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Boat show attracts kindred spirits

Sam Cook is a News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer.

A man approached me at the boat show the other night. I could tell he was my kind of guy by the wool he wore and the weathered look of his face.

"I owe you an apology," he said.

He introduced himself and told me where he lived. I had called him last winter and had left a message wondering if we could get together to do some trout fishing. I'd have wanted to write about it.

He had never called back. That's why he was apologizing. I told him that was unnecessary, that I had just figured he wasn't interested in the publicity. He told me that was essentially the case.

Then we proceeded to talk for a good 20 minutes about the winter trips he makes in the wilderness north of Ely, long "walkabouts" of two weeks or more, pulling two loaded sleds, stopping to fish trout lakes here and there. Solo. He's retired. Has the time. Sixteen days, one trip was, from near Ely to the Gunflint Trail. Makes his own lake trout spoons. Very effective, he said.

I asked a lot of questions. He peered over a pair of cheater bifocals and answered all of them. I felt as if I'd forged a friendship with someone I hadn't met until that evening.

That conversation was one of several that reminded me why I love living in this country where so many of us conduct lives embracing the outdoors. I talked to a freshly minted conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources bound soon for a new work station near Bemidji. A former police officer, he can't wait to work in that "beautiful country."

Another man told me how he's taken to hunting deer by tracking them in the snow during muzzleloader season, walking them up. Walks half a day, all day, whatever it takes. He's still learning the technique, but he's already taken several deer.

A Wisconsin bow hunter told me he had contracted Lyme disease and how he was battling it, a problem that is becoming all too common. We talked about the newest four-wheeler, a single-seater with a bucket seat and a lower center of gravity. He thinks they'll be popular.

I talked to a man next to some gleaming Lund boats. He doesn't need a boat, he said. But he needs to upgrade a few items. He could use a new snow machine, probably an ice auger, maybe a new fish locator. All of us have our lists.

A couple came by, telling me about the barred owl that has taken up residence in their yard. It feeds on mice and voles that come and go beneath their bird feeder. They see the owl's plunge marks in the snow, the impressions of its wing feathers as it lifts off and flies up to a tree to eat. Lucky folks.

The evening felt like a rendezvous, a coming out of the woods during a tough winter, a gathering of kindred spirits who pay attention to the country around them.

Most of them, I think, consciously choose to live here in large part because of the country -- the wildlife, the fishing, the potential for solitude. They get out. They know how to take care of themselves in the woods. They pay attention to the rhythms of the land.

I like knowing they're my neighbors.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or Follow him on Twitter at or on Facebook at "Sam Cook Outdoors."