Saint Paul, Minnesota
I came here from the desert five years ago. Here is what I knew about Minnesota when I arrived: good schools. Lots of white people. Funny accents. Lakes. Prince. Fargo. Harsh, interminable winters.
I live in the Summit-University neighborhood, “Summit-U” to those in the know. More specifically, I live near Selby-Dale, on the edge of the old Rondo neighborhood, a vibrant African American community that was bisected—nearly obliterated—by the construction of I-94 in the 1960s. From my tiny home office upstairs, I can hear the bells of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, and, if the wind is right, I can sometimes hear the hoarse moan of boat horns from the Mississippi River.
We’re renting half of a duplex, my daughters and I. It’s one of many hundred-year-old Victorians in various states of repair. A few blocks away runs Saint Paul’s great thoroughfare: Summit Avenue, an eclectic assemblage of mansions, many gone co-op now. We rent because I still own a house in Phoenix; I was unable to sell because the housing market imploded. I wish we could buy a house here, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to live in our current neighborhood.
I live half a mile from the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald; if I walk down Dale Street to go to the hardware store on Grand Avenue, I pass the St. Paul Academy. His first published story appeared in the school’s newspaper, a detective story he wrote when he was 13. I came here to be a writer, so I whisper an entreaty to him when I pass. Wish me luck.
Here is what I’ve discovered since I’ve been here: a commitment to the social compact, buried under a sort of earnest reserve. Some of the largest refugee communities in the country: Hmong, Somali, Eritrean. Steadfast support for the arts. A fiercely determined biking community. The winters are harsh and interminable, but I finally understand the thrill of the first robin, the unadulterated joy of spring, life rising through me like sap in the budding maple outside my daughters’ bedroom window.