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Saturday Essay Posts

Pornography, or, “Worst First Dates”

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayIn 1999, my ex-husband gave me a computer. I was pretty glad to get it. I had mastered emailing, and was ready to move on to the really exciting things, like AOL and internet porn.

Let’s get this clear right away: I’m not a huge porn fan. My porn experience at that point was limited to the following:

1. A couple of magazines unearthed by a 13-year-old me, in ~1985 in my mom’s friend’s attic. They were evidently from the 1970s. My suspicion was based largely on the unusual prevalence of mustaches and floppy boobies. (Throw in a headshot of Spiro Agnew and my argument is airtight.) They were disturbingly graphic and unaltered. Sans digital enhancement, the naked people all looked like slabs of pork tenderloin. With mustaches and floppy boobies.

2. A porn movie a boyfriend rented to watch with me. Everyone seemed really, really angry in it. With the volume down, their sexing faces all looked like they were watching Newt Gingrich pole dance in assless chaps and an American flag tank top. (He has bootstraps tattooed on his inner thighs, by the way. Interesting tidbit.)

3. My parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex, which was hidden under some sweaters in my dad’s closet. Finding that book in that spot was the single best abstinence education any parent could possibly provide. The idea of my disgusting parents contorting their old disgusting bodies into those disgusting and inexplicable configurations was enough to keep me from so much as holding hands until I was 16 years old.

No Education in Your Violence

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayIn June 2010 I started working with men who have been arrested for using violence against women. (That’s when I also started never shutting up about working with men who use violence or what the work has taught me.) By “working with” I mean co-facilitating critical-dialogue groups in a feminist program designed to foster social change by helping men who hurt women figure out why they believe in doing it and how to stop. A month into having those conversations I’d reached two conclusions: 1. since high school I’ve used a lot of violence against girls and women in relationships; 2. many well-accepted teaching norms are just forms of dominance that teachers use to enforce student compliance regardless of whether it actually fosters or shows learning.

Visit a men’s group sometime then go hang out with a bunch of teachers commiserating over coffee or beers. Listen to how each group talks about the dominance they’re entitled to, the compliance they’re owed, and the character deficiencies they perceive in women and students who won’t comply:

What — am I just supposed to let myself get taken advantage of?

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: The Double Finish

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayWriting about hiking the full 300+ miles of the Superior Hiking Trail hasn’t quite taken as long as hiking it, but it’s gone on long enough. At sixteen years and thirteen chapters, the story now concludes.

I had just a dozen miles left to go in 2015, which were divided into four slightly quirky hikes.

The first was a 1.8-mile section from Triangle Trail to Oak Trail near Jay Cooke State Park. Some of it I had probably already covered a few years earlier, I just wasn’t quite certain. So I embarked on a “van-bike-hike” adventure to make sure any possible gap there was covered. This involved driving to the Jay Cooke Visitor Center, unloading a bike, cycling the Munger Trail to bypass parts of the SHT I’d already done, ditching my bike at the Greely/Triangle trail intersection, completing the short hike, and cycling back.

You’ll have to trust me when I say that was fun. The description makes it sound like I was running a complicated errand. The thing is, being obsessive and task-oriented can be a method for forcing one’s self into situations that can be a bit more out of the ordinary. So, compared to hiking the trail behind my house for the 17,000th time, the van-bike-hike was a memorable event.

Two months later I took on what was the newest and southernmost segment of the SHT at the time, the 5.9-mile stretch from Wild River Road to Jay Cooke State Park. This also involved covering some ground I had hiked in the past, because parts of the trail are old segments of long-existing paths in the park, such as Bear Chase Trail. (No bears were chased.)

Hell of a View

Saturday Essay - Dave SorensenNot having grown up in Duluth, I missed the purported crosstown rivalry. My tribe lives next door, across the border: the People of the Cheese.

Duluth: “Where rail meets sail.” Where rustic meets rustbelt. Where woodtick meets moonbeam, and uphill meets down. You’re a microcosmic casserole, a dichotomous hotdish, Duluth, where stone meets water, and water meets sky. Actually, between water and sky is a thin slice of Wisconsin, appearing blue because of the way light scatters across the distance, and sometimes distance is good. You see, people often end a sentence with the phrase, “but there’s always Wisconsin,” as in, “we can’t get no drunker here, but there’s always Wisconsin,” or, “we don’t make lampshades from human skin, but there’s always
Wisconsin,” and so on, lending a certain comfort to the color blue, and the distance it conveys.

Driving into downtown from the west feels like entering an architect’s model, as the street burrows between stubby office buildings along the table of land between harbor and hill. When I moved here, freeway and mall had already drawn and quartered the business district, and it was the nadir of the Reagan recession. The industrial boomtown started busting as the high-grade ore played out in the 1950s, and by the late ’70s competition from abroad arrived, along with bumper stickers reading, “ Eat Your Foreign Car.” While the early ’80s were cloaked in a campaign slogan touting, “Morning in America,” around here we wondered if there was a bottom to this freefall, which might at least afford a dead-cat bounce.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Loss and Lost

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayHiking through the Castle Danger area in 2013 I came to a sign informing me the Encampment River Bridge was out. No big deal, I thought. I’ll hike elsewhere and pick up this section next year.

