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Sam Cook column: Midsummer yearnings on a winter dawn

Sam Cook

It's 9 below zero outside on this January morning. A raw wind, barrelling out of the Dakotas, rakes our huddled city.

Waking up, I lie under the weight of a Hudson Bay blanket thinking: I want to go paddling.

I know. It must seem crazy, but I can see it all so clearly. I want to be up in the canoe country, on open water, preferably. A loon's lonesome lament comes bouncing off the ridges. A breeze stirs the needles of mature pines along shore. Wait. What was that? A slight twitch from the stern of the canoe, a sudden but subtle weight shift. This means my paddling partner has set the hook on another walleye. That means another walleye dinner.

This kind of longing comes over me every year as soon as the calendar flips over to January. Suddenly, I feel it's reasonable to look ahead. As if on cue, my subconscious receives permission to begin salivating over another summer in the North.

To do so any sooner — in the deep dark of November or December — is cruel and unusual punishment. My mind won't let me go there until I register the nearly undetectable increments of increasing daylight in early January.

I cannot be the only one. Perhaps your vision does not include the paddle and pack, the remote lakes full of hungry walleyes and trout. Maybe for you it is the garden and the earthy scent of turned soil. Or that just-under-control descent along a twisted trail on your mountain bike. Or running your fishing boat out to a weedline to see if the crappies are hungry.

Some among us might think a deep-freeze January morning is too soon to begin pondering all the possibilities that the distant summer might hold. We all know that plenty of cold and dark remain in our future. We know more snow will come before we begin to realize any net loss of winter. We know March is a taunt with its first kiss of warmth on an exposed cheek. We know the freeze-thaw cycle of April is a cruel torment.

But I say it is not too early to begin dreaming and planning. It is not too early to take stock of gear and check in with friends to compare summer calendars. And sometime soon, you might gather the gang, spread some maps on the table and trace fingers over possible routes. Those sessions will not only spawn the coming summer's exploits. They will rekindle memories of previous years' high points.

Holding on to these memories is important. We know this: We carry with us into each fresh adventure all that has come before. All of the accumulated stories and trail wisdom. All of the images of those with whom we've traveled. And, if you're far enough along in life, you carry a few memories of those who can no longer make the journey.

Sometimes, simply pulling out a blackened cook set or seeing a productive fishing spot marked on a tattered map will inspire several minutes of serious reflection. If you're young enough that such a spell never comes over you — well, then, good for you. Just keep getting out there, putting marks on your maps.

Someday, many Januarys from now, you too will awaken with a stirring in your soul and a longing to be in country you love.

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