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Sam Cook column: A boat, a baby, a bridge

A chance encounter stirs poignant memories.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook
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The wind was out of the east, sweeping across Lake Superior and smacking the massive rocks along the Duluth Lakewalk.

But unlike so many recent east-wind mornings in this Winter That Would Not End, this one had come bright and clear. The whitecaps rolling toward the Duluth ship canal were a brilliant white. They frothed along, riding an inland sea of deepest blue.

The three of us — four if you count the yellow dog — had come down from the hillside to get some exercise. My daughter had already taken off for her run. She was pushing a three-wheeled cart with her son, age 8 months, riding in the buggy’s basket, well-swaddled against the 40-degree chill.

The dog and I walked the same path, and if we timed things right, we’d all end up back near the Duluth ship canal at the same time.

As we neared the end of our outing, we realized the Aerial Lift Bridge was going up. We knew what that meant: A big ship would be coming through the ship canal any minute.

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“Let’s go,” my daughter said.

The three of us hustled to the walkway along the ship canal. Sure enough, the John G. Munson, with a tummy full of taconite, was just making the turn toward the bridge. The span was already cranked up to its full height.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune.

I don’t care how long you’ve lived in Duluth or how often you come visiting here. This never gets old. You watch the hulk of that great vessel approaching the canal, completing its turn, now sliding under all of that gleaming steel. You have to stand along the concrete wall, up close, to appreciate once more how big these boats are, how huge and amazing the lift bridge is, how tiny we humans are in comparison.

We knew what was coming next in this ritual, and I was a bit concerned about how it would go. The Munson was going to belch out several deep bass notes to salute the bridge. The bridge, in a matching alto response, would acknowledge the ship’s greeting.

All of which unfolded on cue: the incredibly deep notes from the Munson and the bridge’s corresponding reply. I thought maybe the blasts would frighten young Rennie, looking on from his mom’s arms, but he didn’t flinch. From inside his pile-lined snowsuit, he just watched the gleaming bridge and the great hulk of the Munson and the gulls wheeling against the blue sky.

And I’ll admit it. Something caught in my throat. It came on me without warning, and I knew what it was about and so do you.

Suddenly, I was transported back about 37 years, with Phyllis at my side, holding our young daughter, watching another ore carrier come sliding past, the crew members working on the deck, the great blue beyond of Lake Superior waiting.

It was good then and even better this time.

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Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249 .

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Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. 
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