Duluth Digest #1

I'm halfway through my first experience of winter in Duluth, Minnesota and wow, has it been abnormally and sensationally cold. I'm doing as the locals do and making an effort to revel in such frigid air, but there's only so much fun to be had outside once I've lost all sensation in my feet and hands. Also, the snow becomes very dry and turns into a very fine, brittle powder when it's this cold - just like freezer burn on that popsicle in your freezer from last summer. This makes it useless for sledding, snow angels, snowballs or making snow people. We were locked in a deep freeze of sub-zero temps for much of December and January, and my two-and-a-half-year-old, Felix, is decidedly not reveling and thinks anyone who goes outside to play is crazy. We moved here last July, when no one hesitated to go outside, and we began many mornings by opening the front door to feel the sun. Now we are constantly scouting around our new city to find fun indoor activities and exercise during these cold weeks, and we are truly having a good time. We moved from Minneapolis and have swapped a cramped house with a great backyard for a bigger house with very little yard. The three of us all love the great outdoors and exploring new places, though, so overall the relocation has been a great adventure. The house where we lived in Minneapolis was built to take full advantage of the warm part of the year, with windows and a porch and a back door that we threw wide open as soon as the overnight low temps stayed above fifty-five. Our house in Duluth was built to withstand and provide a greater barrier against much more drastic weather. Living next to Lake Superior is a very unique experience, and Duluth has a very peculiar climate. Much of the city is on a hillside facing the lake, and there will regularly be abrupt and fleeting fog or rain that rolls over the crest line and down the hill. We have a great view and often watch this meteorological action from our enclosed front porch, which warms up on sunny days so much that we can hang out there even in winter. Anyway, this weather pattern has been named "the lake effect", which alters the weather so that in spring and summer it's generally cooler near the water than the actual temperature for the surrounding area, and warmer in fall and winter. Not only is Lake Superior picturesque, but the stunning landscape of hills, rivers and forests that surround it is magnificent, and the oceanic panorama feels like living on the coast.

Now that I've dutifully perpetuated the Minnesotan proclivity to talk about the weather, I can move on.

Duluth is a dynamic city that knows how to utilize the cold Great Lake and the cold winters to its advantage. There are many new and interesting things going on, and the culture here, as in many urban places around the country, seems to be on the cusp of a small-scale creative resurgence. There are several neighborhoods that are reviving a sense of community and camaraderie with new breweries and taprooms; cafes and coffee shops; dance and yoga studios; mercantile shops; artist quarters and artistic spaces; and companies with new visions of civic development and technology. Right now I'm working at the OMC Smokehouse, a restaurant in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, which was recently dubbed the craft district due to the various types of ventures moving into the area or opening up new shops. There is a brewery/taproom, Duluth Pottery; the Makers' Mercantile shop, a Kombucha company, Hemlocks Leatherworks; the Duluth Folk School, and a skateboard shop. Plans are in the works for an ice cream shop, a deli/sandwich shop, and a boutique hotel to open this year. This area is creating a lot of buzz as a focal point of Duluth's revitalization. Two of the places on my Duluth bucket list are music venues: Red Herring Lounge and the brand new Sound, but they'll have to wait until my wife and I have a dependable babysitter lined up. The owner of Red Herring is also working on another great project - opening a travelers' hostel somewhere downtown on Superior Street.

Despite the cold, we've ventured out to experience three of the city's larger winter attractions. The first was Bentleyville: Tour of Lights; the second was an outdoor holiday market on the grounds of the Glensheen estate; the third was the Cold Front Festival on Canal Park. All three are very commendable and brave attempts to reclaim the winter months from the winter doldrums and celebrate this northern climate. Bentleyville is a huge spectacle of Christmas with everything in lights from Sesame Street to a tribute to the armed forces, and draws the biggest crowd I've yet seen in Duluth. The other two events were new and thus very short-lived - one weekend - which will need to be lengthened in order to make good on the narrative that we who live here enjoy ourselves outside in the winter, and don't just dash out for a quick sled ride and a beer in a tent. I think these events should incorporate more shelter from the elements into such holiday festivities, as I've seen in other cities. Duluthians are very tough, I will avouch, but placing a fire-pit in the middle of the festival grounds isn't enough to coax people to hang out longer with a sub-zero wind chill whipping around.