My segment of the show starts at about 19:00, but I thought the first two interviews were important, timely, and well-done — new school superintendant Bill Gronseth and a panel representing Unfair, the new anti-racism campaign in town. Definitely worth watching:
Two weeks ago, the wonderful Lucie Amundsen invited me to check out a downhill ski race at Chester Bowl (Chicken Noodle Duluth was recorded directly beforehand). She thought it might be a good place to learn about what goes on in Duluth and have a little fun at the same time. Boy, was she right.
Little squirts, hurtling down the hill, tucking into their crouch to shave off a few hundredths. Others, pizza-ing down the hill at exactly the speed they like. All smiling when they take off their helmet (or have their helmet taken off for them).
Parents, almost interchangeable, buzzing around and solving any problem they can get their hands on. Others, cheering and ringing cow bells and chatting.
I spent a couple hours at the Chester Bowl downhill ski race on 1/15, carrying a microphone around, trying to capture the event in whatever ways I could. The following is a short audio story about the experience:
From what I’ve seen, parents in Duluth seem to be the kinds that will let their kids figure things out for themselves. Cheering on the little ones as they zip down the across the finish line of a downhill ski race is the epitome of this idea, and I’m so happy I could be part of the audience for an afternoon.
(After the jump, more photos (and a rad .gif) from the event.)
As things go, I spent some time with a DNR agent today:
Time spent in an awesome way. This past week, Randy Hanzal, a Conservation Officer in the Enforcement Division wrote me out of the blue:
Jack 'n' Randy.
Yeah! Funny enough, after I dropped the ball a bit in correspondence, we ended up meeting by chance at a bar last night, which led to plans for this morning. So, my friend Jack and I drove southwest, through Gary, through New Duluth, across the Highway 23 bridge, and met Randy at a trailhead right near the Minnesota/Wisconsin border. He was taking us on a short walk to the St. Louis River and the Fond Du Lac Dam.
It was an ideal morning for a walk — clear skies and perfectly cold. We walked through an older forest with plenty of white and red pines, chatting about all sorts of things, especially Randy’s job. He’s very committed and thoughtful about the important work he does, and I asked him a few basic questions on microphone:
Then we made it to the dam. Damn:
A panorama merged from three photos. (Click on it to make it bigger.)
We spent awhile just watching, water falling and crashing and churning.
Aside from the power it collects, the dam acts as an important barrier for the spread of VHS, an invasive fish virus. I’m no expert, but there’s plenty more to learn about the dam in this thorough post done by John Weeks.
I’m not sure if the Fond Du Lac Dam is a particularly well-known spot in the area, but I could have stayed all day. In Summer, it would be a wonderful spot to read. Randy also mentioned that the protected waters around the dam will be attracting a lot of fish soon — the St. Louis will practically be stuffed, gill to gill.
That’s about it — Randy generously wanted to share a little of what he does with the DNR and I wanted to pass along his generosity to you. A wonderful last Sunday morning of the project. (Follow the link for some more photos of the short trip.)
A majority of this past month, I’ve been asking questions like “Duluth?” or “Duluth…” of myself and others. Honestly, it can get a little exhausting. So, for the last few days, I’ve been focusing on having experiences in Duluth rather than trying to experience Duluth all the time. After all, it’s probably a lot easier to get a feeling for what’s going on if I’m not waving a microphone around and snapping photos every second.
Last night, I was invited over for dinner by Hannah Grunzke, a cool lady and food blogger, amongst many other things. In part, I was there to hold a microphone and camera (more on that part of things soon), but I was also just interested in what would come of the evening. As things go, she has two wonderful and sincerely zany daughters — Penelope and Sophie — who shared a few important and unexpected things I’d like to re-share (kinda ironic, I know):
(1) I am not here. This isn’t happening? They did an Abbott and Costello routine that blew my simple mind, proving to me that I’m “not here” because I must be “someplace else.” Quite a trip. (More below.)
(2) A friend in Milwaukee asked “I’m curious what sort of dancing is to be done in Duluth…” I’ve heard about an eclectic ballroom dance class in town and recently poked my head in Redstar, but those didn’t quite put the question to bed. That’s where Hannah’s girls came in — with the help of a CD designed to pump up kick ball teams via early-90s dance jams, Hannah’s girls gave an impromptu and thoroughly satisfactory answer. (More below.)
(3) During dinner, we played a rollicking game of Waffles or Pancakes, an Apples To Apples type game where a group chooses between two things in hypothetical either/or questions. (Waffles or pancakes? Snowflakes or salt?) At one point, the table was deciding between ‘love’ and ‘dancing.’ Heavy stuff. While deliberating, Sophie thought out loud, “I choose love because dance comes from love.” Heavier stuff. (More below.)
