Christopherson Column: Get out and enjoy the great outdoors...right here

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    Come and explore the great outdoors...in Crookston, Minnesota?

    I chose to pose that opening sentence as a question because our little city probably doesn’t make anyone’s top 10 list of outdoor destinations. There are no mountains and there’s no beach. There are no tourist-trap, majestic destinations, like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. We have a river, but it’s under-utilized and under-appreciated.

    But when one adds a puppy to the family, a high-octane dog that also happens to embrace frigid cold and snow, and one takes that puppy on multiple walks, from early in the morning to the dark of night, one sees Crookston in a different light, or from a different perspective. It’s almost like my wife and I are viewing our town through a different lens, or maybe we’re just seeing, noticing and taking a moment or two to appreciate aspects of our town we barely even noticed before, if we knew they existed at all.

    Most of the time, we’re trying to get our furry ball of muscle and energy to go where we want to go, but when she puts her mind to it and wants to venture in a certain direction – usually because she’s on a scent and tracking it – we let her take the lead and see where it takes us. And where it’s taken us – or, I should say, where she’s taken us – is to some beautiful, quiet, secluded, peaceful and even serene places.

    Because we follow the deer. We follow their trails around town, at least in our neck of the woods.The indisputable evidence all over the place in the crunchy, crusty snow makes it clear that there are a lot of deer making their way through Crookston every night, and bedding down when it’s time to rest.

    We’re a golfing family who lives about the length of two par-fives from Minakwa Golf Course, so during the warmer months, it’s a frequent destination. Certainly, deer come through the sweeping golf course landscape during the spring, summer and fall and bed down in its most protected spots. But in the winter, the search for food becomes more intense, so the deer are really on the move. From Minakwa, to Oakdale Cemetery and Schuster Park and Landslide Park down to the river’s edge along West Sixth Street, to Groveland Avenue and to the diocese and through numerous backyards on the way to the Red Lake River and wherever bird seed and fallen berries and piles of cut grass can be rooted out and eaten, Crookston’s deer are faithful to their nighttime commute. And, judging by the sheer volume of hoof prints and other sign they leave behind in the snow – our pup dives snout-first into almost every print, penetrating the snow in search of precious droppings – it’s like Interstate 94 heading out of the Twin Cities at 5 p.m. on a Friday.

    That’s just the north end. Many Crookston residents over the years have seen the deer that come up from the river and emerge from the woods near Stenshoel-Houske Funeral Home and RiverView Health. Those deer no doubt travel daily through the nearby Castle Park woods, where the trail system is peppered with hoof-prints large and small.

    Our husky is a “people” dog. They say if you want a watchdog to guard your home, don’t get a husky because when the intruders make their way in, your dog will run up to greet them and welcome them enthusiastically. But she has this little quirk that we have quickly grown to love, where if she sees something – kids sledding down a hill, some blue jays shrieking in a tree, a postal carrier with pockets stocked with dog treats – she simply sits down looking all elegant and regal, and just observes for a minute, motionless and silent.

    It’s at those moments where we, too, stop and enjoy the quiet, take it all in, and appreciate the little things. At one of the furthest corners of the cemetery, during one of these brief moments that our dog paused to ponder the overall state of things, my wife and I looked at two of the most gnarled trees, intertwined and almost leaning on each other for mutual support. They looked like an illustration you’d see in a children’s book telling a story about trees coming to life.

    I know...cheesy. Corny. Sappy, even.

    But when it’s quiet and it’s dawn or it’s dusk and the sun’s doing its thing, and it’s just you and your dog in some remote corner of town, enjoying a miraculous winter that would have even the most hardcore atheist opening the door if only just a crack to the existence of a higher power, you can’t help but get a little cheesy, corny, sappy, and maybe just a little spiritual.

    So get out there and enjoy it. It’s right here, in your backyard. It took getting a puppy for us to really see it all, but you don’t need one.

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