Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hiking in Duluth III

My favorite hike in Duluth used to be the one closest to me--Chester Creek. But as my age and weight increased, a sometimes shaky sense of balance got a little shakier, and I had more and more encounters with unleashed dogs, walking along the edges of cliffs lost most of its appeal. I think I only hiked it once this year; I missed popping the patch of jewelweed and I got my thimbleberries on a different trail mentioned in HiDII.

One of the unusual aspects of living in Duluth is that traffic jams include ships. Taking the bus out to Minnesota Point, which is now my favorite hike in town, involves crossing the lift bridge which spans the shipping canal between Lake and harbor. When a ship is coming or going, the bridge rises out of the ship's way and the cars wait. This is known locally as getting bridged; current work on the bridge has reduced it to one lane, so now after the ship is gone, traffic takes turns as well.

Eventually, I got across the bridge and past the miles of cute little houses gradually being overrun by hideous McMansions and McCondos. With summer long over, the bus only goes as far as 43rd Street. This adds a straight stretch of road to the beginning of the hike, through a park-like area which isn't really a park. There's some grass before the harbor to the right, and on the left in front of the wooded dunes are the new city signs advertising land for sale for more "development". There's an old joke about what a woman (yes, it's a sexist joke) might do for a million dollars or a dollar. We've established what Duluth is; we're just haggling over the price.

Down this long stretch of road, past the playground and parking lot and beach house and open field and more road and parking lot--not one car or person did I see, reinforcing my belief that I would be quite content to be the last human on the planet. A couple cars by the small airport which threatens some of the pines farther ahead. Finally, around the gate and onto the long dirt road and eventually up the sand-covered boardwalk and into the woods.

Sunlit spider silk spanning the trail told me no one had passed this way this morning. I ambled on, often stopping among the tall pines, white birches, and mostly leafless understory, enjoying my slowing breath and growing relaxation. A group of gulls glided silently overhead as I watched the green tops of the red pines swaying against the blue sky.

In time I came to an area where the pines were still tall but fewer, mixed with dunes covered with tall grasses and milkweed, some of whose seeds I blew on their way, and a view of the Lake. This is the area for the big birds and I tucked myself in to wait. I soon saw an adult bald eagle and what I think were two immatures, and a fourth, large and unidentified. My notes run together and I've apparently created a Frankenbird found in no field guide. A raven, or a crow doing an excellent raven vocalization, flew by laughing at me.

Over the pipeline
whose purpose I don't know though I followed it from a work area by the Lake across the entire landwidth into the harbor and along the shore, taking time to check for new graffiti in the ruins; on through more woods with a dee dee dee; through another open area with an increasing wind and to the end of land beside the Superior entry to the harbor. Dozens of gulls stood along the wall, but they all moved away from me when I sat down. I took out my lunch, they asked "Littering?" and they all came back and had a great time on the wall.

I'd been singing some Dylan--"the beach was deserted, except for some kelp"--but my luck as the last human was running out and on my return walk by the Lake I saw a fisherman, a dog walker, and agate hunters. They were rare enough that I managed friendly chat in passing. Had I seen birds? Big birds.

Snow buntings were numerously trilling and at one point as I walked beside the water, there was an explosion of white by the treeline as a large group of them were unsuccessfully attacked by what I later guessed was a sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawk. Didn't actually see the bird at the time of attack, only later moving high and away.

I moved slightly inland and followed a sandy trail; when I stopped for a drink and to remove a layer, I found myself covered with ladybugs. One by one I raised them on fingertip and watched their wings open as they launched into the air.

The following day, I made a quick climb to Hawk Ridge, described in HiDI, for a different view of the Lake. The birders there had a good day after I passed through, with a season high number of bald eagles and an all time high of golden eagles. (After I got home, I looked out my window and saw one of those bald eagles circle lazily three times.) The big numbers happen at the ridge, but I prefer the smaller numbers but much better views I'd had the day before. I did see a couple woodpeckers while hiking up there, but my favorite sighting was the road sign changed to WATCH FOR FEDS.

As always, I spent most of my time in the pine plantation area which is always wet, with many snags, moss-covered logs, fungi, and waist-high grasses. Nearby is where I returned my cat Hijack to the earth as I hope to one day return myself if I have enough advance warning to get to some remote location before the doctors and the undertakers catch me.

And on the third day, a crisp but not cold morning, I hiked the Lakewalk for a third, more common view. Though the walk has its pleasures in the summer, I always prefer the lower population in the cooler weather following migration. I made it through downtown without any sidewalks exploding on me as one had on someone during the Halloween night before. I rescued a woman and child trapped in a skywalk over Superior Street after they'd pushed a latch to enter it and then found it locked on the other side and were unable to get back out the way they'd entered. I saw a black rabbit in honor of Samhain. Duluth--tricks and treats--the adventure continues.


Anonymous said...

Nice writing.

greentangle said...

Thanks. Have you hiked the trails?

Lisa J. said...

AH!!! I needed that big deep breath of fresh air....!

Northland said...

I went on a spring beach combing hike past the lift bridge a few years ago. Very enjoyable in its urban sort of way.