– Weather never has been the primary attraction of northern Minnesota, not like Florida or Mexico in winter.

The draw instead is the relief that settles over a traveler upon crossing 47 degrees north latitude, an imaginary line that transects Duluth, approximately, and one that can quiet the otherwise disquieting circumstances that often accompany everyday life.

To paraphrase U.S. Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart, the boundary separating Up North from the rest of Minnesota might be difficult to define, but you know it when you see it, perhaps manifest as a lake, a loon, a tall pine, or all three.

I was thinking about this the other day while a friend and I headed north to paddle and fish. Our getaway had been the usual frenzied cluster: At the last minute, we added equipment to accommodate obscure eventualities unlikely ever to occur. Then we subtracted the same equipment. This was just before we slammed the doors a final time and pointed our outfit north, the hammer down, our hopes up.

Acknowledgement is made here that residents and visitors can and often do view the same places differently. The guy just laid off from a mine Up North considers less gaily the same land and water that so impassions periodic travelers to the region.

The late Ely writer and ecologist Sigurd Olson conceded this point, saying that while all people might need wild places, those who live most distant from them often appreciate them differently than those who live nearby.

True as this is, some places evoke largely similar responses among most people.

Mountains are one. Oceans another. Prairies still another.

Also northern Minnesota.

Each enriches, relaxes and invigorates.

But these and other positive evocations must be cultivated over time. Single visits will yield memories, and two, keen reminiscences. But three or more usually are required to sear indelibly memoir-like impressions on a visitor's psyche; little movies the mind's eye can summon in a meeting, on a freeway or while lying in bed, waiting for sleep; balm for the common life.

So it is that appreciation of wild places requires commitment of time. Also required is suspension of the usual concerns about money, jobs, bosses, climate change, kids, parents, politicians, the Mideast, whatever.

These and other modern problems only cloud a sightseer's vision. A bald eagle perched in a white pine becomes little more than a bird in a tree, a walleye on a stringer just another fish, a sunrise something to sleep through.

Letting go of these distractions is a learned behavior, and practice is required to summon this valued mind-set at will.

The other day, as my friend and I drove through and beyond Duluth, winding our way along the North Shore, we never looked back.

Long ago we had fished together on a lake just off the Gunflint Trail, floating in belly boats on a clear evening beneath an umbrella of stars, casting to trout.

We talked about this, and about the "hex'' hatch that was on, and how spinners of these big mayflies were raining down on the lake, prompting trout, their noses tipped up, to dimple the surface and slurp the big bugs nonstop.

Also we talked about steelhead fishing in Aprils past on the Baptism River and the Cross River, and on rivers up and down the North Shore.

Soon, Two Harbors was behind us, then Gooseberry Falls and the Split Rock River, while flanking to the east, flat and blue, lay Lake Superior, and winding ahead, ever northward, was Hwy. 61.

Acknowledged or not, we both knew we had crossed 47 degrees north latitude.

Part of it was the country's beauty, part the promise of good times to come and part was implicit in the gear we toted, a pack here, a fishing rod there, also rain gear and bug dope.

Immersing oneself physically, we knew, heightens any experience in northern Minnesota, whether hiking a trail, paddling a canoe or pitching a tent.

Never looking back, we anticipated eagerly whatever lay ahead, Up North.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com