I’ve spent the past few weeks obsessively feeding the fire, clearing out ashes, hauling more wood in, and worrying the dogs might have cabin fever. I know they crave the chase of scents that waft over tracks in the snow. They crave the adrenaline rush during the run, the explosion of speed after paws dig into resistance, and the freedom of the wilds. Fifteen acres of land in Lakewood, just north of Duluth, awaits them, they know this. Two fenced in acres seems like a prison in comparison. But they don’t think about frozen paws and hidden sticks looming under the snowline.
I however, with extreme abnormality, do not desire my usual trek amongst the trees where I walk into peace, clarity, and the calmness that mingles between the earth and stars. My feet are solid on the hardwood floor that covers a cold cement slab over frozen ground. It’s been cold for too long. A cold not worthy of dressing in layers: wicking socks, Smartwool socks, fleece leggings … only to capture a fractional moment of meditative silence amongst the freeze.
I admit it, I’m tired. I’m tired of putting on my left glove, tucking it into the jacket cuff, then attempting to do the same to the right with a thick awkward moving gloved hand. Only to unglove when I figure out I forgot to start the zip of the jacket and can’t achieve the initial detailed alignment of zippered teeth. Try and try again, the glove inevitably will be poutingly removed, zipper aligned, and the uncoordinated procedure of glove replacement aggressively completed, again.
By the time I’m dressed, wood loaded, wind blown snow removed, kindling chopped, snowblower topped off with gas, oil checked, I only want my nose to be warm and my eyelashes to be less frozen.
People wonder why I chose to live here. Winters when my 5-foot fence becomes a 1-foot fence due to accumulated snow, or weeks full of “feels like -30,” make me question it too. But then, from over the horizon, appear smoke clouds that sit on top of the big lake, and something in my soul enters into astonishment of the beauty and diversity I am surrounded by. I remember standing on the putting green at Northland Country Club chanting, “Everything rolls toward the lake.” I remember classic skiing down Lester on the hill before the park chanting, “Flow into it, flow into it.” I remember taking the ski lift up Spirit Mountain in the summer as my mountain bike sat secure on the chairlift in front of me.
And then I remember a few days and weeks ago it “felt like -37” and I survived. Now, it has “warmed up” to -2, and I have remembered to look up.
A winter night in Duluth reminds me that dramatic differences amplify each other: the white of the earth, balanced by the black of the sky, speckled with the sun’s reflection off the objects in between. The earth, the sky, the stars — all more glorious because they immediately rest amongst their opposite; coupled together in unison.
I’ve never read a poem written about the moon shimmering off the lake at high noon. I’ve heard no tale spun about the medium-sized fish that got away. Or a story about mediocre love that slipped through someone’s fingers. But I guarantee I will hear stories that start with, “Well, back during the December freeze of 2017 …”
Sometimes we need “feels like -37” to appreciate -2. It is a right of passage in Duluth, the windstorm of 2016 when the strongest of trees toppled like toothpicks and Lakeside was helped by electricians who came from Iowa. The rains of 2012 when the rivers flooded and became so powerful bridges collapsed. Or the winter of 2009 when my dogs were able to jump a foot to escape their protective fence.
It is Duluth, it is the lake effect, it is snow and rain and cold, balanced by trails, and lakes inhabited by a community that pulls together and lets friends use their sauna when the power is out. It is Duluth, and it truly is a pretty cool city.
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