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Sam Cook column: Running headlong into a new season

I open the front curtains to a June morning. I am struck, still, by its intense greenness.

A light breeze ripples the leaves of the old maple — one that survived last summer's windstorm. New grass is coming up in the spot where another maple went down in that storm. We still miss its shade, but the new green will help us forget the scar where the maple's stump was shredded.

The pear trees and the crabapple tree have long since blossomed, and their petals have fallen. They're now in the patient process of making new fruit. The birds will get the crabapples. We'll get all the pears that the deer can't reach.

A robin hops across the grass, listening. Maybe it's the same mama robin who built her nest and hatched her featherless young just under our porch roof. Hard to say.

Two enthusiastic hosta plants sprawl just off the veranda porch. They say deer love hostas, but ours are untouched. Our deer seem to prefer tulips.

The lushness of June always takes me by surprise. It floors me, every year. We await this season for so long in the North. For a couple of months now, we have clung to every promise of the coming summer — ice-out, the return of loons, the calling of spring peepers, the migration of ducks, the emergence of marsh marigolds.

All of those phenological markers offered reassurance in the face of cold spring rains, reluctant ground thaw, and — on the shores of Lake Superior — the relentless east wind. The Beast Wind, I call it. Friends returned from weekends in the Twin Cities: "It was 79 down there!" But in the fetch of the Beast Wind, it was 45 in Duluth all weekend.

I contend that summer in Duluth begins with Grandma's Marathon. Duluth never looks better than on Grandma's weekend. The Beast Wind ceases. Orange hawkweed nods along the marathon route. Lupine stands in all its purple glory along road ditches. City crews have patched the streets level again. Thousands of fit folks in skimpy clothing descend on our city, assuming Duluth is always like this.

It's a glorious weekend, and we're happy to share our cool city with folks from Kansas to Kenya. In the quiet and cool of marathon morning near their starting lines, they look out in wonder at a sunrise over the big lake. They stretch. They peel off warm-ups. They run back to Duluth, each of them carrying their own stories.

After the race, they flock to the cobblestone beach on Lake Superior. Parents dangle young children by the arms until their bare feet just touch the water. Big kids skip rocks. Aching marathoners soak bare legs in the lake to soothe burning calves. Gulls conduct popcorn patrols.

Now, the faraway runners have all gone home. It's just us again, immersing ourselves in the arrival of full-on summer.

We do not squander this season. Pontooners putt along the lakeshores, waving at the neighbors, watching great blue herons lift off from the shallows. Parents and kids head for neighborhood streams with fishing gear. Mountain bikers tackle arteries of dirt that snake through town. Lakewalkers stride the Lakewalk by the dawn's early light.

Walleyes are snapping. Tree frogs trill in the woods. The scent of lilacs drifts through the neighborhood.

We open the curtains in the morning and still cannot believe it.



SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Find his Facebook page at or his blog at