Scratching my head, I wondered how to fit all the supplies strewn on the ground at my feet into two sleds. A 40 pound bag of dog food, another 15 pounds of frozen chicken, five Frost River bags the size of watermelons, three sleeping bags, a duffle bag full of base layers, and a bag of Snickers. The sleds designed more for youthful exuberance down the local sledding hill than hauling gear over a mile into a Wilderness Area. Layered up and full of gumption, I set off across the frozen, wind-swept lake towards my destination – two folks living a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
I spotted Dave and Amy Freeman’s tent and heard their sled dogs barking to the sky. A solitary skier emerged from camp, heading my way with a dog. Amy arrived with a smile and escorted me into camp. Arriving in camp, Dave and the other two dogs welcomed me.
With the frozen burritos of gear unpacked, the Freemans took Tina, Tank and Acorn out skijoring to let the dogs release a little energy. I found a spot sheltered from the breeze and prepared my sleeping system (when in doubt, add another sleeping bag).
After a hearty meal followed by a couple hours of post-dinner talk, I retreated to my sleeping burrito outside.
I awoke from sunlight grazing the ice crystals that had formed around the air hole of my sleeping bag. The sunrise brought false warmth to the frozen landscape. The dogs rose from their beds when I approached, eager to begin the day. I wandered around camp, taking photos until I realized my unprotected hands were not functioning properly. I retreated to Amy and Dave’s tent to warm my hands and grab breakfast. The Freemans were in the middle of morning chores, cooking breakfast for the dogs, boiling water for coffee and beginning to plan the day.
Soon, we were headed out of camp, and Acorn dutifully pulled my sled towards the edge of the Wilderness while I lagged behind. I caught up with the dogs, the Freemans and a new group that was just arriving. Introductions quickly transitioned to goodbyes as we parted ways.
The silence of the Wilderness soon enveloped me. The crunch of my boots, the dragging of the sled on the packed down path and the breeze flowing past my face were all sounds, but sounds that best occur in a quiet place, a Wilderness Area. The bustle of man carries well across lakes and through forests and that is why we need solitude, quiet, the peacefulness of Nature.
What does the Boundary Waters mean to me? The West Coast has Yosemite, Olympic and the Redwoods. The Mountain West has Yellowstone, Glacier and the Rockies. The southwest has the Grand Canyon, Zion and Arches. The southeast has the Everglades and the Smokies, the northeast has Acadia and Niagara Falls. But what does the Midwest have that resonates on the national level? We have the most visited Wilderness Area in the country. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Quetico Provincial Park in Canada encompass the greatest canoe country in the world.
I love the Boundary Waters because the only thing that my dad asked me to do when graduating high school was to spend a couple weeks in the Wilderness. I love it because my dad knew Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady, and she wanted to hire him to be a guide. I love it because I can travel for days and not see anyone. I love it because it is mostly unchanged since the days of the Voyageurs. I love it because every whiff of spruce imbued in the wind reminds me of the words of Sigurd Olson. I love it because it’s bigger than my lifetime. I love it because the portages are measured in rods (which are 16.5 feet). I love it because of the Rose Lake cliffs and the North Hegman pictographs. I love it because it’s our Yellowstone, our Yosemite, our Smoky Mountains and our place of worship.
We must protect this national resource so my kids and their kids can experience the same joy I do when the loon calls or wolf howls while paddling across a quiet lake.
Dave Caliebe spent his youth sauntering through the woods of Wisconsin and now works for a non-profit helping people to enjoy the outdoors. After listening to the Freeman's speak at Canoecopia in 2015, Dave began his effort to do his part to protect a landscape he holds dear. Having first visited the Boundary Waters in 1995, Dave became enamored with the landscape and has visited ever since.
When a group of six intrepid Ely skiers recently dropped in on Amy and Dave Freeman, Dave said that I’ve certainly been their most frequent visitor during the first six months of their Year in the Wilderness. Let me count the days and ways that I’ve been thus privileged.
SEPTEMBER 23: I was at the September send-off and was part of the flotilla from River Point Resort & Outfitting Company. What a fine celebration that was! The Koschaks, whose beautiful resort is at ground zero for the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel mine, provided warm hospitality. That’s me, in yellow raincoat and green kayak, right behind Amy (photo, right).
