Early one morning on a river in northern Manitoba, I had slipped out of the tent and wandered upstream some distance. The light was rich, slanting through the trees and over the swift current of the river.
I caught movement on the far shore and saw a black bear coming down to the water. I froze, hoping the bear wouldn't notice me, though I was hardly more than 40 yards away from it. The bear, a modest specimen but clearly an adult, slipped into the river and began swimming across toward me. Halfway across, it must have caught my scent. It executed what looked like a Michael Phelps flip-turn and headed back to the far shore.
Still not sure, it reversed course again as if to cross toward me, but thought better of it one more time. It swam back to the bank from which it had come, clambered out and disappeared into the forest.
That morning remains embedded in my memory - one of many unlikely and unforgettable moments that any of us is fortunate to experience simply because we put ourselves in the right place. That is all it takes: Simply get out there. Out the door. Down the trail. Onto the river. Over the ice. Into the neighboring woods or the distant wilderness.
We might be out for a morning or a month, behind the house or paddling to Hudson Bay, hunting elk or stalking stream trout. The scope and scale of the outing hardly matters. Just go.
I can recall so many other sweet moments that materialized simply because we put ourselves out there.
• Dogsledding into a Northwest Territories village late at night, the northern lights sweeping across the sky in a great arc over our team of 11 huskies.
• An unfortunate cow moose, frozen in place where it had broken through weak ice on a creek north of Ely. Its ears had been gnawed off - wolves? - but most of its body remained out of reach beneath the ice.
• A Twin Cities woman, member of an elite choir, singing "The Holly and the Ivy" on a winter morning as we rode dogsleds down Sawbill Lake north of Tofte.
• A loon swimming directly beneath our canoe not a paddle length deep on Burnt Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
• A 10-point whitetail buck in velvet approaching the shoreline not 50 yards away after swimming a mile or more across a bay of Lake Superior. Three of us, hiking along the Sleeping Giant peninsula north of Thunder Bay, stood spellbound, watching and awaiting its arrival.
• Casting a cheap spoon into a maelstrom of foam below a set of falls on Manitoba's Gods River and watching four or five brook trout, each 2 feet long, racing each other to the lure.
• Staking out sled dogs one night with Ely's Will Steger on a cove of Great Slave Lake, trail-weary and hungry, when we looked up to see a fireball of a meteor streaking across the deep blue evening sky just above treeline.
• Sitting in a duck blind on the western Minnesota prairie just after sunrise on an October morning when a clap of thunder inspired what seemed like 300 or more rooster pheasants to cackle in unison.
Most of these moments have proven to be once-in-a-lifetime occurrences - so far. But any simple outing, even close to home, has the potential to lift your day from the mundane to the extraordinary. You might hear the first peepers of spring calling, or catch a glimpse of Venus illuminated in the morning sky, or see the first lobes of crinkly ice along a neighborhood stream.
That's part of why a lot of us keep getting out there - early or late, tired or cold, hiking or paddling or fishing or hunting.
We do it because it is nearly always worth having gone, and because any day might offer up an experience you'll savor for the rest of your life.
Sam Cook is a freelance columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/Sam Cook.