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Seeking open country upon re-entry

Sam Cook

I headed north with the moonroof and both windows open. I was in no particular hurry. We had been away for more than a week, and I was savoring this drive with the succulence of midsummer assaulting all of my senses.

My mission was to retrieve our retriever from a friend who lives several miles up Minnesota's North Shore. It might have been quicker to take Highway 61 expressway, but I didn't want linear efficiency. I wanted the back way, sprinkled with hobby farms, river crossings and pastures full of wildflowers. I wanted open country and lots of it.

We had spent several days on the eastern seaboard, reconnecting with our overseas offspring in the cradle of American history. We wandered the narrow arteries of Boston, tracing the roots of the American Revolution, channeling everything we had learned in ninth-grade social studies. It was moving and humbling and cool — Paul Revere, Old North Church, "One if by land, two if by sea," the Battle of Bunker Hill, the saga of the USS Constitution — the works. We took the Freedom Trail self-guided walking tour on a day when the temperature hit 90 and the humidity wasn't far behind. We gave up just beyond Paul Revere's historic home and had to leave the rest for another day.

Later, we stole away to a friend's home on Cape Ann, a thumb of land jutting into the Atlantic, and rode stand-up paddleboards past buoys that marked lobster pots four or five fathoms below. We sailed at sunset on the "Ardelle," a two-masted traditional wooden schooner, gazing back at the Boston skyline. And we swam in a sandy cove in water that felt a lot like Lake Superior. Which is to say, it sort of made your head hurt.

It's always good to get out of your home territory and poke around to see how other folks live. It's easy to get around with Boeing 737s, Uber drivers and rental cars. You hop on or hop in. You sit back. You hop out at your destination. In between stops, though, you often have little idea of where you might be. You're on a need-to-know basis, and only the pilots and drivers need to know.

After a week or so of that, it felt good to be at the wheel, cruising familiar roads, listening to familiar songs. The air pouring over the moonroof tried to toy with my remaining thatch. Along the road, lupine had given way to buttercups, which meant the fireweed would be coming on any day. It was good to be in my home biome, where I identify many of the plants and critters with a specific season.

The air smelled the way a clover stem tastes when you chew it — sweet and juicy. I drove past manmade ponds, fenced-in mares and a flatbed trailer laden with potted plants. The sign on the trailer said, "Hostas, $2," which seemed reasonable, but I didn't need any hostas.

I picked up the yellow dog, whose butt-wiggling seemed to indicate she recognized me. I talked to my friend's wife about the kids' rowing and soccer competitions.

On the way home, I told the dog all about our trip. She seemed interested. I told her we'd go for a run in the morning, and she seemed open to that. I asked her if that was too much air on her. She didn't reply, so I left the windows open. I turned the music up a bit. Van Morrison. "Tupelo Honey."

The air was velvety and cool. The countryside was peaceful and lush.

And I was home.

Sam Cook is a freelance columnist. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCook.

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