It’s about time for the Winter of 2013-2014 to be gone. Here in Duluth MN we have been hit with another seasonal snow. For perspective the snows last April totaled four feet and we didn’t see the first signs of Spring until mid May. The positive spin on this April is we have already had 60 degree days. The town is buzzing with runners and bikers whenever the sun is shining. This will be my second Spring in Duluth. Natives say there is no Spring only mud. It’s best to leave your boots at the door. Our friends bring house slippers when visiting. This is the custom. Like a Siberian Holiday that has been going on since Thanksgiving, the snow is pretty today. Our memory of the record 40 plus continuous days when the temperature fell below zero have only hardened our resolve to get outdoors as much as we can while even the mud won’t stop us.
There was a time growing up in Indiana when I was the only person walking or biking on the street. What was this thing in my DNA for movement? It was lonely. Where were the other people? There was no mud, there was very little snow, it rained sometimes in the summer time and the fall was spectacular. But, where were the everyday people? If they didn’t have this movement gene, mythical gene, made up gene, then possibly, it was their local “custom” that prevented them from self-propelled movement. Because I still have family and friends in Indianapolis I don’t mean for them to take offense to this by saying, the custom at the time was being too busy with big Catholic families. Our times were spent at ice cream social and Monte Carlo nights, Midnight Mass. I don’t know of a family of 10-17 kids who could afford to outfit them with individual bikes. I’m not sure how you could get them to even walk down the sidewalk together without seeming like an evacuation or fire drill. Those were the times growing up. People, kids. big ass families. And never really seeing them outdoors. I longed for more human contact. And knew I had to go. Get out of there.
Doug Stanhope is a comedian who said in Harper’s May 2014 issue he has audiences that often complain about their lousy hometown. And reminds them, “you can leave.” I left Indianapolis a long time ago. My 25-year-old was born elsewhere if that tells you anything. Something I took with me and have carried all this time is knowing that people everywhere are generally no different at their very core than where we all come from. That is reassuring to know people can be counted on. Generic in a way. Normal sort of. But. There is always a but. You have to know when to leave. Or for that matter just to get out of the house. Restlessness is good for the soul of a place when trust and safety in our public places are central to our existence. I found this living in Puerto Rico at the beach, in the countryside, towns and city.
And in New England where it is a common expression “Wherever you are you are already there.” The reality is of moving within a place, with people about. Walking or bicycling is the custom for billions of the earths inhabitants. To find this custom in America is a rare thing. Boston is a walkable city because you really don’t need a car. Indianapolis is not a walkable city because like L.A. the car is King and nobody walks in L.A.. A small city like Duluth is more walkable than you can imagine even though the town is built on a hillside. The custom is to walk in Duluth. There is even a place called the Lakewalk, a 6 mile linear park. Then there is the elevated indoor Skywalk System in Duluth connecting downtown with Canal Park and this system totals a couple of miles. Customs are changing for better or worse through out time. There is no more main street in America but even now that Phoenix may be rising from the ashes.
Let’s remember that Italians know something about customs. The Passeggiata is the slow walk taken after work and before dinner in the old town plazas, streets and parks of Italy. And it is every night of the week in Summer. You go to be seen. To share good times over an ice cream or coffee. To listen to music. Just to dress up a bit and live a little. So happy for the restless at heart in desire who walk.