SEPTEMBER 28: A few days later, on September 28, I drove down Glippi Road, paddled across Pickerel Lake, and portaged into the N. Kawishiwi River, hoping to find Dave and Amy -- and there they were, on their way to test the water in S. Farm Lake! I gave them a chocolate bar and some vegetables from our garden as we paddled together into a strong wind for a mile or so before I turned back.
OCTOBER 3: New Elyite Margaret W. and I portaged into Little Gabbro and fought strong winds all the way to Bald Eagle Lake. Whitecaps blocked our hopes to reach the Freemans at the south end of Bald Eagle. So we portaged to Turtle Lake instead, for lunch on a campsite, and later I delivered our edible gifts to the group that accomplished a resupply the next day.
MID OCTOBER: I noted on the DeLorme map that Amy and Dave were camped on Tin Can Mike Lake. I called around to find a canoe partner. Debbie H. was available, so we met and drove to the Chainsaw Sisters entry point. There we ran into Levi, the Freemans’ expedition manager, and some Patagonia employees, going out to resupply and camp with the Freemans. Dave and Amy met us on Mudro, and we all had a fine visit and lunch together on a Sandpit Lake campsite. During our paddle out, Debbie said, “Thanks for inviting me. This was the most fun day of my fall!”
NOVEMBER 7: My friend Tim L. came up from the Twin Cities and we joined a resupply paddle from Moose Lake entry point to the Splash Lake portage. The day was an early taste of winter, a beautiful sprinkling of snow on every branch. After the fun visit, my hands, in wet gloves, got so cold that Tim and I pulled into the winter portage for a walk across to Splash and back in order to revive my fingers for the return paddle.
JANUARY 15: The first of my visits with Amy and Dave by skis. Chris C., Chuck Z. and I brought some goodies and a charged battery to their camp at the far end of Fall Lake’s Mile Island. As we arrived, the Freemans were returning from gathering firewood on the Four Mile Portage. As the dog team and loaded toboggan approached, David put on the brakes, to stop for a chat, but the dogs would not be deterred from their mission, and so the visiting waited until all arrived in camp.
END OF JANUARY: I saw the Freemans three times in one week! On Sunday, the day after we raced “The Pepsi Challenge” on Giants Ridge trails, I introduced friend Greg K. to Dave and Amy during our skate ski outing to Basswood Lake via the Four Mile Portage. On Tuesday, my friend Margaret finally got to meet Dave and Amy on Fall, on our way to explore Ella Hall Lake. Then, on Saturday, more ski friends came from Mora (Phoebe M., David K. and their one-year-old twins). Pulling the boys in a pulk, we skied from Moose Lake, crossed to Basswood via the winter portages through Found and Manomin, and found the Freemans camped at a small island across from the Spirit Tree (a popular 1,100-year-old white cedar). The twins, Miles and Daschle, who never complained all day, were fascinated by Acorn, Tina, and Tank, especially when they commenced to howling as several Outward Bound dog teams passed us heading west.
EARLY FEBRUARY: Greg K. loved our first lake crust ski so much that he came up from the Cities again a few weeks later. This time we found Dave and Amy at the far end of Snowbank Lake. From there we cruised around Disappointment Lake, where we watched a lone wolf for a long time along the far shoreline.
MARCH 25: I still can't believe how far six of us skied and hiked on March 25. Somehow, an ambitious trek out to Knife Lake’s Thunder Point became a 40-plus-mile loop, partly I suppose because we weren't excited about retracing some of the tough winter portages we'd taken to get to Knife, and partly because we thought it would be fun to drop in on Dave and Amy on Fraser Lake, but mostly because the spirit of Ely backwoods ski trekkers is always to push the boundaries of time and distance and the rumored end of winter.
Near Dorothy Molter's Isle of Pines, the less-bold of us clambered over a little island to avoid the risk of open water and thin ice on both sides, but this was a piece of cake compared to the bushwhacks necessary to avoid open streams at our exits from Kekekabic and Fraser; even so, none of these compared in difficulty to slogging through the miles of brush tangles, weak ice, swamp hummocks and mushy snow of the winter portage from Thomas to Disappointment. Our brief visit with Amy and Dave was a nice mid-afternoon break. A broken binding, broken ski, and broken ski boot slowed our progress (along with strong wind and slower skiing on softened lake crust). Other than the Freemans, we saw no one. It was a great relief to reach the Snowbank landing, dehydrated, wet, utterly spent, and pile into a warm van to be shuttled to our cars back at the Moose Lake public access.
