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Sam Cook: Spring in the North takes patience, vigilance

It seemed like the right day to have lunch at Agate Bay in Two Harbors. The Northland was between spring snowstorms. The sun was high and mighty again. The sheet ice that had formed on Lake Superior overnight was piling up along shore like shards of window panes.

I let the sun pour through the car windows and ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had cracked the window open so I could hear the gulls squealing outside. The insistent fussing of gulls is a far cry from the wail of a loon, but when you haven’t heard it for five or six months, it’s surprisingly pleasant.

All of that gave the day a sense of expectancy.

Still, the new ice covered much of the lake. Near the mouth of the bay there was a small patch of open water, but back by the ore docks the tugboat Edna G was ensconced in ice.

A white pickup moseyed through the parking lot. A fisherman, I suspected, checking ice conditions along the breakwall. Coho and king salmon can be caught from the breakwall this time of year if the water is open. The man looked out, saw the night’s thin skin of new ice and idled back toward town. No casting today.

As I ate, several more men in trucks came through on reconnaissance missions. Stopped. Gazed at the ice. Moved on.

They reminded me of the geese and ducks that come back from the South and stage on the big lake. From there, they make scouting flights inland to see if their nesting grounds have opened up. If not, they come back to the lake and wait.

It’s spring in the North. Vigilance and patience matter.

A family showed up, piled out of an SUV and headed for the breakwall. One of the kids had a yellow Lab on a leash. Other walkers came and went, too. Folks from town, I figured, out for their midday walks.

They never know what they might see down at the breakwall. It’s always worth a look. These daily excursions are how we all mark the seasons and embrace this marvelous body of water. We take it for granted, sometimes, that we’re walking along the most expansive piece of freshwater in the world.

I finished lunch and took the breakwall tour myself. Across the lake lay the low, blue wrinkle of the South Shore. You could almost see the Apostle Islands ice caves taking a deep breath now that the shutter-snapping multitudes had departed.

A light westerly wind pushed the sheet ice inexorably eastward, like tectonic plates made of crystal. The ice had broken into random geometric shapes — parallelograms, trapezoids, rhombuses, triangles. As it moved, it crinkled and tinkled. It sounded like someone sweeping up pieces of a broken goblet.

The wind coming off the lake was surprisingly cold, or maybe I had already gone soft after this brutal winter. But like the ducks and the geese and the shorecasters, I would keep coming back until I found what I wanted.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at or on Facebook at “Sam Cook Outdoors.”