Sam Cook, For the News Tribune
I see the couple up ahead on the trail. It's early morning in one of Duluth's trail-rich parks. I know who they are. It's Jan and Larry. Birders. They're moving slowly, looking up, binoculars slung around their necks. I stop on my morning trail run to visit with them. We may talk birds. But we're just as likely to talk dogs, or weather or deer hunting or any other aspect of life that comes up. I always look forward to seeing them on the trail. I know I'm going to come away with some nugget of knowledge or awareness that I didn't have before.
A bunch of us were gathered on the cobblestones of Brighton Beach the other night when my friend Dick told a story of a recent encounter he had. In a bed. In a motel near St. Cloud.
STOCKTON ISLAND, APOSTLE ISLANDS NATIONAL LAKESHORE — We sit in our camp chairs on the sand, watching the waves greet the shoreline. They are not the massive, curling waves of November, nor the head-high variety that Stoney Point surfers live for. They are perhaps the smallest waves Lake Superior can muster, gently kissing the sandy shoreline of Stockton Island some 13 miles off the mainland at Bayfield.
I headed north with the moonroof and both windows open. I was in no particular hurry. We had been away for more than a week, and I was savoring this drive with the succulence of midsummer assaulting all of my senses. My mission was to retrieve our retriever from a friend who lives several miles up the North Shore. It might have been quicker to take the Minnesota Highway 61 expressway, but I didn't want linear efficiency. I wanted the back way, sprinkled with hobby farms, river crossings and pastures full of wildflowers. I wanted open country and lots of it.
The alarm on my smartphone jingles at my bedside, and I roll over to silence it. I lie there, taking stock of the morning — the color of the sky, the movement of leaves on the big maple, the sound of the breeze. Nice day, it appears, after a gentle overnight rain. Given the luxury of an unhurried day, I also take stock of my life. I know — pretty serious stuff for a guy who moments earlier might have been dreaming about having to take a college exam for a class he never attended.
Some friends of mine have come home — this time for good. For most of the past 20 years, this couple has worked abroad from Bangladesh to Belgium to Budapest. Longtime Duluth residents, they uprooted themselves — and their young kids — to answer a call they could no longer resist.
ONTARIO'S QUETICO PROVINCIAL PARK — Evening comes slipping over the land. On our island camp here in this million-acre canoe-country wilderness, we find our places near the lake. The six of us, up from Minnesota, have polished off another meal of walleye fillets. Now, we sit on the lichen-covered rocks to watch the distant shoreline swallow the sun.
Not long after we ventured onto the main body of the lake, we saw the whitecaps. The wind had shifted and seemed to be freshening. But we had only a couple of miles to cross at one end of the sprawling lake, so we forged on. The two of us were among six paddlers in our group. This would be our last day in the bush after more than a week in the Ontario wilderness of Quetico Provincial Park. Two others were ahead of us, having already made the crossing. Our two other partners had decided to hug a windward shoreline, figuring the swim would be shorter if they capsized.
The yellow dog and I were off on a two-hour jaunt in the woods the other day. She would lark ahead, following the trail and her nose. At intervals, determined entirely on her own, she would come trotting back to check in. I like that in a dog. It tells me she's thinking about me, that she isn't just out on a solo romp. I like that in people, too. I have several friends who, unprompted, will call or send a message or drop by just to see what's up. I try to do the same with them. It feels good on both ends.
ELY — The two of us were sitting in a canoe the other day, catching small walleyes. They were too small to keep, so we kept tossing them back hoping the next one would be bigger. The only variety to the pattern was when one of us landed a lowly rock bass or a pesky perch. But we kept at it because we had driven for a couple of hours, then paddled and portaged into this known "hotspot" where decent walleyes had been caught before. We may not be smart anglers, but we are stubborn.