Sam Cook, For the News Tribune
Early one morning on a river in northern Manitoba, I had slipped out of the tent and wandered upstream some distance. The light was rich, slanting through the trees and over the swift current of the river.
He was up ahead of me on the icy trail, flitting along as if he were weightless. He was home from across the ocean, a two-week touch-and-go. We had stolen a few hours on this sunny morning for a romp that would lead us to Ely's Peak in West Duluth. We chattered as we hiked, our trekking poles punctuating the conversation with their rhythmic crunching in crusted snow.
A friend and I were walking along one of Duluth's frisky streams the other day. My friend passes by there frequently on his daily walkabouts through the city. The trail was mostly white from recent snows, but there, near the edge of the stream, was a small pile of gray rocks with no snow on top. The rocks were all uniform in size, all the same slate gray and all smooth. They were the size of small eggs. The pile was maybe 18 inches in diameter and peaked in the middle.
The yellow dog was in full launch mode now. Front legs outstretched. Back legs tucked astern. Ears all a-flap in the morning sunshine. And I thought I was about to be sick. She apparently hadn't seen the obstacle until the last moment. All she had seen was my buddy coming to meet us on the other side of the heavy wire mesh fence, and she was off to greet him. He and I were meeting in a lightly traveled corner of Duluth for one of our long winter walks a few days ago.
The buck lay on the bed of a white pickup last Saturday, opening day of Minnesota's firearms deer season. It was a nice six-pointer, long in the tines. I knew that at least one of Minnesota's half-million deer hunters was happy. He or she had killed a buck.
We came across the young couple on a dank evening in Duluth's Hartley Park last spring. Well, you could call it spring — it was one of those gray and soupy evenings when winter hadn't fully let go. We knew the couple. They were friends of our own grown kids. After living away, the couple had returned to Duluth, where the woman had been raised. Like us, they were slogging through a couple inches of slush in the woods that night with their dog.
The woods had that almost-November look to them. Daylight was waning, and the low sun had to filter its way through the somber spruces and balsam firs. That was OK. This is all the yellow dog and I were looking for. We had an hour before sunset, and we had stolen away to this piece of the Superior Hiking Trail north of Duluth to walk the day out.
We didn't see the mustard purge coming. But then, we didn't see the triple-bypass heart surgery coming, either. Some things in life just sneak up on you. The bypass surgery happened almost three weeks ago, when it became apparent to Phyllis, my partner in 47 years of marriage, that trying to carry a pan of freshly harvested tomatoes across the kitchen was a bit more than she could handle.
The word came down late last week: Freeze warning. That announcement always gets our attention here in the North. Yes, some of the leaves have already turned. Grouse and duck and bowhunters have been out for a while. But nothing proclaims the official beginning of fall like the first frost warning. The frost was to occur right on time — Sept. 29. That's the average date of first frost in Duluth, according to the National Weather Service.
A man of about my age stood up when I walked into the West Duluth restaurant. I stopped when I saw him, and the two of us sized each other up from across the room. I was looking for a former colleague with whom I'd worked in Colorado 40 years ago. He was looking for me. We hadn't seen each other in more than three decades. We stood there motionless for several seconds, each of us wondering: "Is that him?" Then we both broke into broad smiles. Yep. It was us, all right.