I visited my friend Jeff Rennicke's writing studio in Bayfield years ago. It was a simple room, bare of most distractions, but on the wall above his computer was a piece of paper with four words on it.
"Tell me a story."
It was there as a reminder of his deal with his readers each time he sat down to write - simply to tell a story.
I have tried to keep those words seared in my brain over the past 38 years, writing outdoor stories and columns for the News Tribune. I think all of us want to be told stories, whether they're about a 4-year-old catching a walleye with a Snoopy rod or the deep ties among hunters gathering at a deer shack in November.
Soon, it will be someone else's turn to tell those stories. I'm retiring after nearly four decades as outdoors reporter for the Duluth News Tribune on April 27. I will continue to write my column that appears on Fridays in the News Tribune.
I have so many people to thank:
• Thanks to the News Tribune for giving me the opportunity to do this for so long, and for giving me the freedom to travel widely in search of stories to tell. Thanks to all the editors through the years who massaged my copy into a more finished state.
• I cannot thank enough all the people who welcomed me into the field or onto the water with them to tell their stories. They were universally gracious, often taking me to their sacred places. I tried to honor their trust and tell their stories with feeling.
• Thanks to everyone who picked up the phone or dropped me a note to say something like, "I know someone you should do a story about." They were nearly always right. It's a daunting job feeding a weekly outdoors section with fresh faces, and those story tips were a valuable part of the process.
• Thanks to all those who let me roll out my sleeping bag in their deer shacks, cabins, tents and spare rooms. I tried to tell them about the snoring, but by then they were committed.
• Thanks to you, my reader, for coming along with me on Sundays when my stories appeared. I had you in mind all time I was out there in the field, scribbling in my notebook and taking photos. A newspaper's readership crosses many demographics - young people just getting started in the outdoors, accomplished experts at the peak of their game, and those who will likely never climb into a duck blind or slip a kayak into Lake Superior. I tried to write for all of you.
• Finally - and most important - thanks to Phyllis, my wife, who has adapted to my odd and sometimes unpredictable schedule and who no doubt did more than her share in raising our two children.
Along the way, I've been fortunate to have some amazing experiences - paddling with beluga whales on Hudson Bay, dogsledding across Great Slave Lake, standing at the North Pole, watching a wolf pack on Ellesmere Island. But mostly, I think of the friendships I've made closer to home in bait shops and duck blinds and fishing boats, in grouse woods and grasslands and deer camps.
I had a chance to leave Duluth a time or two for writing opportunities elsewhere, but in each case, Phyllis and I knew we wanted to stay in the North. We do not regret those decisions.
Finally, I am extremely pleased that my colleague John Myers will assume the outdoors coverage. He's a passionate outdoorsman, and he knows the territory. You will like his work.
The yellow dog and I will see you on the trail.
Bid Sam farewell May 10
The public is welcome to a gathering for Sam Cook on May 10 from 5-8 p.m. in the Harborside Room at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The event will be hosted by the Duluth News Tribune.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at 218-723-5332 or email@example.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors and his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.