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Mingo and the Mountain
March 29, 2019
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by Ivan Raconteur

Rising above Duluth is a line of hills extending from Bardon Peak to Radio Tower Hill and beyond. In our younger days, my friends and I spent much of our time exploring the landscape, and it helped to shape who we are.

One fine spring day, Mingo, Skippy, and I decided to hike up to one of our favorite places to enjoy the view. Our friend Rae heard about our plan and asked if she and her friend Stephanie could join us.

It was unusual for the girls to accompany us, not because we didn’t want them, but because spending hours hiking up and down the rugged terrain generally wasn’t their idea of fun. We agreed that Rae and Stephanie should join us, and we decided to have a picnic at the top.

We packed some provisions and set off up the hill. When we reached the edge of the residential neighborhood, we crossed the double set of railroad tracks that bordered that part of the city and continued through the woods up Central Path.

It was a steady uphill slope, but the going was relatively easy. When we emerged at Skyline Drive, we stopped for a drink of ice water. Towering above us beyond the tree line was the rock face of the cliff glowing in the sunshine. The plateau at the top of the cliff was our destination.

There were other ways to get there, but we generally followed a rocky wash that wrapped around the east side of the cliff. The footing was dicey, and ascending this route was more a matter of climbing like goats than hiking, but it was the shortest route and we enjoyed the challenge.

Our ascent was slower than usual, because we were helping the girls, but the day was pleasant and it felt good to be outdoors in the sunshine.

We hadn’t been on this peak since the previous fall, and it was a treat to be back after a winter’s break. In addition to the usual loose rock and other debris, the path was strewn with an abundance of dried leaves from the previous autumn.

Eventually, we all reached the summit, and breathing heavily, we turned to survey the view.

Suddenly, there came a sharp exclamation of surprise. One moment Mingo was among us, and the next he wasn’t.

The rock at the top of the slope had given way, taking Mingo with it. We watched in horror as Mingo was swept away in a wave of rocks and debris, picking up speed as he went. He managed to orient himself so he was descending feet-first as he slid down the wash created by decades of erosion.

He was emitting a general sort of roar as he traveled, punctuated by oaths when he bounced off of larger rocks along his journey. He was making much better time than we had on the way up the path.

We stood helplessly watching his progress until the slide carried him out of sight as it rounded the face of the cliff and continued its descent.

During this time, the air had been filled with the sound of sliding stones accompanied by Mingo’s colorful narration, and the girls’ shrieking, but then, after some particularly loud crashing out of sight near the base of the cliff, there was only silence.

“He’s dead!” Rae cried.

“This is awful!” Stephanie agreed.

Skippy and I exchanged glances.

“Let’s go help him,” Skippy said. “We’d better go through the woods. It will be safer.”

Skippy and I led the way, picking a course through the trees parallel to the path we had followed previously. It was slower going, but much more stable because we were avoiding the loose rock near the cliff. There were plenty of bushes and saplings to hold on to as we went.

The girls were chattering in an agitated state, but I didn’t believe anything seriously bad could have happened to Mingo. He was resourceful, and had an uncanny way of surviving adversity.

We came to a point where we could look across the wash to where Mingo’s downhill adventure must have ended. The wash dropped off into the forrest there, but we couldn’t see anything because the thick underbrush grew right up to the face of the cliff, forming a sort of canopy over the ground below.

Skippy held up his hand for silence and we all strained to hear any sign of life from the forest below.

Presently, a pleasant tenor voice drifted through the trees. It was quiet at first, but grew stronger with each verse.

“In Dublin’s fair city

Where the girls are so pretty

I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,” sang the voice, reverently.

We clapped each other on the back and laughed, the tension broken in an instant.

In uplifted spirits, we hurried down the mountain while the concert continued.

“As she wheeled her wheelbarrow

Through the streets broad and narrow

Crying ‘cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh’”

There was a pause between the first verse and the chorus, and another between the chorus and the second verse. Then Mingo continued.

“She was a fishmonger

And sure, t’was no wonder

For so were her mother and father before

And they wheeled their barrow

Through the streets broad and narrow

Crying ‘cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh’”

Skippy and I reached Mingo at that point, and joined him in the chorus.

“Alive, alive, oh

Alive, alive, oh

Crying ‘cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh’”

Mingo was lying in some bushes, half-buried in talus and looking rather disheveled. His hat was askew, and he was covered in dust, but there was no blood, and as far as we could tell, nothing broken.

From somewhere in his costume, Mingo had produced a silver flask, and as he finished the verse he took another restorative draft of the contents.

“You scared us half to death!” Rae scolded, the girls having reached us about that time. “What happened?”

“Well,” Mingo replied. “I was standing too near the edge. The ground sort of gave way, and I was treated to an exciting ride down the mountain.”

“We thought you were dead,” Stephanie interjected.

“Ah,” Mingo replied. “The key in these cases is to always keep your body relaxed. If you tense up, things tend to break. Also, my backpack provided some cushion on the way down.”

He had a heavy canvas backpack from Duluth Pack, and there was no doubt it must have shielded him from some of the worst bumps.

“You brought down half the mountain with you,” Skippy observed. “Now, if you’re not going to die, how about sharing that flask with us, and we’ll see what we can do about getting some of these rocks and branches off of you.”

The flask made its way around our little group. Then we dislodged the larger detritus from his person and carefully helped Mingo to his feet. We dusted him off and assessed the result.

“We better get you home,” Rae suggested.

“Nonsense,” Mingo replied. “We haven’t had our picnic yet, and moving is the best thing to keep muscles loose after a fall. If it’s all the same to you, though, I think I’ll take the scenic route through the trees this time.”

We made our way back to the summit, and enjoyed our picnic lunch while looking out over one of the best views in the state.


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