APRIL 3: The "spring" resupply for Dave and Amy. A group of six, walking across the ice into a cold and snowy east wind, pulled the Freemans' canoe and carried several packs of food. I wanted to ski, so headed out on Moose Lake earlier. There was lots of slipping on ice but some sections had enough snow for decent skate skiing. Heavy flurries sometimes made for white-out conditions -- beautiful and exhilarating! Took until Horseshoe Island for my fingers to thaw. I walked the winter portage to Splash and skied on to Ensign, finally spotting dim figures in the distance about half-way down the lake. Turns out Dave and Amy were camped on Knife, near Thunder Point, so they'd already come a long way. Tank, their one remaining canine companion, was working hard pulling the toboggan loaded with winter gear no longer needed, often slipping on the ice as we skied back together towards Splash. After a while, Dave linked himself up front with Tank to share the pulling. We met the resupply party towards the end of the winter portage from Newfound (three young-adult VCC students, Becky Rom, Chris Chandler, and Lindsey Lang). After intros, lunch, and a good visit, I headed home, followed by the hikers, now pulling the toboggan. The Freemans plan to head to Basswood, where they hope to cross paths with Will Steger, who is making his way (pulling his loaded canoe) from Ontario through the Quetico on his way home to Winton. I am privileged to have had a part in the two "shoulder season" major resupplies.
I tell this story to illustrate the joys and challenges of the BWCAW: the great variety of lakes and routes, the beauties of the changing seasons, the exhilaration of traveling through unspoiled wilderness under one’s own power. Every day of this remarkable year, Dave and Amy’s blogs reinforce how special, how rare, how precious we find this vast natural preserve of undeveloped forest and clean water. I am very grateful that they are dedicating an entire year of their lives to helping all of us preserve the BWCA wilderness for generations to come.
Elton and Emily Brown retired to their Morse Township cabin seven years ago and have been active volunteers at Sustainable Ely and with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. During the years that Elton was the pastor of United Methodist churches in Minneapolis, they took their four kids on Boundary Waters canoe trips every summer. Elton is one of many Ely-area trekkers who love to ski into the Wilderness, especially in early spring when lakes are covered with a firm, fast crust.
The far side of Snowbank Lake was hidden, stitched behind snow and wind. Atop it’s trackless white surface lay an ankle deep layer of slush. We set our bearings on a long island whose south eastern side was visible, estimating its mid point to be the location of the wilderness boundary, where we planned to meet explorers Dave and Amy Freeman.
The night before I had fallen asleep to rain, and woken up to snow. Blown from the north, it was wet and heavy, weighing down branches, pulling trees to the ground. I loaded my banjo, guitar and other supplies onto my bike. The roads weren’t plowed yet. Ely was quiet, headlights like fireflies winking through the handfuls of fat tumbling flakes. As I rode out of town towards Snowbank Lake, the wind blew the snow back into my eyes like spears.
Since beginning their expedition in September 2015, different groups have been volunteering to bring Dave and Amy resupplies every couple weeks. This was the nature of my trip, but the contents of my resupply were slightly different. I planned to resupply Dave and Amy with songs, poetry and conversation, oh … and Bent Paddle did send me in with some insulated growlers of beer.
After a wet snowy ride along the Fernberg Road and Snowbank Lake road, I joined the rest of my group at the public boat landing: Levi Lexvold, expedition coordinator for A Year in the Wilderness; Bill DeVille, a DJ from The Current; and Nate Ryan, audio/video correspondent for The Current. Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current sent Bill and Nate in to document my performance and help tell Dave and Amy’s story of living in the Boundary Waters.
Since mechanized forms of transport are not allowed in the Boundary Waters, I left my bicycle in Levi’s truck, transferring my supplies to a pulk sled and walking into the Wilderness. As much as I love riding a bicycle, I believe there are some places they don't need to go.
