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Camp Sights

Camp Sights

Sam Cook
Illustrations by Bob Cary
Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Camp Sights
    Book Description:

    Unforgettable stories perfect for sharing around the campfire-now in paperback! Sam Cook offers insights into the subtleties of the natural world that all too often go unnoticed, inviting you to see your world anew.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9501-0
    Subjects: Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. viii-ix)
  3. CampSights
    (pp. 1-1)


    You know the place. You know the feeling that fills you when you’re there. You’re free and in touch with the rhythm of the land.

    In camp everything is right. The way the evening light plays on the far ridge. The way the firelight dances on faces of good friends. The way the morning sun warms your arms as you paddle away.

    Maybe it’s a canoe camp on a shoulder of granite, waiting for your tent and campfire. Or a duck camp in October’s gold. Or a deer camp in a spruce hollow.

    You slow down when you get...

  4. Spring

    • The Bobber
      (pp. 5-7)

      This story began when my wife came home with the bobber.

      She’d been out walking, and she came in and set the bobber on the table. It was a little yellow and red job—the standard item.

      “Here’s a bobber,” she said. “I found it.”

      Already having an ample supply of bobbers myself, I told our five-year-old that she could have it. She was excited about that. But then it occurred to me she had no place to put it.

      “We ought to get you a tackle box,” I said.

      “Yeah, I want my own tackle box,” she said. “Can...

    • Steelhead Alarm
      (pp. 8-11)

      The shattering noise came from somewhere in another world. It pounded my head until it finally intruded into my consciousness. In desperate retaliation I flailed an arm over the side of the bed and beat the alarm clock into silence.

      I looked at the cruel red numbers on the clock: 3:15.

      On another day, I might have tried to rationalize five more minutes of sleep. But not today. Not with an obligation to pick up a fishing buddy at 4:00 A.M.

      We were going to head for a nearby river to fish for steelhead, the migratory rainbow trout that ascend...

    • Harriet’s Rock
      (pp. 12-16)

      If you were following her down London Road on her way out of Duluth, you’d figure she was heading up the Shore, a little woman, up in years, out in her rustless 1984 Oldsmobile for a lakeshore tour.

      All you can see of her from your vantage point is a few gray curls sprouting above the headrest. Yep. A senior citizen, out for coffee at the Lakeview Castle or maybe meeting friends at the Harbor House in Two Harbors.


      Not Harriet Schwenk.

      The Oldsmobile was just across the Lester River on this morning in May when it peeled off...

    • Checkout Time
      (pp. 17-19)

      I suppose I’m looking for cheap thrills. I want cottony clouds and sunlit ore boats and the warm caress of a summer breeze.

      What have we got? Off-lake winds with the bite of a thousand terriers, scudding skies that don’t know whether to cry tears or spit bullets, and an inch of greasy thaw on the land.

      The rest of the world is worried about global warming and we can’t get back-to-back days over 45 degrees.


      I say box it up, mark itReturn to Senderand carry it down to the post office.

      I know. Out where things...

  5. Summer

    • Well Worth It
      (pp. 23-25)

      We had been busy not catching lake trout for a couple of hours. Just the two of us in the 14-foot boat, trolling around Burntside Lake near Ely.

      There are better places to catch lake trout. We knew that. But on this day—the Sunday of fishing’s opening weekend—there were few places better for not catching lake trout.

      The day was warm. The breeze was soft. We had a generous supply of bite-size Hershey bars.

      But even dedicated anglers like the two of us can take only so much success at not catching fish. After a couple of hours...

    • What’s Tomorrow Mean?
      (pp. 26-28)

      The man and the girl were headed north. He was driving. She was checking out the world from her car seat. Their camping gear was in back.

      It was just the two of them this time, dad and daughter. It just sort of turned out that way. Mom couldn’t go. She had to work.

      The girl was three and a half now, and she knew some things about camping. She knew that birch bark helped start fires. She knew that sometimes you got to pick blueberries for the pancakes. She knew she always wore a life jacket in the canoe....

    • Thunderbolts
      (pp. 29-31)

      We lay in the tent, waiting for the storm to find us. It was going to be a good one.

      One moment the tent was dark. The next moment it was as if someone outside had unleashed a battery of searchlights on a sky of aluminum foil. Between the light shows, the clouds played bumper cars, and the rumbling of the collisions rolled off into infinity.

      The thunder and lightning had been playing for almost an hour now, and still the wind and rain had held off. Only the humidity and the anticipation had built.

