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Sam Cook column: Two on the trail — A way we used to be

Sam Cook

I could barely make out two shadowy figures on the darkened trail ahead of me. A December night in Duluth. Four inches of fresh snow.

I switched off my headlamp so I wouldn't blind the oncoming walkers. They stopped when they approached me for the obligatory petting of the yellow dog.

We talked for several minutes. They were a young couple, well-bundled for the cold, both students at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Friendly. From a small town in farm country downstate.

We went our separate ways and passed once more on the trail.

I left my headlamp off. The clouds began to break up, and stars appeared. I walked along, thinking about the young couple. I thought it was nice that instead of going out for a Coke or a beer, they had opted for the silence of the woods and the fresh snow.

Then, doggone it, I found myself getting a little wistful. I walked along under the stars, remembering a young couple I had known long ago. Apparently, we've been married 46 years now.

I remember succulent spring nights at the University of Kansas. After study hours in the evening, I'd pick up my sweetie. We'd swing down to Joe's Bakery for a treat, just to be together for a while.

That is all we wanted, to be together. It didn't matter what we were doing. We were hopelessly in love, I guess. Just holding her hand was thrilling.

I worked for her dad on the farm once in awhile, putting up hay. I couldn't wait to see her at lunch, when she and her sisters offered up sandwiches and lemonade. I remember that she would sometimes wear a bandana-print blouse. I regularly lose my keys these days, but I can still remember perfectly what she looked like in that blouse.

I worked at our small-town golf course during college, maintaining the greens and fairways. On summer nights, we would drive an old sedan from green to green, moving sprinklers. She'd ride close beside me under the moonlight. The air was warm and thick. The grass smelled good, and so did she. What could have been more romantic than bouncing over the fairways in a '53 Chevy with no shocks?. And there was always the potential to sneak a quick kiss back by green No. 5.

What intoxicating years those were. We had no idea what lay ahead — a dozen moves, the trials and rewards of raising kids, nursing each other through various medical setbacks.

It was all fun and easy and natural then, just being together. We had no idea what we didn't know.

I'll admit I felt a twinge of envy for those UMD students I saw on the trail. I have no regrets about any passage in my life since I was their age. I have been happy with the choices we have made through the years. Certainly, no satisfaction compares with that of bringing up kids, though it's as demanding and challenging as anything I've ever done.

But for the rest of that walk beneath the stars, I let my mind roam freely back to a way we used to be.

When I got back to the car, I realized the baggie I had used to pick up after the dog had apparently sprung a leak. In my jacket pocket.

I had no trouble being yanked out of my reverie and back to the present.

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