The following video is an exploration of the lessons learned in (1), (2), & (3), expressed to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” (Also, this may be closer to what goes on in a typical Duluth living room, as opposed to conversations about communal identity.) It was made while we waited for out-of-this-world kale chips to come out of the oven:
Meet at the Rose Garden at 8am — if you’re late, nobody’s waiting around for you. Take the Lake Walk to Park Point, stopping for an occasional photo or chat with a passerby. Find your seat at the Caribou’s official Table of Knowledge, sip a hot-water beverage, work on some solutions to world problems with co-conspirators. Then, back to the Rose Garden and the rest of your day. Repeat everyday, rain or shine or frost or squall.
Fortunately for me, this morning we had a glorious day — ideal temperature with clouds perfectly painted across the sky.
Jerry Kimbal, a longtime City Planner and Duluth aficionado invited me to join his daily Lake Walk with a hearty cast of characters. The hodgepodge of retirees welcomed me with open arms, joking and winking and spinning yarns from our very first stride. (A sample: “Some of us walk everyday but on Sunday we lose our religious members.” “You know, I bet they feel the same way about the ones who aren’t in church.”)
For most of the morning, I let the conversation meander in its natural direction, which was wonderful, and at the end I got out the microphone for a few questions. Jerry, his wife June, and their friend Mary, all Lake Walkers, give a little background:
Speaking of ritual, they’re serious about hitting the lake as often as they can, regardless of weather. In fact, Mary shared a story about missing a day last week due to cold and the resulting castigation:
Their walk is a wonderful balance between two of Duluth’s greatest natural resources — views of the lake, and the colorful Duluthians using the Lake Walk:
As a retired city planner, Jerry was remarkably generous with his knowledge of almost everything in our path, from major city icons to slight details. He explained parts of the decision making process that went into developing land along the lakefront — their constant and thorough efforts to integrate their manmade plans with the landscape and existing homegrown assets. For him, the work wasn’t just about making the city livable, it was about making it sing.
Towards the end of that conversation, I asked a question about preserving the balance between our built and natural environments, hoping to tap into his personal philosophy as a city planner. His answer was perfectly straightforward:
“Well, we just tried not to screw up what we already have.”
Where I’m from, we have a relatively obscure American Hockey League team, the Milwaukee Admirals. Aside from that small blip on the radar, for whatever reason, Milwaukee is a hockey-less Midwestern town, which has always been disappointing to me. I’ve loved watching the sport, but without a team to root for, there’s no skin in the game.
Hockey seems to be serious business here in Duluth (a recent firsthand experience with that). Youth hockey, the Bulldogs, and of course, high school competition. So recently, I checked out a game that I’d heard would be good — Duluth East v. Apple Valley.
My expectations were surpassed repeatedly. First, the Heritage Center, where the game was held, is a perfect place to watch a hockey game with a few hundred other people. Beautiful facility. Second, and I’m not writing this simply because I’m in Duluth, the Hounds looked really good as a team. I’m no expert, but their offense seemed incredibly fluid and unselfish. Apple Valley was probably a good team, but Duluth East controlled the game from beginning to end.
So, with a sizable group of fans and microphone at my disposal, it was the perfect time to get the lowdown on the Hounds. Fortunately, I found two hilarious hockey rascals, amongst others, to introduce me to the team:
Those guys are totally naturals — I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the announcer’s booth someday. And also, if you’re at all thirsty for more hockey flow, check this out:
I got an e-mail from the Don asking if I’d like to meet. Nobody says “no” to the Don.
In actuality, Mayor Don Ness is much more kind and neighborly than Cosa Nostra. From every account I’ve heard, he’s held in high regard around these parts, which was illustrated by his recent unopposed run for a second term as mayor. He’s young, works very hard, and seems to have brought a lot of new energy to the city.
Speaking of which, I met him at Tycoons at a rock show a few weeks back, mostly by accident. We talked Duluth for a bit and over the course of the conversation, I was thoroughly impressed — he’s as sharp as he is comfortable. A good combination.
Today, we sat down in his office and chewed through a wide range of topics. A bulk of the conversation wasn’t recorded, but I’ll most likely be connecting with him again on the last day of January. In our next conversation, there will definitely be opportunity for probing Duluth questions.
The section of the conversation that we recorded today dealt with some relatively non-mayoral parts of life — growing up in Duluth, and raising his family here. First, a short and wonderful piece where Mayor Ness shares the right way to chase a ball down the hill and how the technique hasn’t changed:
A slightly longer chunk of our conversation, touching on Don’s personality growing up, coming out of his shell, being a parent, and his parenting philosophy:
Children growing up in Duluth with a tacit understanding of nature’s immensity and wonder — a beautiful place to finish. Then, Don let me be mayor for the rest of the day:
Not really. Although, the view from his office made me a little jealous.