The Outside World, In and Around Duluth


Eagle Hunting Mallard

A couple of months ago, I saw a mature bald eagle hunt and finally catch a mallard in the water. It was pretty cool to see, and I didn’t figure I’d get to see anything like that again soon. I was mistaken.

During this year’s Brrrrdathon (supporting the Friends of Sax Zim Bog), I had the chance to see – almost – that entire scene played out again.




Winter cattails, blowin’ in the wind

Before they get to this fuzzed stage, you can cook and eat them like corn on the cob!

Kayaking the Harbor

The forecast was for almost 70°F and sunny – a perfect early spring day to get the kayaks back in the water.

We got down to the harbor to find that it was cool and foggy.

We were treated to this mystical view of the bridge, from the little cove next to the Army Corp of Engineers vessel yard:

It was cool, but not too cold. However, being right on top of the just-unfrozen water brought the ‘feels like’ temperature down quite a bit. Glad to have been wearing a wool hat.

We paddled across the harbor to check out the Essayons, a tugboat which had sunk a few years ago.

The word ‘essayons’ is French for ‘Let us try.’ There could hardly be a more fitting name – consider its storied past:

  • The Essayons was built in Muskegon, Michigan, by the Army Corp of Engineers in either 1906 (citation) or 1908 (citation), and delivered to the Duluth Harbor.
  • The Essayons was originally powered by a steam engine. During an sloppy loading of coal in April, 1919, the tugboat ‘turned turtle’ and sank. The steam engine was replaced with a diesel engine (charming citation that includes reminiscences of the old children’s story ‘Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel’).
  • The Essayons was the first ship to pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge, in 1930 (citation).
  • Zenith Dredge purchased the tugboat from the Army Corp of Engineers at some point in the 1950s (citation).
  • The Essayons was retired from tug duty in 1966 (citation).
  • Its original steam engine was donated to the Lake Superior Maritime Museum, and is still on display (citation).
  • The Essayons was purchased by Hobart Finn in 1994, and had planned to convert it into a floating bed and breakfast (citation).
  • In 1997, some kids vandalized the tugboat, which was being converted into a bed and breakfast (citation).
  • In 2004, it was vandalized again.
  • In 2007, there was a fire at the True North Cedar factory, and although two other boats were lost, the Essayons survived (citation).
  • Finally, in 2009, shifting harbor ice hove in the hull, which may have been weakened by corrosion (citation), and the tug sank. It now rests in about 20 feet of water (citation).
Here’s a picture of the Essayons from some of her happier days, and in her usual mooring:
Above photo by Dennis O’Hara, from Northern Images
And here’s a picture from shortly after she sank:
Above photo by Bob King, from The Superior Telegram
On our paddle, this is how we found it:

This was interesting, doing a little research on the Essayons. There’s another ship of the same name, and also commissioned by the Army Corps of Engineers. That one is a large dredge, and is definitely the more famous of the two boats. This one is better. A story about the sinking of dreams.

We kept paddling and came across a thousand foot lake freighter that must have been completely empty. I’ve never seen one of the big freighters floating so high:

I also didn’t realize that the propellers were shaped like this. Swept and aggressive. There were a couple of guys doing some welding farther up the shaft. Cheaper than drydock, I suppose.

We also came across an amazing amount of… junk, I guess:

And this is just one small section – there was a lot of the interior shoreline that looked just like this – like a huge, sprawling junkyard on the harbor.

Looking at all of this, I couldn’t help but think of the amount of money and time and expertise that were spent to create all of this. Custom parts, gears, fittings, cowlings, pipes, compressors, awnings… it’s hard to fathom that none of it was usable anymore. The current price of scrap steel is around $400 per ton (citation). Does whoever owns all this expect that the price will be rising anytime soon? Hard to know. Until then,

I usually paddle in woodsier places, so this was an interesting departure. I left with two strong impressions: 1) there is an entire world at ports that most people know nothing about, and 2) there is a huge population of Canada Geese living amongst all of the junk. I guess that makes sense – except for a few intrepid kayakers, there aren’t many people who would come down to bother them.

This was interesting, but I look forward to getting back out into quieter backwaters.

Skating on Lakes

This has been a terrible winter so far – we’ve had almost no snow!

However, one of the few good things about not having much snow is that the lakes are good for skating and/or skiing. Down by the big lake, there is nothing. No snow at all – just dingy green grass. But go inland a ways and you’ll find that the lakes have a good 8+ inches of ice, and are mostly snow-covered.

On Little Alden Lake (about 5 miles due East of Boulder Lake), we went skiing all over the lake, down the Cloquet River, and over to Big Alden Lake. Most of the skiing was… decent. There were a few icy spots, and a few places where the water was seeping up through cracks or ice fishing holes. We felt safe the whole time, since we were generally following the tracks of snowmobiles.

