Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Posted by
Dave Freeman

From the Freemans: Celebrating the Solstice and Reflecting on Efforts to Save the Boundary Waters

We have reached a milestone in A Year in the Wilderness today. Today is our 91st day in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the earth has completed 1/4 of its annual journey around the sun since we waved goodbye to the floatilla of wilderness-warriors and well-wishers who paddled with us up the South Kawishiwi River from River Point Resort to the edge of the Wilderness.

For the last 3 months the sun has risen a couple minutes later and set a few minutes earlier. Last night (10:48 PM CST) was the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, which marks the longest night of the year. Tomorrow will be 6 minutes longer than today, and each day we will be blessed with a little more light until the summer solstice 6 months from now.

To celebrate the longer days ahead we made luminaries of ice to decorate our campsite. We spent several hours filling special balloons with water and placed them in the snow to freeze overnight. It would be relatively easy to attach each ballon to your kitchen faucet and turn on the tap, but with no tap for miles around we devised a system of gathering water from the ice hole, filling our Klean Kanteen narrow mouth water bottle, blowing up the ballon, stretching the ballon over the mouth of the water bottle, and pouring the water into the balloon. We repeated this about twenty times to make our four luminaries. We smiled and laughed as we lit our luminaries last night around 3:30 PM as it started getting dark.

We have always taken note of the summer and winter solstice, but this year, fully immersed in the Wilderness it has taken on special importance. Wilderness helps connect us with the earth and appreciate the things that are truly important.

The short days of November and December have provided us with lots of time to reflect. I think at the end of the year it is common to look back on the year gone by. Over the last few weeks we have found ourselves reflecting on the last several years.

Around the 2013 summer solstice Amy and I sat on the grass behind Sustainable Ely with Becky Rom, and Paul and Sue Schurke. Sustainable Ely was the new education center being set up in downtown Ely to educate people about Twin Metals, and the other sulfide-ore copper mines that are being proposed in the Boundary Waters Watershed. People were dropping off furniture and signing up to volunteer each week. A handful of dedicated local folks were starting a movement that would become the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

A shiny new canoe with a few dozen signatures on it sat on sawhorses inside, while Amy and I hatched a plan with Paul, Sue, and Becky to paddle and sail the signature canoe from the Boundary Waters to Washington D.C. as a way to raise awareness about the proposed sulfide-ore copper mines that threaten the Boundary Waters and help create a national movement to protect the Boundary Waters.

Amy and I jumped into the effort with both feet, feeling the need to protect this place that is just too precious to risk. Our jobs and our way of life are threatened, and adventure advocacy through Paddle to DC, and A Year in the Wilderness are the best way Amy and I know how to leverage our strengths to further the cause. It has been a real pleasure to work side by side with all the folks that are working so hard to protect the Boundary Waters. Your passion and talents are inspiring.

Every day we spend in the Wilderness is a true gift to be savored. We are constantly learning new things about ourselves, and the Wilderness that surrounds us. It is critical that the Boundary Waters is preserved in its untrammeled state for future generations to enjoy. Thank you for speaking loudly for this quiet place.


Dave and Amy Freeman, 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, are dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters from sulfide-ore copper mining proposed on its wilderness edge. In 2014, they paddled and sailed 101 days and 2,000 miles from Ely, MN, to Washington, DC, on the Paddle to DC. They are now spending a year in the Boundary Waters on A Year in the Wilderness. Follow their journey on social media (#WildernessYear) and by tracking the trip on their map. More A Year in the Wilderness blog posts.