Sam Cook column: Spring in Duluth — it's for the birds

And sometimes even the birds have some serious doubts about it.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook

A few days ago, I was holding my 7-month-old grandchild in my arms, letting him look out our picture window. The picture was beautiful — if you like a heavy, wet snow in late March.

I explained that a lot of folks wouldn’t understand why people would choose to live in a place where it snows in March. I didn’t bother to tell him about April 2013, the month that a record 51 inches of snow fell in Duluth. I didn’t think he was ready for that. Maybe when he’s 2 or 3.

We had spent a wonderful morning at Gooseberry Falls State Park just a couple days earlier. The sky that morning was unblemished by clouds. The wind had blown itself somewhere far away. The sun baked our cheeks. We stood on the frozen surface of the Gooseberry River watching its amber froth free-falling behind three windows in the ice.

It was as if the river was saying, “Yes, I’m still here. Believe it. Give me a few more warm days and I’ll blow this ice to smithereens and carry it down to Lake Superior.”

I wanted to believe in the Gooseberry’s optimism. We came home and unearthed the stowed-away patio chairs. We put them on the veranda porch in a declaration that winter was behind us.


Two days later, the big wet snow came.

I was staring out our picture window, explaining to my grandchild something I remembered Duluth ornithologist Laura Erickson saying years ago: Robins migrate north on the 38-degree isotherm. That is, when the temperatures begin averaging about 38 degrees. A few robins have already shown up in Duluth this spring.

On this late March morning when the spruce boughs in my yard looked like white latticework, I could imagine some female robin huddled among the interior branches, casting a sidelong look at her mate, chirping, “You bozo. I told you it was too early to leave Des Moines.”

And her partner saying, “Yeah, well we’re following the 38-degree isotherm, just like Laura said. This must be some kind of anomaly. Where are we anyway?”

“Duluth,” said his shivering mate.

“Oh, no wonder,” he said. “Don’t you remember that one April when they got more than 50 inches …”

She cut him off in mid-chirp. Of course, she remembered it, just like the rest of us do.

I wondered how the migration was going in Erickson’s neighborhood.


“So far, I’ve heard one robin in my neighborhood singing, three yards away,” Erickson said. “But the only one I’ve heard in my own yard was swearing.”

My grandchild and I just stood and gazed at the knee-deep snow, looking for robins wearing earmuffs.

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

Related Topics: SAM COOKDULUTH
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at
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