The manila file folder was stuck in alongside some of my old trip journals on a bookshelf.
"What's this?" I thought.
I pulled it out and opened it up the other day. Inside were, among other things, a couple of sheets of notebook paper with my handwriting on them.
"Exercise No. 9," the page was entitled. "Before I die, I want to..."
And below that, in no particular order that I could discern, I had listed 23 things that I apparently had hoped to get checked off in my lifetime. Near as I could tell, I had made the list in about 1976 when I was 27 years old. My wife and I had just quit good jobs in Kansas and had moved to Ely to work for a canoe outfitter.
I promptly forgot what trip journal I was looking for and plopped down on the bed to see how I measured up to my dreams some 40 years earlier.
1. Write an article for a major outdoor or other magazine
2. Have photos published in major newspapers or magazines
3. Take a major canoe trip - about a month long - in the Canadian wilderness
Well, I thought, I guess I've come pretty close. I've done some writing and photography. Phyllis and I spent a month paddling the Gods River to Hudson Bay in 1983.
Going through that list was almost like reading the hopes and aspirations of someone else entirely. I was surprised at my own declarations of intention. In 1976, Phyllis and I were at a critical juncture in our lives. We had left our families and migrated north to the edge of Minnesota's canoe country. We had been married just five years. Minnesota was intended to be a one-year fling before we "settled down" back in Kansas and started a family.
I kept reading:
4. Visit the East Coast and New England
5. Take a group of kids on a BWCA canoe trip
6. Visit Alaska
7. Have a couple of neat kids
Well, OK. I felt as if I had made some progress.
I was surprised by both the loftiness of some of those goals and by the simplicity of others.
8. Learn to fly fish
9. Run a marathon under three hours
10. Catch a big fish
11. Fly in a 747
12. Be a good father
I won't bore you with the rest of the items. I believe I had made the list as a result of reading a popular book of that era aimed at helping the reader narrow down career choices.
As hokey as it seems to have jotted down those goals, I think it was helpful to the young me. It required me to envision the kind of life I hoped to lead, to make choices that would help fulfill what - at that time - were my dreams.
Even though I tucked that list away and didn't see it again for more than four decades, it had been with me in some way all along. Once I had committed those goals to paper, they must have been in the back of my mind as Phyllis and I made the choices that led us along our path together.
At various points, Phyllis also set down her personal goals. While some of our individual goals varied, enough of them overlapped that we managed to chart a course that worked for both of us.
I suspect that it is never too late for any of us to make such a list. Maybe it's even more important at mid-life, or after some life-changing event, or as we approach retirement.
And rather than tucking it away as I did, we should probably post it prominently where we put all important notes - on the refrigerator. Maybe every time Elon Musk goes for the milk, he sees his note: "Take a group of people to Mars."
That's how it begins.
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find his Facebook page at facebook.com/SamCookOutdoors or his blog at samcook.areavoices.com.