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Trip talk unloads the weight of winter

Sam Cook

The email came from a friend up the shore. Subject line: "Mid-winter."

He had purchased some maps of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, he wrote. He wanted to talk about some possible trips later in the year. But mostly, he was feeling what he called the "mid-winter doldrums" and just needed to look ahead.

On the heels of that email came a text from another friend. We usually do a walleye and lake trout fishing trip to the canoe country in June with several others.

"Is there a trip this year?" he wrote.

In the past few days, I had been thinking exactly the same thing — we need to get some dates for that trip on the calendar. It's time to convene the group, pore over the same folded and water-rippled maps we look at every year. They're the maps with the little "Ws" and "LTs" scrawled where we know that walleyes and lake trout live.

This trip-dreaming urge comes over a lot of us at precisely this stage of the winter. The holidays have come and gone. So have the Vikings. The light is coming back, doled out in two-minute increases a day. Like creatures crawling about in light-starved passageways below, we take notice. We know that plenty of winter remains. But something in the light has triggered the regions of our brains that allow us to ponder something beyond the next scoop of snow.

I understand that not everyone is dreaming of Manitoba or Saskatchewan, or walleyes and lake trout. Some of us have been scanning the web for Airbnbs in Antigua or bungalows in the Bahamas. Some of us shop for cruises to the Caribbean or sailing out of St. John.

Something — anything — that will get us through another nine-below night in Nashwauk or a wicked wind chill in Warba.

It isn't that we can't handle the dark and cold and those glacial accumulations of snirt that encrust our fender wells. It isn't that we can't shovel our roofs and chip ice from our sidewalks or swaddle ourselves like mummies to walk the dog. We can. We're more than capable. We know the drill.

But here's the deal. We aren't going to shuck winter's frosty exoskeleton until sometime in April, and we by gosh need something to live for in the meantime.

Somehow, the idea of bobbing in a canoe, jigging a pink plastic worm, waiting for the subtle tap of another walleye will get us through another night of walking the woods behind a beam of LED light. Somehow, the thought of watching a bronze body dangling beneath a parasail over a turquoise ocean will get us through one more night watching Mites scoot up the ice in a refrigerated rectangle of cold steel.

I'm not sure why that is. But anyone with a drawer full of long johns knows it's true.

I wrote one of my buddies back to jump-start the walleye trip planning. I called the other one, and we talked for 40 minutes. We talked about dogs and shotguns and hunting destinations. We talked about his fishing-opener trip and about old friends and about a vacation his family might take to Norway.

We're going to be OK now.