Perspective and Enger Management. (Day One, Part Two)

Still on Day One, but hopefully, a minor torrent of posts coming today.

The second destination on the list was the not-so-secret Enger Tower, so I jumped in a car with my friend Jack, a relatively recent Duluth transplant himself. This January, Duluth has been a lot cooler than cold, but on that particular day, the weather was legitimately chilly. Jack’s originally from Northern Wisconsin, so he’s well-versed in frigidness, and in the car he shared a pro tip on how to estimate low temperatures using your nostrils as a thermometer.

As we drove southwest and climbed into the hills, we stopped at a pull-off near 3rd Street and 17 1/2th Avenue to take a picture, looking out over the harbor. Up among the birches on Skyline Parkway, there were plenty more views out over the city (does anybody know the other type of tree that’s common up there?). There is no shortage of vistas and prime vantage points in Duluth.

[This would be an appropriate place to mention that my Flickr photostream will be accumulating photographs of Duluth and my experiences here throughout the month. I know the city’s probably been photographed from every which way over the years, and I’m far from a professional photographer, but I definitely don’t lack in reverence for Duluth’s many ways of looking damn good.]

Then Twin Ponds, Hank Jensen Drive, Enger Tower Drive, and we were there.

During the short walk from the parking lot to the tower, no longer sheltered by trees and hillside, the harsh wind reminded me of something. In Barton Sutter’s Cold Comfort, his acknowledgements begin “I remember swearing out loud, my first week in Duluth…” In that sentence, he goes on to promise himself, and the essentially totality of nature, that he would pen a book about Duluth someday. As I started that passage, I remember presuming “swearing out loud” would eventually refer to profanity, rather than such a solemn and meaningful promise. Chances are, Sutter led with this little ambiguity for a reason.

These thoughts percolating, it felt like a good time to bring up a related topic — weather and whether cussin’ provides any relief from the cold (beware: there’s a bit of salty language in this short conversation):

Just a few months prior, King Harald V and Queen Sonya of Norway had climbed and rededicated Enger Tower. In MPR’s pictures, they looked as charming and stately as the view itself. A view fit for Scandinavian royalty. And wayfarers.

The view from the tower is on the more elevated end of that sweet spot for views — not so distant you feel removed but not so close that foregrounds obscure their backgrounds.

Being from Milwaukee, a particular part of the panorama stuck out for me — all those puffing smokestacks around the harbor. Milwaukee’s industrial corridors are largely vacant and vestigial these days, which has romanticized busy factories and operational machines for me. In fact, on my last trip to Duluth, standing at the tip of Park Point, I asked a friend “what’s that old port over there called?” and pointed across the harbor. He responded, “What do you mean old port?” It didn’t occur to me that there could be anything but an old port.

I’m not sure if Duluth’s industries are booming these days, but there seems to be some kind of work going on, which is a strong draw for me — a city’s industrial inheritance not just feeding its imagination or psychology, but rather, just being .

When the wind became a more compelling argument than the view, we ran back to the car, for practical reasons:

(A final aside — I know the tower was named for Burt Enger, a Norwegian immigrant, but the name, appearance, and location of the tower are tailor made for a wizard ruling over his wizardship: See? When you say it like that, it feels like the whole “Enger Tower” thing is just a cover up for the fantastic, magical truth.)

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