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Book is a promise fulfilled for Polly Keith Scotland

Newly published Bemidji author Polly Keith Scotland, left, is shown with Dot Thompson and Zelda and Elijah Cartier, who gave her the rose, in front of the banner announcing the book at Book World last Saturday. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Some people know Polly Keith Scotland as the dental technician who does the annual cleaning and polishing of their teeth; others may know her as the lady who plays the organ at Sacred Heart Church on most Sundays and still others know her from the Bridge league and tournaments she organizes each year.

A group of ladies who have met for the past 15 years know Scotland as the founder of the “Book Bags,” a book club that uses a Bag-a-meter to score the books they have read. As an aside, “The Help,” “Girl with the Pearl Earring” and “Shadow Divers” have all attained the top tier of the scoring meter.

Now they can add “By Foot, Pedal or Paddle,” the newly published book of essays by Scotland about her nature adventures. Her stories grab the imagination of the reader from the introduction to the last sentence in The Sixth Great Lake.

All of them were written between 2001 and 2010, taking reader from places as far flung as Reykjevik, Iceland, to Lake Nipegon to the Sleeping Giant Provincial Park and Isle Royale in Lake Superior and on to Mexico. Color pictures on the cover tempt the viewer to peek inside and see other photos of Polly and her husband, Bemidji dentist Lee Scotland, in their travels, which have taken them from Chikoot Trail in Alaska to Rangagua, Chile, with many stops in between. Although the book only covers 12 different adventures, the couple has completed about 80 trips.   

Polly has had her first-person accounts published in the Pioneer newspaper, magazines such as Duluth-Superior, Silent Sports, Outside and Sea Kayaker and other publications like Northwest Dentistry.

But, it was at the urging of her father, Bob Keith, and the promises made to him, that prompted Scotland to assemble and edit some of her stories and submit them for publication by Loonfeather Press.

 Her father read and edited each story, but did not live long enough to see them published as he died last January. The book is dedicated to both her parents and thanks them for instilling the love of adventure in all their eight children. In Scotland’s author biography at the end of the book, she wrote that all 10 of them piled into the family station wagon each summer and explored the country.

“We receive submissions from people all around the state,” said Mary Lou Marchand of Loonfeather Press. “We have published poetry by CarolAnn Russell, gardening by Becky Livermore and fiction but this book was something different so when the board decided to accept it, I took on the job.”

Marchand was on hand last Saturday for the book signing at Book World in downtown Bemidji and so were many of Scotland’s friends and neighbors who were there to support her and buy a copy of her book that tells the stories of adventures with her husband, family members and hiking companions. Stories that can be read and enjoyed by youngsters as well as senior citizens who “accompany” Polly in these adventures in their imaginations. As so many seniors have called and told her, “You don’t know me but I enjoy reading your stories because I can’t do them. I really enjoy living vicariously through you.”

So in the end the stories are for the arm chair traveler as well as those who want to “follow their dreams” as Scotland challenges them to do.

As Elijah Cartier, there with his grandmother said, “We are proud of her (Scotland) and we brought her a rose because it is the nice thing to do.”

And Scotland, always the proponent of good dental hygiene, offered free toothbrushes to anyone who stopped by, whether they bought her book or not, which was another nice thing to do.

“Nobody wants to hear about a perfect trip,” said Scotland. “They want to hear about a trip where you almost went over a waterfall or there are some banditos just around the corner and you have to change your route because bad things have been happening on that trail so you have to go a different way.”

Scotland spoke about being prepared for the unexpected and needing to be flexible and resourceful while in the wilderness. And she feels that one has to earn these trips by starting out with short excursions – a day or two, a weekend. Learning how to prepare and survive comfortably and safely while accomplishing the hike, canoe, kayak adventure. Of course, being in good physical condition is primary.

She credits her husband Lee’s preparations for their trips by doing the research: getting the maps for the places where neither cell phone nor GPS devices will work, and they will need to be able to orient themselves using basic skills; obtaining and packing the equipment including food, and making the contacts they will need for transfers and such. As she tells in the book, nothing can replace competent preparation for getting lost in the wilderness or breaking a limb can be life threatening.

“I would love people to experience the spiritual side of wilderness,” said Scotland. “Our wildness is disappearing at an alarming rate, there are fewer places where you can go and be in silence. That’s when you can do a lot of deep thinking and it puts your whole world back into perspective. I could live for a week carrying 35 pounds on my back, everything that I need for sustenance, with my head clear and get my life back in balance. I come back from these trips, renewed, re-balanced and ready to go.”