Brian Kennedy Schmitz is a volunteer with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. You can read his Boundary Waters story or listen to him tell it himself with the audio recording below.
Born, raised and residing in Ohio, I'm 881 miles from the edge of the Boundary Waters at Echo Trail Entry Point #16. I've journeyed in there at ages 17, 18 and 19.
On my first voyage in a group of high school students whom teachers transported by van and bus... I would soon disgust McDonald's but adore hot sauce. I remember the northern lights the first night, being so awe struck, so mesmerized. I gazed as loons called across the still Moose Lake and I fell in love with them.
We canoed up the Nina Moose, as tranquil a stream as I'd ever seen. The way each gentle reed bent yielding to the soft current. The sound of the paddle. What I knew of canoe trips on the Little Miami River in Ohio were not like this. Beautiful yes but over-crowded peak-season with beer-drinking screamers and a very fast current. This was totally different. This was worth the bus ride.
Over 2,200 campsites spread across 1,000+ lakes and visited by over 200,000 people a year... it's the most visted wilderness in the United States.
That said, you might only glimpse someone else paddling let alone hear them up here. We paddled across Nina Moose Lake, through to Lake Agnes for camp. My guide sent me out to fetch water and I was stunned that we would drink this untreated from the lake. To know lake water can exist so clean made me wonder. Why not live here?
Huron, Cree, Dakota and Ojibwe (Chippewa) all lived in this area. Soon I would see their handprints and artwork on great rock faces overlooking the water. I was told they made these where the sky, land and the water meet. The Ojibway people call themselves 'Anishinabe' in their own language, which means 'original person.'
I portaged for the first time to reach Iron Lake. This taught me some endurance for pain and mental fortitude I did not know I had. It was worth it to reach a beautiful site with sunsets across the water and scattered boulders on the shore. It was worth it to hear a wolf for the first time in my life close enough to make the hair stand up on my neck. I was peacefully fishing the shore alone when it started low, a sweeping groan, which grew in pitch until it made its presence known to me with a howl. What a world I was in. It seemed, I was in a dream. This is how a person falls in love with the wild of the boundary waters.
There, on Iron Lake I also heard a grouse for the first time as I explored a bit. Very unusual sound which can be frightening if you don't know what it is. I went running back and told my guide "a human is in the woods beating their chest, like an ape. Or, maybe an ape was beating their chest at me?" No... just a secluded, wild fowl flapping their wings to attract a mate.
On my second trip we went into Tiger Bay of Lac La Croix and camped at the site I now regard as the best I've camped, ever. Sunsets were directly across the water and it even had a sandy beach shore scattered with pine cones. They substituted nicely as golf balls in the middle of the day, coupled with a large stick for a golf club. I preferred the northern woods in August than in June because the water is warmer for swimming. And still not too hot for a climb atop Warrior Hill on Lac La Croix.
There I stood and felt so high, so free.
I tasted my first northern pike this return trip... basted in Parkay after being caught in the reeds of Crooked Lake. Yes many bones but it was the best fish I've ever tasted.
For my return trips, my sister loaned me her manual lens camera to capture this place and its wonder. It further connected me to the Boundary Waters, making me ever more curious to find photographs. Such a place awakens the soul, soothes the mind and envigorates the body. When you are one with nature it is hard to leave. I had to convince myself I would return even to endure what I admit was scary... Wind Lake on a stormy day. But, (of course;) there is always calm after a storm.
I am now an online volunteer with the campaign to "Save The Boundary Waters" because it must exist not just as a destination for adventure or serenity but as a reality of wild purity. Few places are left in this developed world; still offering such wonder, such WATER. This wonder would not exist without its pure water. If it were poisoned by careless, avoidable, human error... what a tragedy. For all of us who hold it dear; for whom drank of it, we ask that they stop unnecessary, greedy, dangerous mines from threatening to poison what is so unique about this place (the water). To keep it safe for generations to come is my greatest goal.
I noticed there ARE rules about who can enter the park, specific to limiting numbers of groups in order to reduce impact on the pristine wild. Yet, there are possibly risks of obliteration from new, toxic mine permits? How could the forest service even consider mines so dangerous?? It makes no sense and that is what I want to stress to people. Not here.
Do you have a Boundary Waters story to tell? Email your story and photos to firstname.lastname@example.org!