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Sam Cook column: On the long trail, some thoughts must be put on hold

This will sound crazy, I know. But maybe I am not alone.

Sometimes, when I'm out with one of my friends — biking or hunting or paddling or running — I find myself thinking about what I would say about them at their funerals.

I realize, that beyond being a little morbid, this is presumptuous. It's completely within the realm of possibility that I will make the Great Portage in the Sky before they do, and I'll never get a chance to tell the stories about friends that I've written in my mind. Maybe I should start writing down some of these stories, just in case. I could put them in a big envelope, all printed out and ready to go. I'll tell Phyllis about the envelope.

(I have not allowed myself to even think about a time without Phyllis, so that one will remain unwritten.)

I didn't think about any of this when I was 25 or 35 or 45. We were too busy accumulating experiences to reflect in any serious way about what it would be like if one of us were no longer around. We were being parents and trying to run faster or shoot more pheasants or push deeper into the wilderness. Somewhere along the way, not too long ago, most of us made a passage into a different way of thinking.

We were still out there — pounding the forest trails, catching fish, tromping the prairies behind yet another bird dog — but we valued just as much the time around the fire reflecting on our accumulated lifetime of experiences. We have told all the stories before, but we keep hoping that someone new is along so we have an excuse to tell them again. And, frankly, if there isn't a new face in the firelight, we'll just tell the stories again anyway — because the stories hold us together.

It isn't only that we've had so many common experiences. It's way beyond that. We've learned so much from each other — how to risk, how to grow, how to savor, when to forge ahead, when to pull back. We have been inspired by each other and humbled by each other and occasionally rescued by each other. We have veered off course sometimes and managed to find the path again.

Sometimes, when I'm on the trail with a friend and get to thinking about what I would want others to know about them, I have to yank myself back to the present. Hey, buddy, I tell myself, there will be plenty of opportunities to share those revealing thoughts if the time comes. Live in the moment, pal. Feel it. Listen to the crunch of the snow beneath your fat-bike tires. Look at that steelhead leaping the falls. Watch that young Lab quartering in front of you.

Be here. Right now. Suck all the marrow you can from this moment while you are intensely alive.

Forget the past. Do not imagine the future.

Run. Ride. Hunt. Fish. Ski. Love. Paddle.

Inhale great lungfuls of fresh air. Listen to the raven. Feel the burn in your legs.

This is life. This is all we have.

Right now.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com. Find his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at http://samcook.areavoices.com.

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