Summertime, and the living is easy.

Phyllis and I were sitting on a campsite up in the canoe country a few days ago, gazing across a border lake into Canada. It was an idyllic scene — a massive white pine towering over our little camp, the breeze rippling blue water, high green ridges rolling away to the north.

Phyllis was sipping her morning coffee peacefully until something black and furry made a brief appearance from behind the food pack. Phyllis screamed. The yellow dog exploded from her lethargy and lunged at the black blur making a hasty exit. And, no, it wasn’t a skunk or surely it would have violated the scene with a cloud of putridness.

The dog gave a brief chase, but we called her off and the black something vanished into the bushes. We didn’t go looking for it. Soon it was just us and the silence and all of that Canada again.

We still don’t know what the intruder was.

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On our way up north, we visited long-time friends in Grand Marais, sitting among our host’s expansive field of perennials in full summer glory. We told stories into the night — the kind of stories that bring a place and its people to life. On the other end of the trip, we swung up to Ely and dropped in on 40-year friends there and did the same thing all over again.

“You know, we don’t have that much time left,” my buddy said offhandedly when we were out hiking. And maybe he’s right — one never knows — but the only way forward is to keep living as if you were about 45 and hope for the best.

Yeah, it was downright sweltering for a few days. It was the kind of heat that spawned an expression back where I came from: “I saw a dog chasing a rabbit, and they were both walking.”

We don’t do that kind of heat well here in the North. When the weather gods give us deep cold, we get excited and post photos of our thermometers. But when big heat settles upon us, we droop like unwatered plants. One can take off only so many clothes and remain fit for public viewing.

Phyllis and I took in the famed Duluth fireworks extravaganza Sunday night, which we hadn’t done in years. Phyllis comes from fireworks people, most notably the late Uncle Ron, who had a whole passel of Buzz Bombs go off in the trunk of his car one Fourth. It sounded like a really angry popcorn popper, but nobody got hurt.

For Duluth’s show, Phyllis and I plopped ourselves in chairs behind the Copper Top church with a few hundred other folks. It was a wonderful scene, with young families settling in around us, adolescent girls traveling in packs, toddlers escaping with parents in hot pursuit.

The show was big and loud and impressive as always, with explosions you could feel deep in your chest. We all oohed and ahhed through the grand finale.

Phyllis and I didn’t even think about going to bed when we got home. A block or so away someone was launching thunderous explosives that reminded me of my National Guard artillery days. My job was to yank the lanyard on a 105-millimeter howitzer, launching high-explosive rounds at unseen targets five miles away. We destroyed a lot of rusty pickups and derelict tanks in the name of national defense.

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