      The three of us lay...

    • Benny
      (pp. 32-36)

      If you close your eyes, you can see him. The face grizzled with whiskers. The glasses beginning their slide down his nose. The camouflage jacket with puffs of down escaping from the rip in his sleeve.

      He would have been steadying a cup of coffee on his knee at Jim’s Bait. Or casting from a shelf of ice into Lake Superior. Or tending a campfire at a backcountry campsite on a brook trout lake.

      His name was Benny Larson. He was a fisherman.

      Benny died at 54, a victim of cancer.

      His exploits with rod and reel were the stuff...

    • Gooseberry Delights
      (pp. 37-40)

      One of the fringe benefits of being a trout fisherman is that it requires you to wear waders, and one of the fringe benefits of putting on waders is that the act requires you to sit down.

      Most often the places where you sit down to change into your waders are beautiful, or at the least quiet and green and near the sound of moving water.

      I was thinking about that as I eased down onto a beach of pebbles and driftwood at the mouth of the Gooseberry River. Sitting on the rocks, I kicked off my hiking boots and...

    • No Name Falls
      (pp. 41-45)

      On the topographic maps the location just ahead of us was nameless. Just a couple of hash marks across the meandering blue path of the Gods River. Merely a set of rapids, according to the map.

      But we had hugged the right shoreline just in case the map might have underestimated the rapids. Good thing.

      We could hear the roar of the water long before we reached the drop, and we could see the spray over the river glistening in the horizontal rays of the evening sun.

      One by one, we pulled over in our four canoes, and we got...

  6. Fall

    • Saying Grace
      (pp. 49-51)

      I’m not much at saying grace. Although I grew up going to Sunday School almost every week, and today carry with me a clear sense of a greater power, in my childhood home we simply sat down and ate.

      Now, though, in my adult home, we say grace at almost every meal. While it’s an appropriate thing to do, I’ll admit I feel a little empty about it much of the time.

      I think I know why.

      The reason came to me the other night when we sat down to eat some pheasant and grouse and woodcock and wild rice....

    • Black Brule
      (pp. 52-54)

      Full darkness had come, and it was time to get on down the river.

      We picked up our fly rods, doused the lantern and picked our way to the canoe. A whippoorwill was calling in the woods.

      It was just the two of us old friends and another old friend—Wisconsin’s Brule River. We had come this night, in September, because we knew fall would deepen soon and the evenings would inspire thoughts of woodstoves and deer shacks instead of canoes and brown trout.

      We had come over from the city as soon as we could break away. We had...

    • Minnesota Oysters
      (pp. 55-57)

      From a distance, it was difficult to determine what was in the plastic bag that was sitting on the work bench.

      Whatever was in there, there were several of them.

      Maybe a dozen. Each was the size of a large egg. They looked to be soft and moist.

      Tom Engel, Department of Natural Resources forest wildlife coordinator, pulled one of the elliptical objects from the bag.

      “Moose oysters,” Engel said. “Want to try one?” This was Monday noon, three days into Minnesota’s 1989 moose season. Engel had spent the morning registering moose for happy hunters at the Tofte registration station....

    • Nett Gain
      (pp. 58-62)

      The river was boiling with ducks. Even in the morning half-light, you could see they were ring-necked ducks, nearly all of them.

      As the canoes moved along, the fleet of ducks would swim ahead, creating a grid of intersecting wakes on the water. Then the ducks would patter across the surface and take wing into the gray east.

      Sooner or later, they would come back. They came at us in singles and pairs, low over the water, until they caught sight of the movement of our paddles. They would flare then, climbing fast, but you could see the whites of...

    • Heavenly Pothole
      (pp. 63-65)

      We had a good-looking spread, as duck hunters like to say.

      Which meant that our decoys, two or three dozen of them, were bobbing at anchor just the way they are supposed to. They looked good, strung out on one side of our blind, with a nice pod of them on the other side. We’d thrown in three Canada geese just for effect.

      Our canoe was tucked into the cattails, our camouflage netting was draped surreptitiously, our guns were loaded.

      But do you think we could get a duck to come within a hundred yards of our hideaway?

      Not a...

    • Nature Tells Us
      (pp. 66-69)

      A heaviness lies upon the land, and the best the sky can muster is a thin gray. The color of November.

      Comes now the season of enduring, of waiting, of girding up.

      Walk around. All of the signs are in place.