We began crossing the lake, trudging through the heavy slush. Looking in almost any direction revealed nothing but white. A true snow globe. I heard dogs barking, and in the distance made out silhouettes, both human and animal. Drawing closer, several yellow stakes in the ice became visible, marking the wilderness boundary. Amy was on skis and Dave drove a small sled pulled by a three dog team. Greeting one another I could see the landscape in their faces, the weather, the rocks, the pine boughs. I could smell six months of wood smoke in their smiles. We continued slowly across the lake to their camp.
For dinner, we shared a pot of chili Levi made, the warm fire purring away in the wood stove at the center of the shelter. We laughed about how much better food tastes outside, after hard work and travel. As the sun began to fade, we stepped outside for some fresh air. The snow had subsided and as twilight soaked up the last daylight two black squiggly lines hopped and slid across the snow covered lake: otters.
We gathered back around the stove in the center of Dave and Amy’s shelter. I sang songs and read some poems. In between, we talked about what makes the Boundary Waters so unique, and the importance of imagination when thinking about the future. If we cannot imagine new ways to live and work, then how can we develop them?
There is a connection between the restorative value of art and the restorative value of wilderness spaces like the Boundary Waters. They feed our souls. Inspire reflection. The Boundary Waters offers a chance to experience life at the pace of trees, water and animals, which promotes a stronger understanding for why it is so important to maintain these places on the planet. Where it will always be possible to hear the wind, drink water straight from the lakes, and hear the music made only by these natural ecosystems.
Bill DeVille had never been in the Boundary Waters before, and this was his first time sleeping outside in winter. His first time behind a team of dogs. His eyes were wide. It never ceases to amaze me how the wilderness transforms people. Even newcomers. It reminded me, it is not just necessary to tell people about the importance of a place like the Boundary Waters, but also to show them. To let them to stand on the ground and witness the power and beauty it possesses.
Dave joined us as we headed back across Snowbank Lake as we departed. There were two eagles perched in an island pine and a third one circling in the air above. We said goodbye at the wilderness boundary. Bill, Nate and I continued toward the boat landing. I stopped to look back at the open expanse behind me. Dave’s silhouette grew smaller and smaller until it completely dissolved back into the landscape. The moment he disappeared felt metaphorical. It reminded me of the eagles, the otters, and all the trees bearing the weight of the new snow. Quiet, yet extremely powerful. Part of the landscape. Without any words, Dave and Amy’s action to live in this vital and pristine place gives voice to its rare beauty and power. I know we can save it.
Listen to Ben's song, "Ramblin' Bones," from I Would Rather Be a Buffalo below.
Ben Weaver's resupply story will air on The Current during Bill DeVille's United States of Americana on Sunday, April 3 (8-9 a.m.). Ben and musician Mike Munson will perform a benefit concert for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters on Thursday, April 14, at the Byrant Lake Bowl & Theater (Facebook Event).
Ben Weaver is a songwriter and poet. The bicycle is Ben’s vehicle of choice for touring his music. His most recent bicycle-powered tours include tracing 1,500 miles of the Mississippi River from Saint Paul to New Orleans and circumnavigating Lake Superior working to raise awareness about fresh water. I Would Rather Be A Buffalo is Ben’s most recent record (listen to a selection of songs or buy). Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
When I was seven years old, I went on my first family canoe trip to the Boundary Waters. As I grew up, we started to go every year, eventually taking many trips to Canada’s Quetico Provincial Park. Those annual trips often included some combination of aunts, uncles, cousins or friends in addition to my parents and brother (and sometimes the family dog). The trips were even better when my paternal grandfather would join us. A dedicated outdoorsman, talented photographer and wildflower enthusiast, my “Grampy” was the ultimate camper. Grampy started camping in the Boundary Waters in the late 1960s. By the time I was in college, he was in his 80s and he didn’t carry much on a portage, but that didn't take away his enthusiasm. He’d still fish and would often sit in the middle of the canoe sharing stories from his years of camping experience. A few weeks ago, while in the middle of moving, I came across a paper I wrote for a college class in 1999. I can’t remember the exact class (or if this was even the final version of the paper), but it looks like it was for a creative writing assignment. The paper is entitled “Portage to a new beginning.” It recounts our last canoe trip with Grampy. I couldn’t have anticipated then that this paper would have so much meaning to me now, as my Grampy has since passed away, there are now threats to the Boundary Waters and Quetico from proposed sulfide-ore mining and I’m working everyday to protect one of his favorite places in the world.