For someone looking to ski, the inland lakes seem like the best bet right now.

For ice skating, there’s just a bit too much snow to make for smooth skating.

Unless you find a neighbor with a plow on their ATV.

We had clipped on our skates (Nordic skates, a blade that clips onto your XC ski boot – super comfy) and ventured out onto the snowy ice.

And didn’t get very far.

The snow was just deep enough to make skating not really feasible. Well, that’s okay – that’s what shovels are for! We cleared a four-foot wide and twenty foot long strip and were able to go back and forth, and we thought we were skatin’ in style.

That was when one of the lake neighbors came over and offered to use his ATV with plow attachment to clear off the ice. How could we say no? We didn’t.

Here he is, moving way more snow than we would have been able to move in an afternoon:


















And he kept going!

By the time he was done, he had made half a dozen passes around a quarter-mile loop on the lake, and then finished up with a little rink right off the beach. Here is a collection of pictures, stitched together into a single panorama of the finished product:

Several other neighbors came over to check out his work, and by the time we left, adults and little kids from all around the lake were skating and enjoying the beautiful day.

What a great example of how a generous person with the right tools can bring together a group of neighbors.

Gee, But It’s Great To be Back Home

Once we got home from Colorado, I was eager to get back out and see what was happening in the neighborhood.

Holy cow, Duluth is the land of construction, lately!

This is from Glenwood and 57th Ave E., looking East, toward Lester Park:

And There's a Bike Lane in There Somewhere!

It’s only two blocks worth, but it’s a start!

And here’s the dog, enjoying the tall grasses in the park:

Maya the Frolicksome

This was… odd. There’s an old city park sign in Lester Park that says that the park has been adopted by the Duluth Cross Country Ski Club. That was actually the ski club before our current iteration. But what’s interesting is the weird graffiti on the sign, talking about ‘chemtrails‘:

Look Up!

I can’t say I know enough about the subject to have an opinion one way or the other, but it’s an interesting perspective to read on a city park ski trail sign.

Lester Park Neighborhood Construction Update

There’s a lot going on around Lester Park right now.

Most exciting to me is the Lakewalk Extension:

Just Below Jubilee

Of all the projects that have been happening in Duluth, the Lakewalk seems to be one that is universally lauded. Everyone likes it. I think it’s great, having a safe place to run/walk/ride. I will definitely be using the Lakewalk (and already have, where it currently starts down by Sammy’s Pizza) to ride to work.

Going past Jubilee, I wanted to see what they were doing with the Lester River Bridge, right before London Road pours out onto Highway 61. A couple years ago, a trucker had a heart attack at the wheel and died, and his truck crashed into the lake side of this bridge. I assumed that MNDoT fixed everything that needed fixing at that time, but obviously not. They have removed the road down to the foundation and are rebuilding everything, as well as redoing all the brickwork. This is the upstream side of the bridge:

Access Denied

On the downstream side, they’ve placed ‘turbidity abatement’ devices, also known as ‘Tough Guy Type 2’:

Tough Guy 2.0

It’s kind of funny seeing these analogs to the huge oil containment booms being used along the Gulf Coast. These are maybe 16′ long, and hardly seem like they would be stopping much of anything. I’m suppose a token effort is better than no effort at all.

And lastly, here’s a nice picture of a feather, floating out into the big lake:

Feather Sailboat

Unexpected Birding at Lester

I went for a walk through Lester Park this morning. My daughter wanted to show me the geocache she and her brother placed.

The cache was intact, so I suggested we look for a pink lady’s slipper that I had seen last year. We were just about to come out on Seven Bridges Road when I could have sworn I heard the bird that I’m presenting about during my Isle Royale trip next week, the Black-Throated Green Warbler. I’ve been listening to its call every day, trying to drill it into my head. Then, out in the woods, there it was – Zee zee zee zooZee. Well, I kept moving around, trying to synchronize my eyes with my ears. Finally – bingo! There it was – my bird!

Black-throated Green Warbler


I wasn’t very close, so the zoom of the camera was stretched to its utmost. And all things considered, I think the picture’s not too bad. Heh – we were supposed to present on a bird that we weren’t familiar with. Maybe I should pick another bird! Nah – one fortuitous find does not familiarity make.

On our way back, we heard a woodpecker, and found this yellow-bellied sapsucker at work:

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

When I see this one, I can’t say that ‘yellow-belly’ is the first thing that comes to mind. Must be the naming convention that comes from having a dead bird in your hand.

Right before we came back out by the gazebo above The Deeps, we saw this hairy woodpecker going to town. It must have been in a mother-lode, because it stuck around for a lot longer than I expected.

Hairy Woodpecker - Look at those chips fly!

Hairy Woodpecker mid-peck

You know, we never did find that pink lady’s slipper. I haven’t looked them up to see when they bloom, so I’m thinking I must be early. I guess that’s just another reason to get back out there!