this is an exageration) sleeping in a tent pitched in the Grand Marais Municipal Campground, a few steps from that giant body of water.
My love for this area can’t be explained by a yearning for a simpler time in my life,though perhaps for a more intense time. My son was six months old the October that my first husband and I arrived in Duluth. We bought a first home,excited and nervous. I began that first year cold and lonely. Within two years my marriage had failed and with it my image of what I thought my life would be.
But it was also a vivid four years. Black bears sometimes ambled among the neighborhood swing sets. Caring people welcomed us,and then me, unpartnered. The air smelt of pine and flocks of birds migrated through town, funneled by the great lake they wouldn’t cross. I learned to crosscountry ski by moonlight and heard wolves howling in the distance.
My son learned to talk and added the word “gall” to his toddler vocabulary as I patted the giant growth on our front yard tree.
So my generous husband, Bill and I started our gentle adventure by revisiting some of my old stomping grounds. First a night in St. Paul with my son. St. Paul is also the city where my grandfather changed trains on his homesteading adventure to Saskatchewan in 1906. There will be more about Saskatchewan and grandpa later.
Next we spent two nights with old friends who baked bread and served wood fired pizza to a gathering of folks I hadn’t seen in years. These friends have aged and changed a bit – but somehow seem not so different from all those years ago, kind and involved in their community.
And then we were on our own,driving up the North Shore of Lake Superior, visiting State Parks, which much like old friends, have matured and changed but remain essentially the same. Gooseberry Falls has a fancy visitor center. But the falls were essentially the same, perhaps more torrential than I remembered due to a recent two inch rain.
Tettegouche State Park has spruced up its trails but they still lead to cliff top views of Lake Superior.
Bill and I had been to Grand Marais to cross country ski and I had hoped to show him a warmer Minnesota. It wasn’t as warm as I hoped. The grays of the overcast skies met the steely gray water with highs that only reached the 50s. Warm weather was yet to arrive.