Portage to a New Beginning
May 3, 1999
Ely, Minnesota: gateway to the Canadian wilderness and a 40-year-old family tradition. Summers ago, my grandfather dipped his paddle into the cool water of Agnes Lake and sometime during my father’s younger days he caught a muskie and the urge to visit again. The very spirit of my family can be found on the mysterious islands they visited back then as well as in the cool breezes, and in the deep waters we encounter on our canoe trips up there in the Quetico every year.
Last August my aunt, uncle and cousins joined us for one of these adventures. We took my 80-year-old grandfather up to the northeast end of Kawnipi to fish, relax, and to catch a bit of his youth again. Years ago, when my grandpa’s bones were stronger, he took the Death March Portages with my father and his college friends. They trudged all over the forgotten trails and braved the long, hard portages to reach a virtually untouched area of the park. Now, it takes all his energy to carry a backpack with his camera and he needs a walking stick on even the flattest portages.
This particular trip was special, as it was the first trip that included all the campers in my family and it may be the last trip my grandfather will ever take. This year, as we settled down for lunch on the first day, I realized just how important family trips are to my grandfather. As our footsteps became heavy under our packs and the heat of a midday sun on Meadows portage, we began to drag our feet and almost gave in to the pain. Tired and slowly losing steam, we slipped our canoes into the water and dug into our strokes until we fell upon a tiny secluded island, on the north end of Agnes. The loons sung to us as we slid up on the rocky beach and gathered under a large pine to avoid the sweltering heat. After lunch; hat bent over his bristling jaw, my dad lay on a rock while my mother kicked her feet into the deep blue and let the current play games with her toes. My brother, cousins and I laughed and fought as we stashed candy bars, lemon drops and fruit snacks in our packs for a late afternoon treat. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied my grandfather. He was sitting on a makeshift chair and his eyes sparkled with joy and love as he watched the family he helped create. The moment was too small and abstract for a picture, but seemed to find a place in my heart. I was reminded of what he has given me and realized that someday my dad might be sitting here. He could be the one watching over his grandchildren and I hope that he will have the same look in his eyes and that my children will love him as much as I love my grandfather. These trips I know now are proof of the strength and love in our family.
I know many people like me have family history with the Boundary Waters. We love to hear those stories. Please consider sharing your story with us. And please take a minute today to thank Governor Dayton for his recent support of efforts to protect the Wilderness for families and future generations everywhere.
Ellie Bayrd is the Communications Director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
Recent polling results show that Minnesota voters want to protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore mining. This news comes alongside this week’s important news about Twin Metals Minnesota’s proposed sulfide-ore mining operation in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.
On Monday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton released a letter to Twin Metals’ COO calling the Boundary Waters Wilderness “a crown jewel in Minnesota” and stating his “strong opposition to mining in the proximity of the BWCAW.” The next day, the federal government confirmed its authority to either deny or approve Twin Metals Minnesota's request to renew its outdated and expired federal mineral leases. This decision opens the door for a thorough and necessary environmental review of the leases, which has never been performed before.
The statewide poll, conducted by the research firm Anzalone Lizst and Grove, shows that 67% of Minnesota voters oppose sulfide-ore mining near the Boundary Waters Wilderness, including 61% of voters in Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District where proposed sulfide-ore mines would be located.
This broad statewide opposition coalition includes eight-in-ten DFL voters, more than 60% of Independents, and a 30-point majority in opposition among Republicans.
In addition to the large number of people opposed to sulfide-ore mining in areas near the Boundary Waters Wilderness, an additional 65% of Minnesotan voters believe the Boundary Waters watershed should be afforded permanent protection, including 59% of voters in the Eighth Congressional District.
Twin Metals, owned by South American mining giant Antofagasta, has proposed to mine sulfide-ore on lands next to the Boundary Waters Wilderness and along rivers and lakes that flow directly into the Wilderness. This kind of metal mining is known as “America’s most toxic industry.” Preliminary drilling has already occurred within one-quarter mile of the Wilderness boundary.
