Jenna Kowaleski column: A Duluth pedestrian in spring (or, Winter Part VI)

Windows in downtown Duluth and the hillside glow with the light of the rising sun.
Bob King / 2018 file / Duluth News Tribune

My husband and I share one car. In a city where the default assumption is that every adult has a car, sometimes it can be tricky. But we figure it out.

Part of our ongoing solution is that I walk to work. Usually, I don’t mind, even though half the trek is straight up the hillside. I enjoy my guaranteed 30 minutes a day outside. Most days, there’s something wonderful to observe. A fox scampering by on a bright summer morning. A murder of crows cackling as the fall winds whip dried leaves from the trees. A set of deer tracks meandering across the city through a fresh inch of snow.

Jenna Kowaleski headshot
Jenna Kowaleski.
Contributed / Pointed North Photography

Most days, walking to work can even feel like a luxury. While cars zip by, I can stop to enjoy the sunrise or watch an eagle circle above. While my co-workers pay for gas, parking, maintenance, insurance and gym memberships, I arrive at the same place every day with a little extra money in my pocket and a bit more physically fit.

I also recognize how lucky I am to be able to walk every day. Some people are limited by other commitments, like needing to drive their kids to child care. I’m also a healthy adult without physical limitations.

So, it’s with gratitude that I walk to and from work every day. Even in the depths of winter, when it’s 15 degrees below zero or I’m carving my way uphill through a foot of snow in the middle of a snowstorm.


That said, there are days when I’d rather not walk. And that’s most of spring.

As most of us know, “spring in Duluth” is a misnomer. There’s Winter Part II and Winter Part III (and sometimes Winter Part IV, V, VI and so on) and then Grandma’s Marathon weekend ushers in summer in mid-June.

Minnesota snowmobile stuntman Levi LaVallee spent eight days recording the video.

And, like most of us, it wears me down. While the rest of the northern hemisphere is celebrating the blooming of colorful flowers across bright-green lawns, we’re stuck in the trenches of brown, crunchy, melting snow, pelting winds and rain that’s so cold that it should be snow, but somehow isn’t.

Meanwhile, I try to walk through it. And I’m not gazing across the horizon at the temperamental but gorgeous lake. I’m looking down. For the entire walk for months out of the year, I’m only looking down.

I wish I didn’t know this, but I do: Walking uphill on melting ice is tricky, but walking downhill on it is terrifying.

At this time of year, the sidewalks are ice rinks. Bumpy, trodden-upon, frozen, thawed, then frozen-again ice rinks. Because, at this point, we’ve all given up on shoveling. So the snow sits, then sort of melts, but not quite, then freezes. For maximum slipperiness, it’s then hidden beneath a thin coat of snow.

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At this point in the year, I’ve usually given up on walking on the sidewalks entirely, opting instead for the roads. But this can also be dicey. Sometimes the roads are slick, too. Not only am I afraid that I’m going to fall, but I’m even more afraid that a car is going to lose control behind me, scoop me up, and toss me into the air like a flipped pancake.


I know that most of us drive. But many of us are pedestrians. For a commute, for exercise, or just to get out of the house.

Being the proud owner of a sidewalk, I know how hard it is to keep the snow at bay. But please, continue in your efforts — all the way through Grandma’s weekend — to keep our sidewalks safe.

We pedestrians will thank you.

Jenna Kowaleski has lived, hiked and written in the Duluth Hillside for a decade. Find more of her scribblings at

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