Learning that spiders shouldn't be squished for being spiders
“If he can somehow keep alive a spark of adventure and romance as the old time voyageurs seem to have done, then any expedition becomes more than a journey through wild country. It becomes a shining challenge and adventure of the spirit.” –Sigrud Olson
I first wrote about the Boundary Waters when I was 12. I was enamored by my first canoe trip and I wrote an essay about what wilderness meant to me. The trip left from Moose Lake outside of Ely and lasted 7 days. Here’s a snippet from that essay: “A loon shrieked from across the lake. I sat up in my sleeping bag as my head hit the side of the tent. It was a chilly morning and mist covered beautiful Hanson Lake.” The Boundary Waters was my first experience in a wilderness area, and the endless shores and waterways felt like freedom, even at a young age. I was lucky enough to do several more week-long trips during my childhood, which led me to become a guide for a season after I spent several years living out of state. From my first trips through the Boundary Waters I remember swimming in clear cold water, floating on the surface of calm golden lakes, and struggling over portages while looking out from under silver canoes. A land of rock, water, and wood.
Once I became a guide, I appreciated the freedom the water trails offered. Freedom to explore dead end streams and freedom to take long portages ending at tiny lakes with only one campsite and no outlet. Freedom to hug the shoreline and take the long way around the lake. I felt content following myself on a map – a tiny line meandering across a canvas of blue and green.
As a guide, I led trips for mostly middle and high school students from all over the country. One middle schooler in particular reminds me of the value of wild places like the Boundary Waters. Throughout his trip, he was very vocal about the aspects of being outdoors that did not suit him. He paddled in the bow seat of my canoe most days, so I could handle his attitude and encourage him to enjoy himself. Sometimes just having an ear to absorb the sarcasm is enough to lift spirits, at least that is what I was hoping. In particular, he did not like all the creepy crawlies that live outdoors and I had to stop him from needlessly squishing insects on multiple occasions. However, on the last morning of a 5-day trip, he found a large hairy fishing spider resting under his life jacket, which had been stored under the overturned canoe for the night. From across the campsite, I watched him exclaim in surprise and then gingerly probe the spider on to a tree with a twig. I was so touched by his actions, but I didn’t dare let him know that I saw his uncharacteristic act of mercy. Even if he didn’t readily admit it, his trip in the Boundary Waters changed his perspective. If nothing else, he realized spiders shouldn’t be squished for being spiders.
As I’ve moved on from guiding canoe trips, I frequently think longingly of the crisp mornings and seas of birch trees. The Boundary Waters has been a formative force in my life and I try to keep that spark of adventure with me everywhere.