First of all, thank you to everyone who submitted a story for the Wall for Wilderness. We have so enjoyed reading back through well over 100 stories submitted by you all, our fellow BWCA lovers. Memorable tales of moose and bear encounters, close calls with fires, moments of deep and uninterrupted silence, stories of love and of loss, blueberries and backcountry cooking all made it into the mix. A few of these stories really stood out to us and we wanted to share them with everyone. Pour yourself another cup of coffee and enjoy!
I sat in my tent as still as I possibly could, my heart hammering in my chest. It was just a single overnight alone on Flame Lake, a tiny, single-campsite lake in the southern part of the Boundary Waters. It was late August and I hadn’t seen a moose my whole summer of working at Sawbill, a canoe outfitter on the edge of the wilderness. But now, alone as I had probably ever been, now I started to hear the dripping, the sloshing, the mucky suction as she picked her hooves up and placed them in front of her again and again, these noises getting closer and closer. I wanted so badly to peek out the window and look toward where she had to be moving around, but hardly dared to breathe, and beside that, there was only the smallest moon making it unlikely that I’d see anything anyway. It felt like both hours and only a few brief moments, but her footsteps and sloppy slurping started to move farther away, eventually only some cracking of branches as she made her way out of the water and back into the forest, and then, stillness again.
I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. My heartbeat started to calm back down, and my lizard-survival brain fell back into neutral. Had I been absolutely scared out of my mind, alone, this enormous 800-1000 pound, poor-sighted creature, lumbering toward me? Absolutely. And at the same time, the awe that, to this day, stays lodged in my bones from this experience is incredible. Not only the moose herself, but what she represented at that moment – the power, might and awe that I have for this world that is often easy to forget about and pass by as everyday and normal.
My friend Tim Gellenbeck and I were camped at the very bottom of Lake Insula and out fishing nearby on the morning of September 14, 2011. For the first time in all of our years of Boundary Water trips, a very low-flying Forest Service floatplane buzzed us and actually landed nearby and offloaded a canoe with a pair of Forest Service rangers who promptly paddled over to us and told us a forest fire was racing our way, the lake was closed and we had to get out right now! But we could not go out through the numbered lakes as we had planned (and where we were to be picked up), but instead would have to paddle all the way back up to the top of Lake Insula and find some way out that way.
We raced back to our campsite, packed our gear, and started north up Insula toward Thomas. By the time we got started the smoke was already thick and we could see the fire racing up both sides of the long and narrow lake. The winds picked up, and the water was rough. At times the visibility was just a few feet due to the heavy smoke. We spent all day fighting winds, waves and smoke to get away from the fire. The Forest Service airplane periodically circled over us, but we were on our own.
We later learned that several fire fighters had been forced to dig in and shelter under a fireproof blanket while the fire flashed over them, right about where we had been camped; fortunately they survived.
During our long paddle that day, we did see one other group far ahead of us, but since we had been camped in the last campsite in Insula in the direction of the fire, we were fairly certain we were the last ones out of Lake Insula ahead of the fire.
Tim and I made it to Thomas Lake that evening where we camped, with a birds eye view of the big yellow fire suppression aircraft that repeatedly swooped down on the water right in front of our campsite to scoop up loads of water to dump on the fire just to the south.
We ended up paddling out through Ima and eventually to Snowbank, where another Forest Service ranger with a satellite phone was able to contact our outfitter, Dan Waters, to let him know where to pick us up.
It was a remarkable experience that Tim and I will never forget.
During a 7 day trip in the Boundary Waters, our crew stopped for our layover day on Lake Hatchet. The campsite had enough of a breeze to kept away the mosquitos, and a lovely view of the lake, perfect for sunset photos. During our lay-over, a few girls from our all female crew, went across the lake and discovered a huge patch of wild blueberries. They collected as many as the three could carry in a single gallon pail, returning from their foraging as heroines. We all had handfuls of blueberries to eat with dinner, and for dessert, we stuffed our campfire cheesecake to the brim with these small saphires.
After cleaning up the campsite for the night, Lake Hatchet gave us a beautiful surprise--smooth as glass water for a beautiful sunset. In the morning, to our astonishment, we awoke to find we were seemingly on a mountain--the fog of the morning obscured the water, and make it seem like we were high above the earth. Lake Hatchet was beautiful and peaceful from the time we arrived, to the time we descended from the clouds.