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Sam Cook column: Two good choices - familiar country, unknown territory

I'm torn. I've been thinking a fair bit lately about a couple of upcoming trips to the canoe country. Lake trout in May. Walleyes in June. We've made these trips for years now. I can tell you exactly where we'll camp most nights, where and how we...

Hikers move along a a trail in a snowy meadow this winter on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com
Hikers move along a a trail in a snowy meadow this winter on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Sam Cook / scook@duluthnews.com

I'm torn.

I've been thinking a fair bit lately about a couple of upcoming trips to the canoe country. Lake trout in May. Walleyes in June. We've made these trips for years now. I can tell you exactly where we'll camp most nights, where and how we'll fish.

I can see the stand of red pines on the far shore from one camp, the sand beach at another, the long portage with the deep suckholes in two places. I know where we'll stop to clean the lake trout on the way back to camp, on the shelf of exposed granite. I can see the painted turtles and the big snapper that come ashore to lay their eggs on the June trip.

We've been making these journeys for several years now. I can tell you, pretty closely, who will go on each trip and probably what wool shirts they'll wear. We've done this so much, we can plan each trip over a single meal. Truth be told, we could do it in about two emails and a phone call, but we enjoy getting together just to relive the previous trips.

I love the familiarity of those trips. I love the country, the campfires, the conversations, the fresh fish dinners, the ever-deepening friendships.

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But another part of me needs to strike out into completely new territory from time to time, to leave the predictable behind. I need to venture into unknown country where we have to pay attention to maps and guidebooks and trail signs. I want to go someplace where I'm a pilgrim again, a greenhorn, where I might get thoroughly confused once in a while and have to figure things out. I might have to stop and ask directions of a stranger, or get out the compass to make sure I'm headed down the right fork in the trail.

Our family did that in Scotland this winter, poking around the Isle of Skye in a driving snowstorm, hiking through a farmer's gate, up along a creek and into a sheep meadow overlooking a piece of the Atlantic Ocean. We were the only ones on the trail that day. We had no footprints to follow in the snow. We would pause now and then, rereading the trail guide: Yep, this seems right. Let's keep going. The blowing snow made it seem wilder than it was, but part of the wildness was that we were all exploring this new piece of country.

When we had come down from the hills, back to the rural lane, we came upon something we hadn't seen before - a wooden box on a couple of posts by the roadside. A gravel drive led to a farmhouse set far back from the road.

"Honesty Box," said the letters painted on the wooden box. Hmm. We opened its hinged top. Inside, farm-fresh eggs - a half-dozen for 2 British pounds. And a few cans of soda, 1 pound apiece. Being honest, we dug out our British coins, left them in the box and took a half-dozen eggs with us.

Nearly always, in new country, little surprises like this occur. Sometimes a chance encounter with a native of the area. Sometimes a connection with a fellow traveler. And, yes, sometimes you're a bit on edge, wondering how some unfamiliar situation might resolve itself. What you learn is that, once in a while, it can be exhilarating not knowing how things will turn out.

I think we all need both kinds of experiences - returning to places that hold so many good memories, and striking out into new country on journeys of discovery. One takes you home. The other helps you realize you can be at home almost anywhere you go.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com . Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.

Related Topics: FISHINGSAM COOK
Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.
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