LAST WEEK, I made three trips from my house west of Sayner to Minocqua. Each time, I arrived at the intersection of Highways M and 51, I found myself waiting in line behind a number of cars before I could continue my trip.

The first time, I was the 14th car in line. The second time, it was 11. The third, it was 12. Worse yet, Sunday morning found me in a backup of almost a half-mile north of the Highway 51 and Highway 70 East intersection. From the time I finally got up to where I could see the stoplights, it took three more light changes before I could get through them and on my way again.

Now, I realize that lines and waits like that are small potatoes in Milwaukee or Chicago, Ill., but up in our north Wisconsin country I generally consider it a traffic jam if I have to wait behind one car at the M-51 intersection while waiting for two cars to pass by on 51 before I can pull out.

That said, I will be very happy in less than two months when I make my way to a place where seeing two other cars pass by on a country road in a full afternoon constitutes rush hour.

That place is the prairie country of North Dakota, specifically in the neighborhood of a certain little white house on the prairie located in the metropolis of Egeland, N.D., population 28.

When I arrived home after the third nerve-racking drive of last week, I scratched an itch that has been getting itchier by the day for several weeks now. I itched it by kicking back in my recliner daydreaming of what awaits me in North Dakota.

Ducks, my friends, ducks await me; geese, too. It is the ducks and geese that have drawn me back to North Dakota for 29 years. If they weren’t enough, the beauty of endless fields of wheat, soybeans, sunflowers and canola, mixed in with thousands of ponds and prairie sloughs are a huge part of the attraction as well.

In my early years of hunting North Dakota, one of my prime objectives was to kill as many ducks and geese as the law allowed so I could enjoy eating them throughout the year.

As the years have slipped by, years that have seen the number of my years on Earth increase to 72, killing and eating all the ducks I can get has slipped mightily in importance. The trip west is now for something much more than a hunt.

On my trip this year, with my faithful companion, Gordie, the fun will begin as I count down the miles and towns between Sayner and Egeland. The first major milepost is the Bong Bridge joining Superior and Duluth, Minn. Once the nose of my truck comes off the bridge and into Minnesota, it starts sniffing the air like a pointer after a pheasant, knowing that Egeland is only seven hours away.

More towns and small cities follow, places like Deer River, Bagley, Bemidji and Crookston, before the familiar welcoming sign hanging from a bridge across the Red River of the North tells me I am entering Grand Forks, N.D.

After that, I am like a little child entering an ice cream parlor, trying to make up my mind between chocolate, butter pecan or moose tracks, except that my anticipation now is that of trying to decide which species of ducks I would like to see first when I start passing a string of roadside ponds between Michigan, N.D., and Lakota, N.D.

Bang, bang, bang, I go — out loud — each time I see a squadron of bluewing teal, mallards or gadwall making a landing on one of those ponds, wings locked up, legs hanging down.

Devils Lake, N.D., is always a major stop for groceries at a locally owned store, after which it is an hour drive north and south to the little white house, home away from home for two weeks.

After that, every day is a treasure. Much of my time is spent sitting in cozy nests of cattail stalks bent and framed into a handy duck blind. In those blinds, I find myself watching ducks land in my decoys, often as not simply watching them as long as they care to keep me company without even a thought of firing a shot at them.

Yes, I do hunt and I still shoot 15 or 20 ducks during a stay that varies from one to two weeks. I do dig right in with my bunch of hunters each night when ducks always serve as the main course and I do bring home eight or 10 more ducks to eat throughout the year.

But for me, watching rafts of ducks on a slough or having a flock of 100 or so Canada geese glide into a pond no more than 5 yards above my well-concealed head to land in a pond where 100 more of them are beckoning them in is much higher on my list of priorities than throwing some lead at them.

Seeing hawks drifting on the wind looking downward for a gopher for a meal, stopping alongside a slough to watch 30 or 40 tundra swans going about their daily business or just sitting under a willow tree as a bull moose splashes by less than 10 yards from me is what makes North Dakota so very special to me.

There is so much more I could say about my time on the prairie, but suffice it to say I love it far more than sitting behind a dozen vehicles waiting to pull out from a stop sign.