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Sam Cook column: On the trail, letting go of an illusion

Sam Cook

He was up ahead of me on the icy trail, flitting along as if he were weightless. He was home from across the ocean, a two-week touch-and-go. We had stolen a few hours on this sunny morning for a romp that would lead us to Ely's Peak in West Duluth.

We chattered as we hiked, our trekking poles punctuating the conversation with their rhythmic crunching in crusted snow.

I realized, somewhere during that sunny jaunt over the crusty maple leaves, that he is likely not coming home again — at least not permanently. That had been my hunch for a while now. So, I just asked him straight out. And he confirmed it.

For some time, Phyllis and I have held onto the illusion that one day, he would likely be back in the United States. One day, he would give up Switzerland or Scotland, leave behind friends and coworkers in Edinburgh and Lausanne and across Europe. No weekend jaunts to Paris or the Alps or Italy.

His sister and brother-in-law have been abroad for six years now — Kenya and Rwanda and Scotland. Who knows what their future might hold?

The allure of these distant horizons began earlier than we might have realized.

"I think the genesis of it was the canoe country, as a kid, and the desire to see what was around the next point," our son said. "As a kid, the canoe country is a whole world. As you get older, you realize there's a much bigger world."

In adolescence, our son's church trips to Texas and Massachusetts opened his eyes to other ways of life. A high school French teacher persuaded us to send our daughter to France for a couple of weeks. In college, she studied abroad in France. Our son headed for Guatemala and Spanish immersion classes. We visited them in most of those destinations, saw how their world views had begun to shift — and how their experiences were changing us.

It did not surprise us when they sought jobs in faraway lands, carved out new lifestyles, cultivated friendships with their fellow citizens of the world.

We could see how happy they were in the worlds they had chosen. We marveled at this from afar, admired their pluck and perseverance. They led us into their new lives, towing us along to runways and train platforms and subways stations across Europe and Africa. We watched them move through the world with grace and confidence.

We have tried not to have expectations about whether we would someday live on the same continent.

At Ely's Peak, my son found a perfect lunch spot — on a patch of dry grass, out of the wind, in the sun. We put down an extra jacket and both sat on it, shoulder to shoulder.

We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, drank some hot tea, tossed the yellow dog a treat or two. I was as happy as I had been in quite a while.

What does any parent want for his children, or hers? Above all, their health and happiness. That is enough. The rest, we can figure out.

Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at or find his Facebook page at