Sam Cook column: Simple events help define life in the north

They’re all around us if we take time to recognize them.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook

The other night, the yellow dog and I were finishing a fine walk in the dark when we came upon a Minnesota Moment.

We were in the woods near some cross-country ski trails, and I saw a brilliant white light moving among the trees. A headlamp, I assumed. On a skier, I figured. The point of light danced through the silent forest.

Then another light appeared, and a third and a fourth, until within seconds six lights were bobbing and swooping along.

I had had my own headlamp on, but I shut it off to more fully appreciate the light show. I could hear voices now, the lively patter of conversation among the skiers as they moved along.

Two by two, on parallel groomed tracks, they rounded a sweeping curve and headed toward me. Against the white of the snow behind them, I could see the human figures silhouetted now, double-poling along as if without effort. They were all chattering away with their nearest companions. By the sound of their voices, I could tell some were men, some were women.


They were conversing as if they were sitting in a coffee shop, but they were gliding through the January chill.

And then they were gone, down the trail, the six points of light pumping like pistons in the night. I will have to say I found the moment silently thrilling, having known the joy of moving that way on skis with friends, glad for cold and snow and lungfuls of clean air, glad for the sensation of sliding along on a well-groomed trail.

I had witnessed another Minnesota Moment just a few days earlier. It was a brittle morning, the temperature just below zero. I was up early, moseying along a public beach on Lake Superior not far from Duluth.

The shoreline lobes of basalt were encased in ice from wave spray. Clouds of sea smoke — the fine vapor that rises from Lake Superior on frigid mornings — hung over the lake.

At the far end of the beach, stood a solitary figure — a fisherman. His rod rested in a rod-holder jammed into the sand. His line disappeared at a 45-degree angle into the open water. With every exhalation, the angler’s cloud of breath was momentarily backlit by brilliant sunlight.

I moseyed his way to say hello. I asked what he was fishing for.

“Coho,” he said.

Coho salmon, he meant. I took his terse response as an indication that he might prefer solitude over an extended conversation. I wished him luck and moved on.


A frigid morning. A lone angler watching his fishing rod on the shore of this great lake.

Folks from other parts of the country might not understand that. But we get it.

Just another Minnesota Moment.

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at .

Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at
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