To this day there is no Encampment River Bridge. It was washed out in the Historic Summer Solstice Flood Disaster of 2012, along with about $50 million worth of other stuff in northeastern Minnesota. What I found out by talking to other people who had hiked through the area is the Encampment River is not typically deep and gushing, so unless there’s been a heavy rain it’s easy to cross without a bridge.

With that knowledge I made plans for my final hike of 2014, from Silver Lake Township Road 617 at Castle Danger to Lake County Road 301. Saturday, Oct. 11, looked good on my calendar as one of the last days one might confidently expect nice weather before colder days set in.

Of course, there are forces other than weather and natural disasters aligning to alter whatever plans we might have for our lives. Six days before my hike, a great friend and mentor died in his sleep.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Leaves, Needles, Mud

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayBy the fall of 2014 I had fewer than 50 miles of walking left to complete the Superior Hiking Trail. That might seem easy enough to knock out in a couple days, but it wasn’t a single stretch I had to cover, it was short segments stretched out over hundreds of miles. So I was picking them off three miles here and eight miles there.

An example of how it sometimes broke down: Rather than do the 6.4-mile Rossini Road to Fox Farm Road segment with cars at each end, or hike through and then go all the way back, I chose to break it into two trips on two separate days – Rossini Road to the West Branch of Knife River, then Fox Farm Road to the same spot, going both directions on each hike rather than one 12.8 miler.

Of course, by driving one car to the same area twice, instead of two cars once, I didn’t save any gas or spare the environment any emissions — and I doubled my time spent in the car — so it was a dumb thing to do … even though it seemed intelligent at the time.

The highlight of that first hike in early September was either a mushroom or some kind of yellow porcelain trailside birdbath.

To the Battlements, Wherever and Whatever They Are

Anna Tennis Saturday EssayI think about September 11th a lot. More, lately.

I was working at Duluth’s now-defunct Ripsaw newspaper at the time, and we were confounded for the first hours. Do you remember the world in which an attack on U.S. shores was impossible? The idle impenetrability of the United States? We invaded. The world was our bully pulpit. But that day, the paradigm shifted as surely and as immediately as that of a new mother, who, in the second her child leaves her body finds her heart, her worst fears, vulnerable and exposed to the worst the world has to offer. You could almost hear it, the snap of collective consciousness as the reality became apparent, over the day. One hour at a time, our perceived security, the luxury of our superiority, rolled away like so many layers of fog.

My sister came and picked me up. We drove around, listening to the soundtrack from the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and tuning in to the news for updates. We smoked a million American Spirit cigarettes. We felt scared.

Later, I stood on the balcony of my third-floor apartment, on the phone with my best friend. “We’re going to war,” he said.

“Definitely,” I replied.

Saturday Essay: Select gems from 2016

Saturday Essay logo genericLast week we highlighted the five most-read pieces from the first year of Perfect Duluth Day’s “Saturday Essay” series. This week’s focus is on five essays of similar quality that might have been missed by readers who were cleaning their attics, fixing their hot rods or relaxing at the cabin on the particular Saturdays these stories were originally posted.

The first 50 essays in our series showcased the work of 16 different writers; we hope to expand that roster in 2017. Anyone who has an original piece of literary excellence that seems to fit (or appropriately defy) the established format should email paul @ perfectduluthday.com to get involved.

And now a few select gems from season one, in random order …

The Most Read Saturday Essays of 2016

Saturday Essay logo genericPerfect Duluth Day launched its “Saturday Essay” series at the beginning of 2016 and it quickly became the most popular recurring feature on the website. With the first set of 50 essays now complete, it’s time to take a look back at which pieces have been the most read of the bunch so far, according to the folks at Google Analytics.

Before we get all Casey Kasem, a few notes about how the “Saturday Essay” feature works: Yours truly, Paul Lundgren, is the editor. A small group of writers are featured somewhat regularly, but anyone is welcome and encouraged to submit a piece for consideration. Shoot an email to paul @ perfectduluthday.com to inquire.

And now, the countdown …

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Two Harbors Vicinity

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe final four of my 16 years on the Superior Hiking Trail were spent filling in a series of gaps, the biggest of which was an 85-mile stretch from Martin Road outside Duluth to Split Rock State Park. I covered nearly three quarters of that distance in 2012 and 2013 through somewhat random day hikes. The 2012 hikes were in areas that are among the most beautiful on the trail. The 2013 hikes were marred by biting flies and scenery that doesn’t quite measure up to better parts of the trail.

When people find out I’ve hiked the entire SHT, they sometimes form a grandiose opinion of my outdoorsmanship and general machismo. Like I’m the kind of guy who walks around with a Leatherman multitool at all times, practically lives off the land and is prepared for Armageddon. In reality, I wouldn’t have slept a single night in the woods on my hiking trips if there were an easier way around it. Once I’d knocked the northernmost 180 miles off my checklist, there was an easier way around it, and I took full advantage of the opportunity to get dropped off at a trailhead and get picked up eightish miles away just a few hours later.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Silver Bay to Split Rock State Park

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayThe fall colors in 2009 received mixed reviews. I thought they were outstanding.