      The board at the tourist boat dock on the harbor reads: “Next Excursion—May 13.” The evergreens in the median strips are burlapped against the press of winter’s snow. Flocks of Bohemian waxwings, fresh into town from the northwest, swirl from mountain ash to birch and back to mountain ash.

      There’s a sense of finality, of quiet anticipation and...

  7. Winter

    • Good Ice
      (pp. 73-75)

      The ice came fast. It came on cold, windless days and on colder, windless nights.

      It glazed the North Country lakes, and then it thickened. A week. Two weeks. Three.

      Chel Anderson of Tofte was there. Out there, alone or with others, on the lakes or on the Poplar River—skating. This has been a remarkable year.

      Good ice—smooth, black, safe—is an uncommon commodity in most years. Building such ice requires cold, of course. But more than that, it requires still days and nights so the wind won’t wrinkle the surface. Even given those conditions, good skating ends...

    • Choppers
      (pp. 76-78)

      Oh, sure. I called myself a Minnesotan.

      I had a pair of insulated pac boots. I had heavy-duty jumper cables.

      But deep in my heart, I knew I wasn’t the real thing.

      I didn’t own a pair of choppers.

      Choppers, in case you were born someplace without fish houses, saunas and lutefisk, are heavy leather mitts worn over wool mittens.

      As long as I’ve lived in Minnesota, nearly all of my friends have worn choppers in the winter. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that maybe everyone except me had things figured out. It just didn’t.


    • Whiteout
      (pp. 79-84)

      The gray light seeping into the tent told me dawn had come. I shook off sleep and took stock.

      Sleeping bag. Warmth. Cold condensation around the tiny opening in the sleeping bag where my nose protruded.

      My partner, Dave Olesen, stirred in his bag across the tent. I could hear the rustling of nylon, the wind buffeting our canvas wall tent and the grating of the woodstove’s chimney against its base on the stove.

      For three days these sounds had greeted us at dawn.

      We were pinned down by a whiteout storm at the edge of the tundra in Canada’s...

    • Brass Tacks
      (pp. 85-92)

      It’s the smell that strikes you first. A luscious odor, something between lumber yard and lacquer.

      It hits you as soon as you open the door and make the half-step up into the concrete-block building. This is the workplace of Joe Seliga, canoe maker.

      Seliga closes the door behind himself and his visitor.

      He seems glad someone else appreciates the aroma, too. He smiles.

      “It’s the cedar,” he says.

      It’s a smell Seliga has spent a lot of time with. For 46 of his 72 years, he has built canoes. Wood-canvas canoes, mostly, with cedar ribs and cedar planking.


    • Dreaming
      (pp. 93-95)

      A walleye shore lunch. That’s what I’m thinking about.

      It is deep winter and gray and cold, and I want a chunk of yellow-gold walleye sizzling in a cast-iron skillet, and I want it now.

      Is it just me, or did Cabin Fever set in for real all over the North sometime in the past three days?

      I can see this shore lunch so clearly. I am sitting on a loaf of granite. My boat is nosed up into the weeds at the water’s edge, tied to a birch tree, and the leaves are rustling in the breeze.

      Someone is...

  8. Spring

    • The Un-Season
      (pp. 99-101)

      It’s that season again.

      Not Winter and Not Summer.

      Oh, I know. People in other places have an actual name for this time of year. But here in the North, we don’t use that name much.

      Up here, this time of year isn’t so much a season as the absence of one—a long, vague period that starts somewhere in March and lasts into June.

      In other parts of the country, this season is defined by the poking up of tulips, or the unfurling of jonquils or the lazy bobbing of lilac blossoms on a warm breeze.

      Well, we would...

    • South and North
      (pp. 102-105)

      The canoe slid around the crook in the river and the mallards saw us. The drake lifted off first, beating the air with those big wings, pulling up his orange landing gear as he rose. The hen came off just behind him, delivering us a verbal spanking as she left.

      Then, from farther ahead, came a pair of wood ducks from the other side of the river. Unlike the mallards, they took off low and stayed that way. They made a sound that was part squeal, part whimper. Somewhere up ahead, they tucked into the brush, and we knew we...

    • Catch of the Day
      (pp. 106-107)

      This one felt good.

      My jig and minnow had been right on the bottom when it hit, and it hadn’t given any ground yet.

      Other than one initial lateral run, it had stayed right beneath the boat and fought like a bulldog.

      Once a year, or every two years, you get into a battle like this one.

      In the stern of his 14-foot boat, Vernon “Hunch” Carlson shared my anticipation as he watched my fishing rod throb.

