I have lived in Duluth, Minnesota, since January 2012, about 30 months now. That includes three winters and two full summers. I didn’t really know what to expect when I moved here. I had visited twice, so I knew that Duluth was a small-sized city, with a population of a little over 86,000, which is a little less than half that of Augusta, Georgia, where I lived for ten years, and three times more that of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where I lived for two years before moving to Duluth. I knew that Duluth had a strong cultural penchant, with an amazing symphonic orchestra, and many talented local artists. I knew that the winters could be long and harsh, and that the summers could be cool and short. I also knew that Duluth was beautifully set on Lake Superior, and that it was surrounded by a lot of wilderness, rivers, lakes, hiking trails, and parks.
What I did not know and did not expect, was that living in the city of Duluth would really be like living in the wilderness. St. Scholastica Monastery is set atop the hill that overlooks Lake Superior, and this provides us with spectacular views from many places on campus. In addition to this, we are surrounded by a forest very similar to the one that comprised my “back yard” when I was growing up. There are a many trails to tempt an adventurer, with lots of interesting terrain, trees, shrubs, birds, butterflies, snakes, and so on. Having the woods surrounding us provides us with beauty and a sense of peace and quiet that can rarely be obtained in a city setting.
It also provides us with critters – of a most unusual variety and at surprising proximity! In my short time here, I have had the pleasure of meeting Pepe the skunk who took up residence right outside our door leading out back, the jackrabbit who comes out to eat what the squirrels and birds have knocked out of the birdfeeder, mourning cloak butterflies, tons of deer in the woods around our cemetery and at our birdfeeders, a red fox, and an amazing array of birds. One day, a fisher cat attacked a skunk right outside our windows! The screams were horrible, and boy, did it stink for a week! Unfortunately no one thought to go get a picture… Is it any wonder that Duluth, Minnesota, won Outdoors Magazine’s “Best Outdoors Town” contest?
Yet the most amazing sighting that I have had to date was Memorial Day, when a mama bear and her two cubs decided to take a stroll through campus and settle in for a nice long nap in one of our large trees down by the creek (that is, right in one of the parking lots by the main entrance onto the grounds!) They arrived around 4 p.m. and the cubs decided to climb into a tree to play. One of our Sisters who had been watering newly planted trees watched them climb up and down and perform acrobatics until it was time for evening prayer. Immediately after evening prayer I headed down with my camera and to my amazement they were still there napping! I watched them for a little over two hours. Mama bear was impressivly large, well over 300 lbs, and amazingly quiet as she re-positioned herself on her branch without making a sound!
She had taken a position at the bottom, so that the little ones could not escape without going by her – smart mom! The female cub was curled up on a middle branch, and mostly did not stir. The male cub, who was the highest up (of course!) was the most active. He seemed to take pleasure in sitting up, looking around, laying back down, and dangling one or both legs, swinging them to and fro! He got up and walked about on the branch looking for interesting bark to eat or perhaps for a more comfortable spot. At long last he decided he wanted to come down, but despite all his antics at pretending he was unable to climb down, mama never even batted an eyebrow. His sister, who at first seemed excited at the prospect of leaving, eventually paid him no attention and settled back down, and at last he too had to settle back down for another nap. They left after darkness fell, and after I too, had retired for the night!
Sister Paule Pierre Barbeau
Sister Paule Pierre Barbeau is a first professed Sister at Saint Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota. Originally from Quebec, Canada, she lived in the Southeastern United States for 16 years before coming to Duluth. She did research in the field of exercise physiology for over years, and more recently completed a graduate degree in theology, while volunteering in parishes, giving workshops and retreats.