First, find a map of Minnesota.
Then put your finger on Duluth. From there, follow highway 53 north through Hermantown and toward Eveleth. Continue past Eveleth – keeping Mountain Iron to your west and Gilbert to your east – and through Virginia. Keep heading north another 30 miles or so. Behold… Cook, Minnesota.
I have been traveling to the Cook region since I was thirteen years old. There, deep in the woods, I convene with my brother, my father, and four good friends. Ostensibly, we are there to hunt deer. In reality, it is much more than that.
A brief history of the place we gather: The land was originally passed down to two brothers from their Finnish immigrant parents. The brothers divided the land into two chunks, one on either side of a river. The first brother – who took over the chunk of land where we now hunt – passed his share of the land to his son and four nephews. As the years went by, a structure was built and used as a hunting shack (more on this subject later). Eventually, the son and one of the four nephews passed away. That leaves the land in the hands of the three remaining nephews.
My father was good friends with the son who has passed away, and got to be friends with the nephews, as well. He began hunting with them on their land and – long before I came along – they had established a close bond. When I was thirteen, he introduced me to the mix. He brought my brother a year later.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, first, rifle season is on the horizon, and I’m beginning to get a little excited about getting back into the woods. Yes, I’m excited about the possibility of seeing (and bagging!) a big buck this year, but even more so I’m excited about simply getting into the quiet of the woods. For those of you who’ve never spent any real alone time in a forest, let me tell you: there is nothing like it. You learn about what real quiet is. You’re forced to be alone with your own thoughts. The way you see and hear changes as you adjust to the shifting of the trees, to the wind and cold, to the noises of small animals scurrying just out of sight. I love every second of it.
Here’s the other reason I’m telling you: remember that early hunting shack I mentioned above? Well, it’s on its last legs. This is the final year we’ll be using the much-loved-but-slightly-drafty shack (aptly named the Rusty Nail in honor of the fact that it was assembled using old, bent nails). Not long ago the gang of us that have been gathering there decided to build a new cabin. This one will sleep eleven, have an indoor sauna, and feature a gorgeous west-facing porch ideal for watching the sun go down and the woods get dark. We’re in the process of building it now. And in the planning and building of this new structure, a funny thing has happened. Those of us who had been gathering there for years started to get to know each other even better. And we found out that we enjoyed each other’s company even more than we had thought. And we realized that this place meant an awful lot to each and every one of us.
I find myself thinking often about the importance of place, and of relationships. As a structural engineer, I get to be involved in the creation – or redefinition – of place and space. And some might think it’s all math and is about boring right angles and the like, but I see my work as something bigger than that. I’m helping to create a place that might ultimately bring people together, allow them to interact and enjoy each other’s company, and perhaps even deepen their relationships with one another.
It’s interesting, our approach to doing business here at Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates has always been about building relationships. I think of my colleagues, and about the clients we serve, and they are all much more than simple “work relationships.” We truly enjoy the people we work with and for, and it makes the work we do that much more meaningful
I know, I know… it sounds a little cheesy. It is a hunting shack, after all. And I am a guy who likes math and plumb lines. But still… I’ve recently found myself gaining an appreciation for the people around me.
So as the leaves continue to fall from the trees, and as the weather continues to cool, take a moment and find a quiet place. Reflect on those that are important to you. I certainly will be.