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Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here. This article was written by Jack and Cindy Uldrich of Minneapolis.


The poet Mary Oliver has a simple but evocative poem entitled "Instructions for Living a Life." It reads: "Pay attention/be astonished/tell about it."

My wife and I recently returned from a week up on the Gunflint Trail and we'd like to tell you about it because in this new year when the disturbingly warm weather has heightened worries about climate change, and the early presidential primaries have many of us fretting over nine more months of a grueling, negative and decisive political campaign, Minnesota's North Woods offer solace and hope.

To begin, we were fortunate enough to have arrived shortly after one of this winter season's few snowfalls, and the land surrounding our lodge on Flour Lake was coated with a blanket of white snow sufficient for both snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. This time outdoors, in addition to providing our bodies physical exercise, also offered our souls ample exposure to nature's raw, healing beauty.

The first evening the setting sun highlighted a forested ridge with singular tops of black spruce silhouetted against a blood orange sky. The sun's lowering light then angled across the frozen lake and lit a hilltop where eons of practice have somehow instructed the white and red pines how to master the skill of growing — as well as the art of living peacefully — atop ancient boulders of stone. Further down the lake this same softening sunlight turned the eastern skyline into a soft pinkish hue that seemed better suited for the petals of a springtime rose than a midwinter horizon.

The following day the sun mixed with the unusually mild temperatures to create a frozen fog that slid across the icy lake at such a pace that demanded and then arrested one's attention — it was as though we were both watching a dream we didn't want to end move in slow motion and envelop us.

Day three brought more of the same but was followed by a night sky unpolluted by modern light. The pitch-dark sky was enhanced and crystallized by the cool, crisp northern air, and each star and constellation dazzled with a majestic intensity.

Every day in the Northland brought something new to our eyes and ears. One day it may have been how even the mildest of winds could call forth the unique scents and sounds of a grove of cedars. On another, it was how the smallish white wisps of clouds seemed to be pulled outward and upward by some invisible portal in the sky and, on yet another, it was how the shifting ice released primal groans that echoed into the surrounding silence of the woods. Even on our last day, as we drove toward Grand Marais, the morning moisture of Lake Superior layered every tree with a magical mist and cloaked the forest in a stunning diamond-like robe.

Why do we tell you these things? Our world is filled with stories of chaos, crises, calamities, cruelty and catastrophes, and it is easy to lose faith in a more favorable future. We can't guarantee you that time up north will sooth your troubled soul, but we are confident it will remind you that the future of our stunningly beautiful state is worth savoring and preserving. We tell you this because we will only work to save that which we love.

Jack and Cindy Uldrich live in Minneapolis.