      We were in 15 feet of water, just off a small island near Birch Point on Lake Vermilion. We had found a few...

    • Pushing It
      (pp. 108-110)

      The trip is beginning to take shape. Two of us will go, maybe four. No more.

      We’ll have five days.

      We’ll get up in the middle of the night and drive north. It will be later than we planned when we get to the lake. It always is. But no matter what time it is, we’ll put the canoes in and start paddling into Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park.

      My hunch is that we’ll paddle until the mosquitoes come out that night, and likely as not we’ll make camp in the dark. We’ll be that fired up.

      We need this trip....

    • Simply Sauna
      (pp. 111-113)

      I stood alone on the dock and listened to the sound of lake water dripping from my naked body onto the cedar planks.

      It was a good sound—soft and irregular and natural.

      I looked up and drank in the night sky, pitch black overhead, still blue-black along the western horizon at 10:30. Behind me, along the lakeshore, butterscotch light flowed out of the sauna window.

      The old log sauna had been sitting on that lakeshore longer than I’d been alive. It had, no doubt, seen a few docks come and go. I wondered how many times it had heard...

  9. Summer

    • Batchewaung
      (pp. 117-120)

      We had seen the rain coming while we were sitting on rocks, eating granola around the breakfast fire in Pickerel Narrows. The sky had looked bruised in the west and south, and the air had had a weight to it.

      Now the four of us were stroking across Batchewaung Lake, and the rain had found us.

      It was a needle-fine rain, the kind of rain you confuse with mist in the city. But out here, on the waters of Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park, there was no mistaking it. The glassy surface of Batchewaung was dappled with millions of tiny dimples,...

    • Rock of Ages
      (pp. 121-124)

      It was early in the morning and the cool was still coming out of the shadowy places. I walked past quiet homes with newspapers freshly deposited on their front porches.

      I was looking for an outcropping of rock near the edge of Hartley Park.

      The rock isn’t far from my home. I had first seen the rock a few months ago while I was driving to work. Now I try to catch a glimpse of it in the mornings on my way down the hill to work.

      I had always thought the rock would be a good place to sit,...

    • Army Worms
      (pp. 125-127)

      Lots of people think we enjoy four invigorating seasons here in the North Country.

      That is wrong.

      We have five seasons, and I can name them for you: Winter, Ticks, Blackflies, Mosquitoes and Army Worms.

      The greatest of these is Army Worms.

      Oh, winter is significant. But you can deal with winter. It lasts eight or nine months. We’ve developed a lifestyle around winter. You can buy stuff that throws it and shoves it and lifts it and melts it.

      Army worms are too temporary to deal with. No self-respecting entrepreneur is going to develop a machine to throw army...

    • High Summer
      (pp. 128-130)

      My friend calls it high summer. I think I know what he means.

      At the apogee of summer—remember being at the top of a double Ferris wheel?—summer seems to stand still and exist forever.

      It is not coming-on summer, when all is lush and succulent and bursting with new life. It is beyond that. It is the time of year that seems to say, “OK. This is it. It isn’t going to get any greener than this. Soak it up. Enjoy it.”

      Which is what my friend was doing one night a couple of weeks ago. His wife...

    • Little Hand, Big Hand
      (pp. 131-133)

      We hadn’t done much of anything, really.

      We had climbed some rocks. We had eaten Rice-a- Roni. We had built a campfire.

      When one of you is fortysomething and the other is six, you don’t need to do much on a camping trip. You just need to hang out, together, and see what happens.

      I’m not sure what happens when one parent and one child go off by themselves for a couple of days, but I can tell you it is good. Child psychiatrists probably have a term for it. Maybe adult psychiatrists have a term for it, too. I...

    • Just a Hint
      (pp. 134-137)

      The night was clear. But more than that, it had a brittle edge to it.

      That is why I went for the walk. I pulled on a sweater and descended the back steps into the darkness. I looked at the thermometer on the garage. The face of the thermometer caught just enough light from the kitchen window to be readable.

      Fifty-five degrees.

      We hadn’t seen a 55 in weeks, it seemed. But more than the number made this night different. This 55 had only a trace of accompanying moisture. After a summer full of air thick enough to cut and...

  10. Fall

    • Spirit of the Hunt
      (pp. 141-143)

      It’s coming on. I can feel it.

      I am speaking here of the hunt. Not the season itself, you understand. Not merely dates on a calendar. It’s thespiritof the hunt, the broad canvas waiting to be splashed with the color of our little outings.

