Sunday, December 17, 2006

An Ordinary Day in Duluth

We have stayed in town on weekends for the past month. Our trip east for Thanksgiving was enough driving for a while. But today we went to Duluth. Per the Duluth shipping news, no ships were due through the canal this afternoon. So we drove up simply for the drive and to stop in our favorite shops in Canal Park. We saw two adult bald eagles on the way up, one sitting in a tree by the side of the Interstate, and the other coming in for a landing in a tree. The first was in the metro area, I think in St. Paul. The second was a little north of the metro area.

The day was overcast. There is no snow, because it hasn't been cold enough for snow to stay on the ground. (I will not mention the Greenhouse Effect.) The plus side is, the late fall grasses are visible, tan and gold.

Directly north of the Cities the trees are deciduous. Most are leafless now; and most of the bare branches are black or grey. But one kind of tree, I think willow, has yellow branches so bright that at a distance they seem to be holding onto yellow leaves.

When you get far enough north, into the cut-over, scrub forest that covers most of northern Minnesota, the forest is pine, aspen and paper birch. The birches have white branches. At a distance, they look like patches of mist among the pines. I like trees a lot, and it would be hard to pick a favorite tree. But paper birches in the winter are lovely, even without snow.

The best part of the trip was probably the moment we came over the hills above Duluth and saw the St. Louis River, the harbor and Lake Superior. Even on a grey day it's one heck of a sight.

We listened to Tom Waits and Sharon Shannon going up, and The Pretenders coming back; and we hit our usual shops in Duluth -- looking at outdoors clothing and North Woods art in the galleries in Canal Park.

The art verges on kitschy: photographs of wolves and the north shore of Lake Superior, pots decorated with bears, raven sculptures. But it's all made by real artists, most of them living in Northern Minnesota; much of it is technically good; and some of it is darn fine looking. Because the theme is the North Woods, it attracts people who are not usually art fans, but are fans of Northern Minnesota. I'm trying to decide if a little kitsch is okay, if it means art reaches people not usually interested in art. For that matter, it reaches me, even though I grew up in art museums. I like the North Woods and Lake Superior. There is something to be said for art that reminds me of places I like. I don't want to go too far in this direction. Sentiment does not excuse bad art. But if the art is handsome and well-made and looks like a raven, a bird I like a lot...


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