The Long Way Home 8.11.23

Like most of you, I hadn’t heard the phrase “bucket list” until the movie by that name in 2007. Starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, Bucket List was the story of two men who were dying and went on a road trip together with a “must-do” list.

As buddy movies go, it was a pretty good flick. It was also one of the last movies I paid to see in a movie theater. But I digress.

The bucket list became a thing, even for people who never saw the movie. We all have things we’d like to see or do before we go. Making a list, and checking them off as you go, seems like a good thing. 

But it also adds stress you don’t need in your golden years.

I talk with many people in my job as an Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspector. The other day I met a robust older man in his 80s at the landing on Devil Track Lake. He lives in Idaho but grew up in Colvill, my current home township, and told me stories about the area I’d never heard. 

When the conversation strayed from the past into what “woke” educators were doing to our kids, I steered him into talking about fishing. An avid fly tyer and trout fisherman on the lakes and rivers of Idaho, he and his grandson brought their inflatable boats and fly rods on their Fisherman’s Picnic visit to Grand Marais. 

The old boy figured there wouldn’t be too many people from his Cook County High School graduating class at the reunion this year, but he did have one bucket list item for the trip. He wanted to catch a Northern Pike on his fly rod. 

The thing about bucket lists, if you need to have one, is that it should be yours and yours alone. This fisherman in his ninth decade who grew up on the North Shore has caught every kind of fish. But on his list, it was one kind of fish, one kind of tackle--a list item uniquely his own.

On Facebook, I follow sites organized around the North Shore and Boundary Waters. People regularly post something like this: “This is my first visit to (BWCA or North Shore). What are my must see/must do?” These are people looking for someone else to make a bucket list for them.

The Arrowhead region attracted my family and me for vacations when the kids were still a tax write-off. It was also before bucket lists and social media that could tell us what we must see/do. We relied on brochures picked up at gas stations or the front desk and then decided what we would do. 

We had many memorable experiences that wouldn’t be on a Facebook list of must-see/do. The most notable wasn’t even the most fun. Like when we decided to leave the car at Lutsen Resort, on the lake side of the highway, and walk up to the ski hill for the Alpine Slide. Adventurous Dad insisted we hike up the trails along the Poplar River despite the pleas of the intelligent pre-teens that walking the paved road was a faster, better option. After I got us lost a few times, we eventually got to the slide an hour or two later than if we’d walked the road. Sore, thirsty, and a bit cranky. But what a memory. It still comes up at family gatherings, along with a host of other fiascoes that get laid at my feet. 

My kids' memories tell me the essential stuff comes from experiences, not some must-see/must-do list. 

Explore people.