Meet the winners of our Merrimack Canoe contest:
GRAND PRIZE – Northern Light II
Grand Rapids, MN
Paddles rupture still water. Swirling, twirling tornadoes follow underneath a glassy blue. One, two, three, I count. And then they are gone, melting back into the current that runs below. A current that will bring these waters north, to the lake where my family lives, eventually to the Hudson Bay. Seven tween girls scatter themselves about our three canoes. I lead. We filter water from the lake and make dinner around a campfire that smells of pine needles. Afterwards, the girls skinny dip in the blackness, pinpricks of light dangling above their heads. Laughter and screams ñ sounds of friendship forming ñ echo in the night. I stand on the beach, allowing the grandeur of it all to humiliate me. I think about the whipping winds sending white crested waves into our boats, 12 year olds with twigs for legs carrying canoes on their shoulders, packs twice their size on their backs, each portage leading us to a new world. I think about how these waters have shaped us. How they have nurtured, comforted, provided. How it is our duty to respect, protect them. Incoming waves tickle my toes, sinking my feet deeper into the grainy sand, rooting me, keeping me here.
First Runner-Up – St. Croix Rods Legend Package
I lay here with my son, awake, beneath a canopy of jack pine, spruce, and cedar, as stars and constellations flicker, from the highest of celestial limbs far above, a song of woods and waters plays in our head, a throbbing pulse drumming in our hearts, vulnerable to the allure of this most special of place, we yearn to know, to find, to climb, to stumble, to run through, to look what lies behind those firs, that bit of rock, that yellow lichen below, to gaze, to step upon, leaving not a trace, our sounds of song linger in that air, water that ripples away from our canoe, it will dissipate, but we were there, of that moment, now we are near dreams, tired and nestled away, in song with my son, my boy, he looks up with me, I say to him kept words, that these deepest of woods have raised me, these the woods of my youth, are now of his, once it was me and my grandfather, now me and him, of these sacred woods, of these cherished waters, of these stars, I leave my boy these places, filled with mystic songs of youth and memory.
Second Runner-Up – Gunflint Paddle
There are summers where I've spent more nights camped on beds of fragrant pine needles than on box springs. Winters when I've longed for clear cold stars over popcorn ceilings. Sometimes the in-between seasons have found me knee deep in mud, watching loons and geese flee south, or return home... And on the days when I wasn't, when I was far away from the Boundary Waters, I wished for the weight of a canoe on my shoulders. Sometimes it's hard to communicate to the ones who've never sweat and strained behind a dog sled what exactly is wrapped up in this wilderness. What meaning the misty mornings of stillness and the smoldering fires and the sweet blueberry bushes hold. For me, it's independence and vulnerability. It's shared memories and triumphs. Defeats that cracked me open and laughter that sewed me back up. For my community it's pride. It's contention but it's liberation. Stewardship, recreation... It's permission for entry into the world of trout and moose and wolves. I hope we'll always be able to have these experiences, timeless and endlessly fresh. I hope those who haven't yet had the privilege will always have the choice to discover it for themselves.
Third Runner-Up – Cooke Custom Sewing Hybrid Pack
I have four brothers, and my parents were the Boy Scout leaders. I tagged along on small trips with the boys, but I was never allowed at the official camps. I was so jealous of my brothers going to Philmont and Sea Base, but I didnít have the opportunity. We lived in rural Iowa, and the local Girl Scout troop just did crafts in the church basement. At 13, I finally found a troop an hour away that went camping. My first trip with them was to the Boundary Waters. It was the first time I met other girls who would rather wear the same shirt for five days in the wilderness than tie dye one. It was the first time I saw that girls can portage canoes and fish for dinner. It was the first time I didnít have to feel left out by a bunch of boys in the woods. Iíve been back twice since then, and always with a bunch of badass women. The Boundary Waters is my favorite place in the world, not only because I love loons, but because every girl should have the chance to go and see how strong they are.
Fourth Runner-Up – Lake Commando Combo Package
West Jordan, Utah
I recently returned from Afghanistan. I was proud to be there, as serving my country has been my deepest desire since childhood. Regardless of the reasons the war there started or the reasons it has continued for two decades, I knew my reasons for serving there when asked. Because I love my family and the land that we call Home. Such is the case for every other servicemember that I have ever met. And for all warriors throughout history. We don't fight for industry, organizations or national coffers. We fight for the people and places we love. We fight to protect them so that we can come back to them. We fight for Home. The Boundary Waters is one of those places. Specifically for some, but representatively for all. No deployed soldier daydreams of open-pit mines or oil fields. It's the peaceful places where one is allowed to be alone with their thoughts, or where oneís thoughts finally allow them to be alone that are behind a warriorís tired eyes. Home. These wild places have so much meaning for so many. They must be protected, for they are so much more than just places. They are home.
Fifth Runner-Up – Frost River Grand Portage Canoe Pack
The wilderness is my home. I've literally planted myself on its front doorstep. I have explored only a percentage of what the Boundary Waters has to offer in the last 8 years, but I've traversed her over dogsled, skis, canoe, and by foot. I am lucky enough to have a job with the USFS fire program. I've made it a point to tailor my career to living on the edge of this wilderness, because I truly believe it to be one of the most unique places in the country. I've seen first hand at the positive impact this wilderness has brought to our community, the energy of travelers from all around the world that have come to our little corner to experience something truly one of a kind. The Boundary Waters provides me with a career im passionate about and the ability to be a member of a community in a town I love. I will probably never find fulfillment in a 100k job, a fancy sports car, and a luxury home on the lake. Where I find the most fulfillment is working in the woods with a group of dedicated folks and sleeping under stars of an incredible wilderness.
Sixth Runner-Up – Northland Tackle Ice Package
Grand Marais, MN
This morning we wake to rain. The water plays plinko down balsam branches and softly patters our tent. We sleep in. The storm tires and wanders wayward. Great pines guarding our island campsite dance in the mist. We make coffee on a fractured granite slab, then find our canoe and shove off into the unknown. On a calm forgotten pond, the bow gently parts sedge and bulrush. The grass leans under stress - thousands of dragonfly perch on stem and flower, awaiting their final molt. We paddle around aimlessly, catching a few small pike. A beaver slaps their tail in protest and a moose departs across the muskeg. The sun burns through the clouds and we bask in the warmth. A sun-dipped dragonfly discovers its new wings and takes flight. Another follows. Then another. Soon the air is filled. Birds take notice of the naive lunch and swoop en masse. At camp we sit by the fire while a trout roasts on cedar boughs. A dozen loons call out and we respond with our own barbaric yawp. The echoes recede with the painted cotton ball clouds... I think to myself: let greed never destroy such a wild and sacred place.