Sam Cook column: Watching the big lake breathe

Sometimes, sitting at the shore of Lake Superior seems like a meditation.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook
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Dinner was over. Dishes done. The evening was windless, the air dense and soft and warm.

It was the kind of evening in late June we had waited for all winter. And then waited through April and May and right up to Grandma’s Marathon. We waited through months that appeared to be spring or early summer on the calendar, but, in Duluth, are not. We know this. Apparently, we accept it.

But this June evening was like some kind of elixir.

“Let’s go to the lake,” I said to Phyllis.

Her response was immediate.


“OK,” she said.

We hung the dish towels on the oven handle and boogied. We loaded the yellow dog and left with no plan, no itinerary, no specific destination. Just “the lake.” If you live in Duluth, you understand. Just go.

We parked near the corner of the lake and followed the horse-and-buggy path to the Lakewalk. That’s where our world opened to cobblestones and sky and all that water. The evening was windless, the lake unruffled. We found a gap among the tourists and plopped down just a few feet from the lake.

And we didn’t move for more than an hour.

The lake, just beyond our outstretched feet, seemed content just to be. It wasn’t coming from anywhere. It didn’t want to go anywhere. If you watched closely, you could detect it rising and falling, like the chest of some sleeping giant. That was all. It didn’t even lap at the cobblestones.

Down the shore, families came and went. The kids threw rocks into the lake. Moms and dads threw rocks into the lake.

I thought of places that I had camped around the lake, some with Phyllis, some with other folks. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, the Susie Islands, Isle Royale, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, Pukaskwa National Park. And remote cobblestone beaches with no names at all. I had felt the same way in each of those places that I felt on this night in Duluth. Small. Humble. Grateful.

I skipped a few rocks on the glassy lake. I didn’t bother to stand up. That would have broken the spell.


“This could be a good one,” I’d say to Phyllis, turning a flat stone in my fingers.

“OK,” she’d say.

That’s the kind of support I’ve come to appreciate in her after 52 years of marriage.

Then, channeling my old third-baseman arm, I’d wing the flat stone toward Grand Marais. Two or three big hops, then a string of uncountable short skips.

So satisfying.

We sat there until most of the light had seeped out of the sky. We were the only two people left on the cobblestones.

Far down the shore, two lights marked the Duluth ship canal entry: one green, the other blinking red.

“What do you think?” I asked eventually.


“Yeah,” Phyllis said. “I’m ready.”

We crunched over the cobblestones away from the lake.



It’s the old story: the hunter and the hunted.

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