Sharing stories makes friends of strangersSo, here is the story, as it was told to me on the banks of Wisconsin’s Brule River on a humid June evening. The man who told it I would guess to be in his mid-40s. He, too, had come to fish trout. He is from Boulder, Colo., an attorney. He seemed a congenial man, a good listener, a person not given to bluster.
By: Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune
So, here is the story, as it was told to me on the banks of Wisconsin’s Brule River on a humid June evening. The man who told it I would guess to be in his mid-40s. He, too, had come to fish trout. He is from Boulder, Colo., an attorney. He seemed a congenial man, a good listener, a person not given to bluster.
His neighbor on the outskirts of Boulder, he said, has a water fountain in his backyard. Because the neighbor has trouble sleeping, he has the sound of the burbling fountain piped into his bedroom on a small speaker.
One night, the man was listening to his fountain when he heard what sounded distinctly like lapping. Quite a bit of lapping. He decided to mount a motion-activated trail camera near the fountain. Checking it one day, he learned the source of the lapping. A mama cougar and two kits come to drink there.
Boulder, my acquaintance on the river said, has something of a cougar problem. The fisherman told of a couple other cougar encounters, too. A Jack Russell terrier carried away. Another dog killed but left behind when the homeowner challenged the cougar.
The fisherman seemed somewhat philosophical about all of this. He still hikes the trails near his home, he said. But at night, he conceded, he tends to make a little more noise as he walks.
I told him of wolf issues we have in Northeastern Minnesota. Occasionally, a pet dog is snatched for supper, I said.
It was a good conversation among the cedars, not far from a cold spring that feeds this treasured river. We visited for an hour or so, the Boulder man and his father, my college-age son and I. All of us shared stories. The conversation drifted like wood smoke from Brule characters to the Congdon mansion to estate tax law to fishing.
I am often struck by these chance conversations — on rivers, in the wilderness, on airplanes, around a dinner table in southern France. It’s no longer surprising to me that people of vastly different backgrounds and life experiences have a fair bit in common. And whether we have things in common or not, we all have stories.
The stories are almost always satisfying, both in the giving and the receiving. The stories have a way of holding us together as a people, as creatures of the same planet whirling around the sun. I may never see the man from Boulder and his father again, but I know something of them now, where they live, what they value, some of their joys and fears.
I will carry their stories with me. Their stories, and the memory of that quiet evening on the river, are now part of who I am. They are tucked away with so many others — an Inuit man examining a walrus skull on Baffin Island, the specter of a daunting set of rapids on an Alaskan river, watching a polar bear swagger along the shore of Hudson Bay.
We are all just travelers in the universe. Occasionally, we gather to tell each other some of what we’ve seen.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.