We are pleased to announce that Sportsmen for the Boundary Water's film, Fish Out of Water, won the Spirit of Film Award at the Frozen Film Festival on February 7. The Spirit of Film award embodies the spirit of independent filmmaking while advocating for a cause.
The Frozen Film Festival was a 2016 addition to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival and the winter version of the St. Paul Film Festival. It showcased over 30 independent films from around the world; from documentary shorts, to feature length films.
Accepting the award were Mark Norquist, owner of Green Head Productions and executive producer of the Fish Out of Water, and Phil Aarrestad, story developer and second camera operator for the film. “We are proud that the film was recognized by the Frozen Film Festival. We hope the film will help raise awareness of the risky sulfide-ore copper mines proposed near the edge of this beautiful wilderness,” Norquist said during the acceptance speech.
The three-part film series brings you into the Boundary Waters with three Minnesota chefs; Lachelle Cunningham of Breaking Bread Café, Amanda Cowette of Wise Acre Eatery, and experienced sportsman Lukas Leaf, executive chef at Al Vento, for an expedition into the wilderness to fish, cook and showcase the beauty of this fishing and hunting destination threatened by Twin Metals and other companies’ proposed sulfide-ore copper mines.
The film, which was shown in the documentary shorts category, was attended by the several members of the crew, along with the film's stars, Amanda Cowette and Lukas Leaf.
Watch all three episodes of Fish Out of Water today and relive the excitement as Sportsmen's three chefs venture into the wilderness to fish and cook.
One of the benefits of working for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters is a lot more access to the Boundary Waters we’re all working so hard to protect. Last weekend, I was up in Ely on a work trip (poor me, I know) and I took the opportunity to bring my family up for an extended weekend. Dave and Amy Freeman were on Fall Lake, relatively close to the border of the Wilderness, in order to get a resupply for A Year in the Wilderness from another volunteer. So we were excited to head out and see them for the first time in 115 days!
It was the coldest day of the year (at -24F) when we woke up, but thankfully it had warmed to a balmy -20 by the time we got to the Fall Lake entry point. Once we were all bundled up (a big shout-out to our Ely and Duluth business supporters for their mittens, hats, and mukluks we’ve purchased over the years to keep us warm), we headed out. Elsie (age 8) walked most of the mile out there (with some assistance from her mommy) and I pulled Donnie (6) and Eddie (2) in our stroller with ski attachments.
The moment we stepped on the ice, we felt the familiar thrill and pull our hearts feel every time we step foot/dip our paddle in the Boundary Waters. There really is nothing like it. The quiet, the undisturbed forest, the only sign of humans were actually dog sled tracks.
As a family, we’ve been following Dave and Amy through their Wilderness Classroom website, blogs, and their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts. The kiddos love the pictures of the steam rising off a lake, wolves, holiday lights on their tent, pictures of them dancing on the ice, videos of the dog sleds in action and more. For Elsie in particular, heading out meant meeting up with her first celebrities! She even had a question prepared she really wanted to ask when we met up (we’ll cover that later).
About half way out, Dave and Amy came skijoring out with Tina, Tank and Acorn to meet us!! We greeted one another, met the dogs and then continued on our way. The dogs’ excitement and untapped energy could be felt, and it was exciting to watch them pull Dave and Amy back to camp.
Upon reaching their campsite, we got the grand tour of their temporary home for the next few days. The dog's sleep on their pads and outside the tent (in case you were wondering, they’re used to the cold and overheat in the tent), the dog sled and toboggans for hauling their stuff are stashed in one spot, and their tent is set up out of the wind in another area. Our boys were especially excited to get out of the stroller/ski/sled, so the kiddos all ran off, dug through the snow to find the ice, jumped and played and got to do what kids do best in the Wilderness -- explore.
Of course, being as cold as it was, we headed into the tent after a bit. Dave and Amy cooked up some hotdogs and we warmed up and chatted about their trip.
Elsie whispered to mommy “they’re making us food?” in a silent awe. After a bit, Elsie wanted to ask her question, but she was a bit too star-struck to say it, so we asked on her behalf (she really wanted to know this): “How do you go to the bathroom without freezing your butt?!” A very practical thing an 8-year-old would be concerned about! I don’t know if I should divulge the personal habits of Dave and Amy, but suffice it to say, Elsie learned a thing or two about the everyday needs of people living in the Wilderness year round and she was satisfied with the answers.
