DULUTH – I forgot the noises of the house. Sometimes those little crackles and groans mean someone is moving, but sometimes they happen for no apparent reason. My mom used to say it was the noise from the house that “settled”.
The house in East Hillside where I live should be fine by now. According to county records, it was built exactly 100 years ago. If the house settles much further, it threatens to sag all the way down the hill and come to a comfortable lying position against the back of the Kitchi Gammi Club.
It’s smaller than the house in Chester Park where I lived as a kid, but it’s not too different. Front porch, living room in right front corner, kitchen in left rear corner, bedrooms in each of the four upstairs corners. Before and after our stay in Duluth, my family lived in different homes in St. Paul built on the same square pattern.
My wife and I do not own our new home; we rent from one of the largest local property managers. We had to act quickly to get this lease. I walked around the house with an agent and another potential tenant, taking care to moderate my reactions. Having been beaten on two previous house rental attempts, I didn’t want the other prospect to be too interested in this one.
I greeted the large, bright living room with a neutral nod. When I noticed the bar style seating between the kitchen and dining area, I didn’t take a peek. When I realized that not a single room smelled of damp mist…well, after visiting a few student rentals, I didn’t take that for granted. I waited for the other prospect to leave before turning to the agent and saying, “We’ll apply.”
We signed the lease and hired movers to move our stuff from Minneapolis. I must have apologized three dozen times while they were carrying boxes. Noting that the owner had a 24/7 dehumidifier in the basement, I figured all the books and records were up in the back bedroom. “It’s okay,” growled one of the movers, raising a heavily laden cart one step at a time. “That’s why you hire movers, isn’t it?” I apologized again.
Unpacking was the first priority, which meant the lawn came second. Our landlords had practiced “No-Mow May”, which turned into No-Mow June once we moved in. By the time I had assembled our newly purchased push mower, the lawn looked like a nature preserve. After the first mowing, the grass looked like a quarantine haircut: it was shorter, and that was all that mattered.
Apart from the lawn, as it is, I was afraid to touch anything that grew in the yard. I don’t mean I’m afraid of what I’m going to do to him — I’m afraid of what he’s going to do to me. Whenever I gaze at garden shears, I think of the movie “Annihilation,” where Natalie Portman leads an armed assault team through an aggressively expansive forest of greenery. For most troops, the film does not end well.
At our front stairs, vines meander between the slats. The birds have built a nest in the corner of our porch roof, and there’s definitely something moving inside that roof. Sidewalks should be mowed as often as the lawn. Our solar lights are completely overgrown. Sticks of all sizes rain down steadily from an old rooted tree nearby.
The most intense plants growing in our yard, however, are a species that I have begun to call “Northland Murder Thistles”. They line our fence and guard our side gate, growing nearly as tall as I am and threatening the unwary with thorns of all sizes. These monsters don’t remember “Annihilation” so much as the enchanted bramble from “Sleeping Beauty,” and I always thought of myself as a rather cold guy in the tower than a guy who came to the rescue.
After the first mowing, the grass looked like a quarantine haircut: it was shorter, and that was all that mattered.
I also made disturbing discoveries inside the house. After working up the courage to open up an enclosed basement, I found cobwebs, a table saw, and…a pair of crutches. Perfectly normal! After that, I needed even more courage to explore the attic.
Opening a door in the front bedroom, I discovered a narrow staircase. I made the limbo under a pole intended for the arrangement of the clothes and I poked my head in the attic. I discovered that the entire attic floor was covered in a thick, weird coating of fuzzy moss. I’ll appreciate this insulation when the heating bills come due, but I still can’t get rid of the feeling that if I walked up there and said “Beetlejuice” three times, a miniature Michael Keaton would appear in a pith helmet.
On the first and second floor, however, everything is pleasant and comfortable. Our shaded, south-facing porch isn’t as glamorous as the sun terrace of our last accommodation, but it’s much more functional: whenever there was more than a slight breeze outside our Minneapolis, sitting on the fifth floor deck was like trying to relax on the wing of an airplane. We also now have a view of Lake Superior. To see the lake, you have to look on the other side of the street between two houses and pass in front of a tree, but hey, it’s there!
They call it “Hillside” for a reason. One day I was sitting on the small landing connected to the back of our second story, and I looked across the alley to the next east-west street parallel to ours. Despite the fact that you had to climb three sets of stairs to access this level of our house from street level, I realized that the cars driving down the next street were high above my head.
This extreme slope will bring new challenges when winter arrives. I try not to think about it too much, but this week I’m celebrating my first birthday in Duluth since I was a kid, and I didn’t ask for any Transformers or Star Wars figures – I asked for a snow shovel.
Congratulations Duluth Musicians Lyla Abukhodair and Samuel Miller (Robin Hood was right), who got married Saturday at Hammarlund Landscape Nursery in Esko. Artist Friends of Duluth Gavin St. Clair, Adam Hermann and New Salty Dog performed at the wedding. Abukhodair rode a wave of buzz behind his eight-song release “Scream,” which was released earlier this year.
The University of Minnesota Press has published a new translation, by Tiina Nunnallyfrom a 130-year-old collection of Norwegian fantasy stories written and illustrated by “the godfather of the Norwegian troll”, Theodore Kittelsen (1857-1914). “Troll Magic” marks the book’s first release in English, and while the evocative volume might make a tempting holiday gift for Northlanders interested in Scandinavian heritage, it would be just as appropriate for Halloween. Kittelsen’s creatures include a 12-headed mountain troll (the heads stay up all night arguing), a witch (she spins wool with “foolishness and backbiting, gossip, envy, wickedness and devilry”), and even a “horribly ugly” sea. troll. These only live in salt water… right?
“The Bachelorette” Now Airs Monday Nights on WDIO; there are weekly watch parties at the Duluth Tap Exchange, if you want to share the guilt. This week, the reality TV show landed in Bruges, Belgium. There, single Gaby Windey and pretender Johnny DePhillipo went on a date to De Halve Maan brewery, where they took a “beer spa” which involved battling with sauna brushes, then climbing into a whirlpool of beer (or, at least , water with beer ingredients). How did Duluth not jump on this trend? Beer spas are totally a thing, with at least one as close as Chicago. Fitger’s already has a spa and brasserie under one roof, right on the shores of Lake Superior…just a thought!