      That’s what’s coming on.

      I thought maybe I could recapture the feeling or draw some kind of an advance on the season if I went to find it. So, I drove north to what a couple of us refer to as “the old grouse spot.” Never mind that it’s referred to that way by...

    • My Stanley
      (pp. 144-146)

      I’m not sure how a grown man can come to be attached to something so heavy and so ugly. But I’ll admit it: I love my thermos.

      Maybe love is too strong a word. You can’t love a thermos bottle in the way you can love a spouse or a hunting dog or a child. But travel with it long enough and you come to appreciate it in a manner reserved for only a few treasured possessions. A good shotgun, or a fly rod, maybe. Or a good pair of boots.

      Such a bond is forged with time and use....

    • Deer Camp
      (pp. 147-149)

      The hunters had come back.

      Their boots squished in the wet leaves on the forest floor as they approached the clearing. It was like finding an old friend. Nothing had changed since last year.

      The rusted frame of the logging-camp bed was still twisted beneath the hazel trees. The trail that led south to the swamp was still discernible. The blackened coals of last year’s last campfire lay cold and wet under the balsams.

      It was a modest place. But it was deer camp.

      These hunters could have been any of hundreds on this October weekend. This camp could have...

    • A Touch of Wildness
      (pp. 150-153)

      He has been through this a thousand times.

      Why he hunts.

      Why, in a time and place when it is far from essential to go out and get wild meat to feed his family, and in spite of something within himself that has asked him if this activity is really so important, he keeps doing it.

      It isn’t that he hasn’t tried other diversions. Sport seems to be the closest to meeting his needs. Marathon cross-country skiing. Long-distance running. They provide much of what he seeks. Training. Testing physical limits. Finding emotional release. Reaching physical accomplishment beyond what he had...

    • Duck Camp
      (pp. 154-157)

      Birch leaves drifted to the ground on a northwest wind. Frost etched sumac leaves in the woods. Two black Labradors tussled in the grass.

      Tom Bell stood in the morning quiet, listening to the leaves rattle on this opening day of duck season.

      “Isn’t this the way it’s supposed to be?” he asked.

      It was shortly after 9:00 A.M. It was Saturday. Bell was standing next to a two-story frame home on the shores of a pothole pond not far from Squaw Lake northwest of Grand Rapids. You would call the place a home. Bell said a dozen or more...

  11. Winter

    • Arctic Wolves
      (pp. 161-165)

      I looked out the window of the Twin Otter and gazed past the wing onto a berg of ice bathed in the glow of the midnight sun.

      I had been following our progress on a map as best I could. I figured we were just off Axel Heiberg Island in the High Arctic. The Otter was headed north. To the top of the world—the North Pole.

      We were approaching Eureka, an outpost and weather station on Ellesmere Island. We would refuel there—one of two refueling stops we would have to make on the way to the pole from...

    • Sticky Business
      (pp. 166-169)

      It seemed like your basic Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not sure how we got to talking about people’s tongues getting stuck to cold metal.

      Eight or 10 of us were gathered around the table. Even before everyone else had told a tongue-stuck-tometal story, I realized I was a minority of one.

      I couldn’t believe it: I was the only one who had never succumbed to the temptation to lick a sub-freezing chunk of steel.

      I started asking around. In the office. At a couple of parties. On the street. It seems that almost every kid who grew up north of the...

    • Jackpine Bob
      (pp. 170-177)

      He came skidding around the corner on his crosscountry skis and coasted to a halt where the driveway met the sidewalk.

      His face was flushed. His limbs were loose. His eyes were bright and clear.

      The temperature was 20 below zero.

      No matter, Bob Gary had needed a ski workout. He had zipped over to Jasper Lake, not far from his home in the woods near Ely. He had skate-skied a quick five-mile loop. Now back home, he flipped his ski bindings open and stepped out of them.

      “One thing about this weather,” he said. “Keeps the mosquitoes down.”


    • Northern Passages
      (pp. 179-181)

      My early northern passages were made with paddle and packsack, or on the runners of a dogsled or a pair of cross-country skis.

      I was new in this country—the North Woods—and I couldn’t get enough of it. I wanted to fill in the blank spots on my maps, make the portages I had heard about, follow rivers to Hudson Bay, know how it felt to sleep under the shimmer of northern lights.

      My partners and I were drawn sometimes by the promise of walleyes or lake trout, but just as often by the sheer adventure of seeing what...

    • Back Matter
      (pp. 182-182)