Saturday, January 14, 2006

Duluth: Not For Wimps

I grew up in Duluth, a beautiful shipping port that sits at the tip of Lake Superior. But because of the cooling effect of this humongous body of frigid water, it is also a place known as "The Air Conditioned City" - which would be an attractive catch phrase if you were from say, Death Valley. But for native Duluthians, this is just a nice way of saying it's always cold.

When my wife and I were first married 17 years ago we decided to live there. To me, this was like a homecoming. I couldn't think of a better place to buy a house and start a family - I was home again at last! But my wife, who is from St. Louis, was a little more cautious. Prior short visits to my folks’ house only proved to be cold or foggy or wet. "But that’s just like any place," she reasoned, "NO city could possibly be like this ALL the time!"

That winter we gave birth to our first child on December 23, the "official" coldest day in Duluth's recorded history. On that night my wife's water broke at home so I drove her to the hospital, during which the whole time her pants were absorbing the 50 or so gallons that were leaking from her on the way. Then, on the walk from the hospital's parking ramp her pants began to freeze solid - to the point that by the time we got across the street she was walking like the tin man in need of his oil can. Fortunately a team of first responders met us at the door with blow torches and ice chisels to extract her from her denim trap.

The following spring my wife innocently decided to purchase one of those small inflatable wading pools so when summer came she could sit in the grass while our infant son splashed around in the warm sunshine next to her, while butterflies fluttered nearby. Oh, the ignorance of the foreigners.

You see, if you've ever lived in Duluth you know how summer works. One day, sometime around late July, the wind will come up from the southwest just right and blow the cold lake air away from the city. And if the clouds and fog get enough time to dissipate, the air temperature will actually break 70 degrees - and for those glorious 4 hours to follow we have summer! Suddenly church bells chime around the city! Kids break open the glass emergency swim suit case while mom unplugs the battery charger and warms up the car to head down to Park Point! Mobs of people swarm the beach in an attempt to acquire their annual pigment.

Meanwhile swimmers begin the ritual "Dance of Gitche Gumee
". This is where men, women and children line up along the water and take a step into Lake Superior and then step back out, doing this repeatedly until at last their lower extremities have become numb, and they can begin to frolic in the watery playground for hours to follow.

Anyhow, we returned the pool that fall to the store. Unopened. Right before we put our house up for sale.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Ah, yes, the joys of Duluth weather--I know it well, having grown up there as well! They say that the cold keeps the riff-raff out--so I guess that makes both you and me "riff-raff."

I found your blog via "The Symmetry of Clarence." He told me you had an entry about Duluth, so I had to check it out! Also, I graduated from St. Ben's a few years ago, so I appreciate the View from the Cloud, too.