My Minnesota/ North Shore morning.
LUTSEN, MINN. - Tom Christiansen wakes in the dark and heats the water for his coffee and his wife's tea. Hannah, their cockapoo puppy, is the last to get up in this restored cottage on Cascade Beach Road, overlooking the still black void of Lake Superior.
With a stretch and a yawn, the black and white bundle of curly fur jumps into the afghan covering the lap of Marcia Hyatt, who scribbles in her journal as she does every morning.
"If the dog jumps in your lap," Christiansen explains, "that means the other person has to handle the refills of the coffee and tea."
As the sky outside lightens, Christiansen steps outside, inhales deeply and stares at Lake Superior.
"On the best mornings, there is a bank of clouds over the horizon line," he says. "The sky turns purple and pink and reflects that purple and pink and orange on the water."
For 30 seconds or so, a silver band of light "as wide as your thumb" illuminates the horizon line between the cloud bank and water.
Christiansen, 62, gulps another deep breath. A native of the farms around Papillion, Neb., Christiansen came to Minneapolis to study sculpture at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s. He married Hyatt, who coaches corporate executives across the country. Sixteen years ago, they sold their home in south Minneapolis and bought a fixer-up "shack" for the same price 250 miles to the northeast, on the rocky shore near Lutsen.
At his nearby Last Chance studio and foundry, Christiansen pours and shapes bronze sculptures he says range from the "sublime to the ridiculous" -- including a graceful female dancer titled "Sprite" and a loveseat backed with a balding man and a pony-tailed woman facing each other with a grin.
"Being an artist up here means welding your neighbor's hitch and fixing his snowmobile," Christiansen said.
When he ventures down Hwy. 61 and Interstate 35 to the Twin Cities, he "can taste the exhaust in the air by the time I hit Forest Lake.
"The fresh air up here," he says, is his favorite part of living on the North Shore.
"It's crisp and clean," he says. "Especially in the morning when that strip of light splits the horizon."