A common problem and in this case, it’s completely my fault — taking on more foolishness than hours in the day. So, like most of us, I cut corners by eliminating “extra” stuff, like exercise and staring into middle space.
My near daily walk in Chester Bowl or less frequent craning-of-neck views of the bluffs at Tischer Creek has been put on hiatus. (Even though I live near one park and drive past the other daily.) I’ll ’fess up to only one, maybe two visits to Canal Park and Park Point beach this winter. I mean, I’ll be back, you know, just after the due date passes, that class ends, oh – and, that other thing.
I’m embarrassed to say that recently I’ve seen more Duluth landscape on Perfect Duluth Day and Destination Duluth these days than actually experienced.
And I’m worse for it.
I need to take a Sharpie and write, “I’m happier when I play outside” backward, then slap it on my forehead so I can read it in the mirror in the morning. Plan accordingly.
The truth of the matter is I moved to this place to be more connected to the outside world. And there have been periods where I’ve succeeded, jogging my less-than-athletic self through the pine needle paths of Upper Chester — a place so green and alive, it’s like I’ve stumbled into Tolkien’s Shire. Thoughts of hobbits distract me from my clunky footfalls that, while not graceful, still manage to pop the tension bubbles growing in my chest. Set me back to neutral.
But it’s the swimming hole that I love best. In the summer heat, my family will walk down the rock steps of Lower Chester, feeling the history of the CCC under our feet. Following the noisy creek on the west side, some 200 feet down there’s a small widening deep enough for swimming. Truly, it’s easy to cruise on by. There the water is well circulated from a tiny waterfall above and honestly, I feel like I’m on the Northland version of the 1970’s TV show Fantasy Island.
And the kicker is — I never see anyone else there. Ever.
We make a point of going often, maybe two, three times a week during heat waves. It’s usually when my husband is “fresh” from farm labor or I’ve made a sloppy attempt at mowing our hill of a lawn. I’ll admit there’s an urge to slip inside the house, get online and look at pictures of other people doing interesting things. Certainly, that would be less caloric.
But we goad one another; reminding ourselves how great it will feel after, how it’s Just. Right. There – if we only put in the barest amount of effort. An easy 5-minute drive to the Chester Bowl parking lot via the heights of Skyline Parkway, then it’s no more than a 6-minute hike down besides the rocks, the current, the tree roots. We slip on our grubby “creek sneakers,” footwear deemed poor enough for the job and wade in – tucking our one can of beer on a rock ledge that seems built for it.
Typically, half an hour disappears while we play in the water with the kids, ducking under the mini waterfall, letting the static sound of water rushing on rock clear our heads. We laugh, talk about nothing. Hoisting our wet and relaxed selves back on the trail we’ve returned home: cooler, steadier. Not even a full hour has past and there’s still plenty of Netflix left for us.
Later, feeling the cool tingle of creek water on my skin, I feel like I’ve bested life – at least for that one afternoon. It’s been a holiday without taking vacation, packing a suitcase or even filling up the gas tank. And that’s the brilliant part of living here. Duluth has some of the best access to green space of any city in the nation.
With summer coming, I humbly suggest you find your own special spot of Duluth. Maybe it’s the often-empty beach at Park Point, some forgotten length of the Superior Hiking Trail or the trails beyond Hartley Nature Center. Heck, I’ll even share mine. Come treat yourself to a dip. If I happen to be there when you arrive, I’ll make room for you under the waterfall.
Then we can all slap enviable pictures all over the Internet, too.
Lucie Amundsen is author of Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-changing Egg Farm — from Scratch. She’ll be bringing her dog and poultry show to the Duluth Public Library on April 14 at 6 p.m. (Disclaimer: there will be no actual dogs or poultry shown.)
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