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Sam Cook column: Long-lasting friendships among early risers

Sam Cook

The yellow dog and I were getting ready for a Friday-morning run near Hawk Ridge when I saw the car. It was parked near the monument along Skyline Parkway, but not in the conventional manner.

The SUV was backed into the parking area, and nobody was behind the wheel. The vehicle was angled with its stern toward the rising sun. Its tailgate was flung open.

I parked some distance away, but I couldn't help myself. I had to go see who was in the SUV and what they were up to. I walked over with the pup and saw three young women scrunched shoulder-to-shoulder in the back of the vehicle, gazing out over the city at the rising sun.

I introduced myself and asked them what they were up to, just out of curiosity. They were University of Minnesota Duluth students, they said. And friends.

"She has to go to the Twin Cities today," one of them said, pointing to one of the others. "We weren't going to be together this weekend, so we thought we'd get up at 6 and come over here to watch the sunrise."

They said the sunrise had been beautiful. Now the sun was about one extended fist above the horizon, and the morning was still spectacular. It was going to be one of the first 50-degree days Duluth had experienced since late last October. Peach-colored light bathed Lake Superior. Even the remnant sheets of ice floating out there looked warm.

We talked for a couple of minutes before the dog and I took off for our run. I thought about those young women and how cool it was that they had risen early to take in the sunrise together. It told me something about the depth of their friendship and reminded me of my own college friendships that have endured through the decades.

It also reassured me to know that these women valued the natural world enough to rise early and witness the glory of another dawn. If they are lucky, they will repeat that ritual often throughout their lives.

I think of how many mornings I've watched pre-dawn skies streaked with crimson, then caught the first brilliant arc of the sun emerging. I've seen it from duck blinds and while waiting for sharp-tailed grouse to dance and alongside rapids on wild northern rivers. Few spectacles seem so elegantly simple as the dawn of a new morning. Silence seems to be part of it, and those moments always seem more profound against an expansive horizon.

I noticed something else about the young women in the SUV that morning. None of them was checking a cellphone. In fact, I didn't even see one. The women seemed completely present, open to each other and the world unfolding before them.

I stayed only a few moments. I didn't want to interrupt their experience for too long, though they seemed happy to chat.

The dog and I trotted away in the soft glow of the morning light. I saw a friend and his black Lab during my run. I saw another friend and his two Rhodesian ridgebacks. I saw a lively North Shore stream gnashing away at its winter shroud of ice.

When I returned, the SUV and the women were gone, off to meet the obligations of their day. But I knew that whatever they did, they'd be carrying that sunrise over Lake Superior with them.

Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at or on Facebook at facebookcom/SamCook.