“I’m sorry, but the colors were TERRIBLE this year,” one Perfect Duluth Day reader wrote at the time. “Very disappointed.” Another agreed. “They’ve been very dim up the shore.” One advised that it was important to “get off the shore 5 miles inland” to see the colors at their best.

It’s human nature, I suppose, to consider all things in relation to whatever else might be possible. Just this past week I was at Bent Paddle’s busy tap room and my wife quickly ordered two Harness IPAs, knowing it’s a beer I love. While that was happening, I was a few feet away looking at the beer options on the board and elated to see Barrel-aged Double Shot Double Black Ale was available. When a Harness landed in front of me I wanted to take that beer I generally love and pour it directly into a urinal to make a clear path for the Double Black—the only acceptable beer in the world at that moment.

So when I say the fall colors were excellent in 2009 and show a few pictures, it’s with the understanding that maybe they were the 974th-best fall colors of all time.

Historical Trauma and Standing Rock

DavidBeard_SEWhen I was young and more exciting than I am now, I started teaching Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus. One of the reasons Maus made its way into classrooms was that it was an immensely accessible introduction to the Holocaust.

But about halfway through the second time I taught the book, I realized that its special genius is not the way it tells the story of Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, but the way it tells the story of Artie, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Perhaps this is clearest in the scene where Artie and his wife, Francoise, take Vladek to the grocery store so that Vladek can return a half-eaten box of cereal.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Finland to Silver Bay

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayIn the fall of 2008 I resumed my north-to-south march on the Superior Hiking Trail at Finland Recreation Center. I was dropped off in the early evening, with just a 2.5-mile hike to Leskinen Creek Campsite. When I arrived I discovered I would have to share the space with a group of young men who were already set up there. Sometimes a person goes off into the wilderness with intentions of being alone, then sleeps 50 feet from snickering 20-year-olds.

This was one of only two times I shared a backwoods campsite during my SHT trips, and the only time I shared one with a group of people. My mostly solitary experiences were probably not typical, however, because I tended to hike late in the season — usually the tail end of September but sometimes well into October. On this trip I arrived at camp on Aug. 16, which was by far the earliest I had started an SHT trip. It was still summer. Still T-shirt and shorts season. The last grasp of summer for those attending school in September.

I introduced myself to the neighbors and spent a little time with them at their fire. I don’t recall much about them eight years later. I want to say they were from Hermantown. One was named Andy and another was Dan. I think there were three of them in total. They were nice guys. That’s about all I remember.

Sixteen Years on the Superior Hiking Trail: Duluth Sections

Paul Lundgren Saturday EssayBy the end of 2006 I had completed the northernmost 140 miles or so of the Superior Hiking Trail over three separate backpacking trips. My methodical march from one end of the trail to the other was broken up that summer, however, when newly cut segments of the SHT in Duluth demanded my immediate attention.

I can’t fully express how awesome it is to have the SHT through Duluth, how quickly I’ve taken it for granted, and how I never even dreamed of it before it happened.

Somehow I actually thought of Duluth as an outstanding hiking city before the SHT. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that special. There were several excellent options — Park Point Nature Trail, Chester Creek, Hartley, Lester River, Congdon Park, Lincoln Park, Western Waterfront — and then there were a few gravel railroad beds, old roads and paved trails for walkers/bikers. Mostly, however, there were many muddy unofficial paths, swampy ATV routes and overgrown ski and snowbobile trails crawling with ticks. So, not really outstanding back then; more like pretty good.

If you wanted to hike the western hillside and view the overlooks from a footpath instead of Skyline Drive, you had to bushwhack before 2006. I grew up doing that, not realizing a group of organized and ambitious human beings could carve a deluxe trail through the entire city in just two summers. God bless them. Now, we have an outstanding hiking city.

Message to a White Boy Who in Some Ways Reminds Me of Me

Chris Godsey Saturday EssayDear Russell:

I want to tell you some things that might not make sense. I wish an adult would have seen me clearly enough to know I needed to hear similar things when I was 18. Do you know what I mean when I invoke the impact of being seen?

You’re a sharp kid. Like a lot of sharp kids, especially ones in their first semester of college, you know both way more and way less than you realize. I was the same way. So was—so is—every other adult, including every other teacher, you’ve known and will know.

You should accept nothing from us as truth before vetting it against your own inquiry. We do probably know more than you and your peers know about some things. We also tend to indoctrinate young people instead of helping them become autonomous thinkers. Please heed Walt Whitman and “re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.”

By “inquiry” I mean deep, active curiosity that includes interrogating your own thinking at least as much as you interrogate the thinking of people you disagree with or consider stupid. It’s very hard work. It’s not just navel-gazing. You will find few examples of how to do it well. Even after doing it for years—after it has helped you learn to discern valid insight from self-serving magical thinking—it will lead you to many inaccurate conclusions because all perception is distorted and opinions can definitely be wrong.