We had finished dinner — outside, at a local restaurant. Now, with evening coming on, the four of us strolled to the Lakewalk.
The evening was luscious, the kind we had hoped for with family visiting from Scotland. It was shirtsleeve warm, with a hint of humidity and just a suggestion of a breeze. All we ask for is an evening or two like this with company in town.
“See?” we say. “This is why we live here.”
We’ve seen just the opposite, of course. One summer, with a passel of relatives here from Kansas, we had hoped to take a horse-and-buggy ride on the waterfront. A northeaster was howling, and the temperature had to be in the 40s. In July.
But our relatives are hardy stock, and they wanted to go anyway. The buggy driver tossed up a bunch of blankets and comforters, and off we went.
“I just can’t believe it can be this cold on the third of July,” drawled my brother-in-law Ron.
But this recent August evening was one for the Visit Duluth website. We walked down to the lake and crunched over the stones right to the water’s edge. Every Northlander understands this: You must go right to the water to get the full effect of Lake Superior’s immensity.
That’s when we noticed a ship riding the blue-black water a mile or so out. The vessel appeared to be steaming toward Duluth, white superstructure in the stern and the long, low cargo hold stretching out front. Like the boat, the four of us were headed for the Duluth ship canal.
We picked up our strolling pace as we made our way to the waterfront. We didn’t want to miss the boat, as they say. A few hundred other folks had the same idea. All of us were being drawn to the pier like flecks of iron filings to a magnet.
“What’s that sailboat doing?” Phyllis asked.
Sure enough. As we arrived at the breakwall, we could see a sailboat smack in the middle of the ship canal, not moving. The American Century, a thousand-footer, was now about to enter the canal, and it blasted a multi-toot warning to the sailboat. At what seemed the last possible moment, the sailboat powered up and scooted out of the canal past the wide black bow of the ship.
All of us along the pier wall became children now, gazing up in awe as the huge vessel gurgled through the canal and toward the Lift Bridge. The ship’s horn spoke. The bridge replied. Little kids covered their ears.
No matter how many times you witness this, it never gets old. It’s as if a storybook has come to life. You stand there looking up at that floating hulk, and you want to go sign up to be a deckhand. You want to know where that boat is coming from and where it will go when it leaves the harbor. You want to wake up somewhere in the middle of Lake Superior with gulls calling. You want to squeeze through the locks at Sault Ste. Marie.
The ship glided under the Lift Bridge, veered slightly to port and aimed for the coal docks in Superior. The exterior lights on its superstructure blinked on. It looked like a hotel drifting away. As it throttled up, a few puffs of black exhaust rose against the pink evening sky.
Back on the north pier, our crew joined the assembled multitudes, easing away from the waterfront into a perfect Duluth night.