Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hiking in Duluth

This morning was a reminder, like Outside magazine's recent second listing of Duluth as one of the best places to live, of the very special positive side of living here. I walked a block from my door and caught a city bus, hiked for 5 hours over varied terrain experiencing great views, wildlife encounters, solitude, peace, and good exercise then took a different bus route which dropped me off three blocks from home. Most people would have to drive for hours to have the same experience.

I was content enjoying the typical moments: the croak of a raven, red-winged blackbirds, a variety of fungi and lichen, the red berry cluster of jack in the pulpit, a black squirrel, a woodpecker drumming. Then things started getting more distinctive.

I had considered wearing running shoes because I knew I'd be doing quite a bit of road walking on the section of the Superior Hiking Trail I was exploring for the first time. Once I started doing my best mountain goat impersonation on the rocky trails of Hawk Ridge, I was glad I'd opted for the hiking boots. Along with the rocks come downed trees to scramble over, around, and sometimes through, and undergrowth which often prevents seeing exactly where you're putting your foot.

Before starting my red/orange/yellow/blue trails loop, I sat on one of the rocks at the main overlook and breathed in the view of Lake Superior and the urban wilderness of Duluth below me. I hadn't been up there in 2 or 3 years and had forgotten just how stunning and relaxing it is.

Then, more hiking. As I came out of the woods onto the powerline, two deer stood ten yards away staring at me. I stared back. We were in each other's way and no one was moving. Finally, I crossed the powerline into the woods on the other side. As soon as I did, the deer took a few steps forward but now I had moved behind some shrubs and couldn't see them. I didn't believe they were going to walk within a few feet of me, so I poked my head out to see what they were up to. At that point they gave a snort which translated as, "Enough of the stupid human," and bounded into the woods.

The deer were the largest wildlife I saw, but I was just as pleased to see the startling white body of a male common whitetail dragonfly as he flew around and, after landing, camouflaged himself very well considering his distinctive coloring. As I came out onto Summit Ledges, a large bird gave a startled sound I'd never heard before and flew away before I could attempt an ID. A smaller unseen bird traded his call with me many times, but I couldn't pinpoint the species when I listened to birdcalls on the stereo later. Though that was frustrating, it was fun watching my cat standing on his hind legs, poking his face into the speaker as he tried to find the birds.

After the rugged descent from the ledges came the walk through my favorite section, the wet and overgrown pine plantation, where following the trail seems impossible but can actually be done through a combination of instinct and many blazed trees. I paused for a few moments to remember my old cat Hijack who returned to the earth nearby after spending 19 years playing fetch and moving around the country with me.

Walking back along Skyline, I found the head of one of the sandpiper species, spotted I believe. I wondered if this was the work of the peregrine falcons I've spent many hours watching in downtown Duluth or of a different predator. After a final rest at the lookout, I took one of the steep downhill trails over the protests of my aging knees. Back to the land of houses and cars, lawns and roads, which most people call the real world. I'd been refreshed enough by my time in the real real world to get through this one for a while longer.

1 comment:

Northland said...

Nice essay. I'll need to get a map or guidebook to be able to follow your hike and get an overview of the area.