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Russ Young: Street sweepers first sure sign of spring

The first official sign of spring for the Northland was spotted this past week. No, it was not a robin or other songbird returning to the chilly abodes of Minnesota. The official first sign of spring in Duluth is marked by the return of the city ...

The first official sign of spring for the Northland was spotted this past week. No, it was not a robin or other songbird returning to the chilly abodes of Minnesota. The official first sign of spring in Duluth is marked by the return of the city street sweepers. Each year, their arrival is eagerly awaited by the residents of the city as a sure indication that only two more months of torturously prolonged cold and often wet days lie ahead before we see the last frost of the winter season.

While communities in more southerly climes rely on a groundhog each year, as indication of how much longer their winter will be, Duluthians must wait until the first sign that their Christmas manger scenes are once again separable from the permafrost. Only when baby Jesus' head has completely emerged from the season's snows can we be sure that winter is in decline.

Mr. Ground Hog was seen in Minnesota this year on his namesake day, Feb. 2. He was not, however, looking for his shadow. He was struggling to get his aging Ariens snow- blower through a drift that had blocked his hole. He was headed to Puxatawny for the milder clime and the better job prospects.

In lieu of any work, he knows Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with better welfare programs for burrowing varmints than Minnesota. Had he realized that Duluth, in an act of Northland-style compassion, was on the verge of launching its "Residences for Rodentia" program, he would have stayed.

Along with the receding snow also comes an abundance of receding mailboxes. Unceremoniously lopped off their stands by the city plows, they now piteously dangle on splintered posts, sit forlorn upon the ground, or hang by one less chain than when in their prime only a short time ago.

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Clever craftsmen have tried for decades to foil the insidious bladed beasts which set upon their thin sheet metal prey. Motivated by their protective instincts for their peaceable coffers of correspondence and love of all things not junk mail, they have set out to design the most ingenious contrivances upon which to set a standard issue mailbox. Alas, the deadly toll is too great to count here, but as if inexorably drawn by the challenge the craftsmen will return. Some will even succeed -- this year. But the next will only bring new perils.

As the snow melts, tons of grit and salt residue coalesce into a ubiquitous ugly coating along the roadways. Naturally, such sights turn a Northlander's thoughts to gardening. But, as we all know, gardening will have to wait for another two months as well.

The brave will set up micro-greenhouses to keep their sprouting tomatoes from frostbite. The jaded and weary will buy mature plants with the hope that an early fall won't freeze them before the first fruit turns red. The wise will simply subscribe to Tomatoes of Tallahassee Mail Order Farms.

And with spring near, let's not forget the mosquitoes which are soon to follow. How the Land of 10,000 Lakes ever got away from being called the Land of a Million Marshes has to have a master marketer behind it.

On the plus side, we do have summer to look forward to. This year, it will fall on the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 8. The Duluth Convention & Visitors Bureau felt it prudent to extend the summer season this year in order to take greater advantage of expected tourists.

It's a good thing Duluth is such a great place to live; otherwise, we'd be in trouble.

Russ Young, Christian, free-lance writer and a former pastor, may be reached at RussYoung@thelifeline.net .

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