The first text popped up on my phone on March 30. It came from a paddling buddy of mine, a guy with whom I’ve traveled the backcountry a few hundred miles over the years.

“I’m packed,” he wrote. “Personal, fishing and cook kit. Food tomorrow.”

Four days later, I received another text, from a different canoeing partner.

“All I can think about is canoe country,” he wrote. “Pine and woodsmoke.”

Who are your texts coming from? Fishing partners? Golfing buddies? Cabin friends? Hiking companions?

We’re all getting a little antsy. We can’t help it. Daylight is stretching into the evening now. The songbirds are returning in numbers. We can taste summer.

I called my friend who had packed his canoeing gear. I asked him what trip he was planning. He said he didn’t care. Any trip. With friends, solo, whatever.

I knew exactly where my other paddling pal wanted to be. I was with him there last October, up along the border. We were there with southbound trumpeter swans and one lonesome loon. We didn’t want to leave.

Let’s face it: All of us have passions we’d like to pursue, but the specter of COVID-19 looms over us like a worldwide storm cloud. While Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz loosened some restrictions this past week, the possibility of any wholesale return to normalcy in the near future remains slim.

A physician acquaintance of mine, whom I ran into on a walk one morning, said he doesn’t think we’ll be getting close to normal life again until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed. That might take a year to 18 months.

I am with my paddling partners: I long to be up in that quiet country, listening to loons and smelling woodsmoke, telling the well-worn stories. But I have read the gut-wrenching journal of an intensive care unit physician. I have watched television interviews of tearful and beleaguered nurses in those units.

I listen to the worry in the voices of my own kids, checking in from across the ocean, wondering how Phyllis and I are doing. Are we wearing our masks when we go to get groceries? Are we minimizing our exposure?

I watch and listen to the regular briefings from Gov. Walz. Behind his exemplary leadership, we seem to be doing well as a state, holding COVID-19 cases down to a moderate level. We’re doing OK because most of us are heeding his advice: Staying close to home. Practicing social distancing. Taking precautions if we must go out.

Is all of this hard? Well, yes. Giving up our passions and our freedom does not come easily. But it isn’t nearly as hard as what our health care professionals are up against every day. Or what those who contract the virus are facing.

Somehow, we have to change the way we think in the time of this virus. Instead of merely being disappointed at what we must give up, we could give ourselves credit for knowing our sacrifices are benefiting our fellow humans.

I cannot imagine a summer without waking up in the canoe country, listening to the soft lapping of water on rock. I could be packed and ready to go in half a day. But if that kind of travel is deemed too risky — to me or to the greater populace — then it would be both selfish and foolish for me to go.

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