BRAD DOKKEN: The woods have plenty to teach -- even on a quiet morning

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."...

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"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

-- Passage from "Walden," by Henry David Thoreau.

The woods were quiet the other morning when three of us went for a hike to see what we could see, to try and learn what it had to teach. The only signs of life, it seemed, were various tracks covered by snow that had fallen during the wee hours and a ruffed grouse that wasn't particularly concerned about the presence of human intruders.

There wasn't much moving -- yet, at least -- on this mild late-January morning.

I was here at the invitation of a friend who'd called a couple of nights earlier to see if I'd be interested in making a quick overnight trip to his cabin in the woods not far from the boundaries of the Red Lake Indian Reservation.


He told me he'd recently purchased one of those fancy infrared trail cameras and wanted to set it up near the cabin to see what kinds of critters it would photograph. He keeps a couple of barrels filled with meat scraps not far from the cabin during the winter. The plan, he said, was to place the camera in a strategic location to document any visitors that might stop by for a snack.

We'd also refill the bird feeders, fire up the sauna and sample the bear stew he'd cooked up.

Other than that, he said, there was no set agenda.

I'd been at the cabin several years ago and the prospect of a return visit sounded good. My arm didn't have to be twisted.

Every cabin in the woods, it seems, has personality, but this one has more than most. It's like a museum, really, this log cabin so meticulously crafted by its owner with help from his friends. Pelts and heads and antlers and paws and mounts cover the walls.

Among the trinkets are an Inuit "ulu" knife -- or women's knife, as it would be known in English -- collected from the Northwest Territories, pieces of a log from an old trapper's cabin built in 1914 and rocks from across North America.

Every item on the walls is labeled, and every item has a story behind it.

The owner, who's in his late 70s going on his late 30s, collected most of the items, and the walls confirm he's lived a full life. Like the Thoreau passage that's wood-burned on a plaque, the cabin is where he goes to live deliberately, to front the essential facts of life and learn what it has to teach.


The cabin tells the story of his life.

The cabin has creature comforts, including electricity, satellite TV and floor heat set to keep the temperature at 37 degrees when no one is there. Still, a cast-iron wood stove provides most of the warmth in winter. The crackling of the wood and mild smell of the smoke adds to the ambience of the cabin.

A better place to hang out with no set agenda would be hard to imagine.

There's not much snow this winter, and getting around the woods was easy, even without snowshoes. Still, there was enough snow to figure out a few things by taking the time to look.

We learned, for example, that timber wolves recently had been in the vicinity. The tracks weren't fresh, but they weren't real old, either. Consistent with other reports we'd heard in northern Minnesota, wolf tracks outnumbered deer tracks.

During a shorter hike the previous afternoon, we saw where a rabbit had gone airborne to evade a predator. The tracks told us the rabbit jumped 7 feet.

That rabbit, my friend said, had been about as scared as a rabbit can get.

Returning to the cabin at dusk, we saw a pair of pine martens that had been attracted to the barrels by the meat scraps. There was at least one marten on the trail camera, as well, along with a great-horned owl we otherwise wouldn't have seen.


The trip might have been short, but it was refreshing, not only for the sauna and bear stew -- which I'd give a 10 -- but for the time we spent in the woods.

Even when they're quiet, the woods have plenty to teach.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send email to .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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