We did have to eventually get going, so we said our goodbyes, gave hugs and shared well wishes for the rest of winter and into spring.
The trip out for my family really touched on something we talk a lot about on the Campaign: Accessibility. It’s one thing to have a remote, untouched area full of wildlife, pristine water and a healthy forest. But it’s another to have one so readily accessible to people of all walks of life. In the Midwest especially where wilderness areas are relatively few and far between, to have 1.1 million acres within a day’s drive of major metropolitan regions is one of the reasons this is America’s most visited wilderness.
Take that into account with the fact that literally anyone can make the trip. When sharing our story on the Hill in D.C. or talking with concerned citizens at the Minnesota State Fair, I like to say “You don’t have to be able to climb 12,000-foot peaks, or carry 5 gallons of water into a dessert, or be able to afford a chartered plane to northern Alaska to experience the wilderness. All you need is a canoe for a day trip. Add to that a tent, sleeping bag and some cooking gear and you’re set for a week.”
And by “anyone” I also mean the young and the old (how many of us were introduced to the Boundary Waters by our grandparents and dream of carrying that forward to future generations?!). The physically disabled and the top physically fit people on Earth can each have their experience. Disadvantaged youth from Minneapolis or Chicago go through camps to learn life skills and come out better people, Veterans recovering from PTSD can find peace and solace and a place to heal, students from Madison and families from St. Louis … and so many more examples.
More and more as our lives get inundated by technology, busy schedules and the ongoing burden of every day life, we need special places where we can relax, feel ourselves restore, be one with nature and hear literally nothing but wind in the trees. This is one of the reasons why I am fighting to save the Boundary Waters, and it was reinforced by how easy it was for my kids, including Eddie the two–year-old, to make a day trip on the coldest day of the year.
There are, however, casualties of every trip:
"Daddy, why don’t we have a winter tent?"
"Daddy, why don’t we have sled dogs?"
"Daddy, when are we going to be in Ely again?"
At least the last question was easy to answer: "Soon, kiddos. Very soon."
Alex Falconer is state director for the Campaign to Save the Boundary Water. Alex has been in the outdoors, northwoods, northshore, Boundary Waters and beyond since before he could walk.
Jason Zabokrtsky (of Ely Outfitting Company and Boundary Waters Guide Service) and I were fortunate to be able to spend this New Year's Eve with Dave and Amy Freeman in the Boundary Waters. The trip was even more memorable because it marked Dave and Amy's 100th day of A Year in the Wilderness! To celebrate, we brought a delicious dinner (rotisserie chicken, fresh asparagus, baked potatoes, salad and ice cream), hats and noisemakers, and games.
We walked to their campsite on foot, pulling our supplies behind us on sleds. The conditions were ideal for travel. It was about 20 degrees out with a light dusting of snow, and we had a good view of the majestic snow-covered trees surrounding the interconnected lakes. Along the way, we saw several animal tracks. My favorite was the otter, which you can spot by its unique "hop-hop-slide" movement.
Our evening was filled with delicious food, laughter and good conversation. Highlights included soccer on the lake, making Swedish glogg, and lighting beautiful ice candles in a circle around the tent. Our evening was spent enjoying each other's company, laughing and playing games, and there was something very satisfying in that. I felt renewed and gained a sense of clarity that I could carry into my daily life. Spending New Year's with Dave, Amy and Jason reminded me of how special the Boundary Waters is and the importance of protecting such a valuable resource.
Sarah Whiting grew up in northeastern Minnesota, enjoying camping and the outdoors from an early age. She is currently an attorney in Minneapolis and makes frequent trips to the Boundary Waters.
I can still picture the living room floor in my childhood home covered with bags, each containing a specific meal for the trip ahead. These handmade cloth pouches were telltale sign of an impending adventure -- BWCA time! Childhood trips with my family fueled the passion in me that eventually led the way to summers of guiding canoe trips as a college and medical student. What better way in the world is there to spend a summer than in the woods? The endless lakes of varying character and personality, crystal clean water from which to drink, coffee enjoyed while sitting on the rocks, campfires, fresh fish, blueberries, crispy swims, rainy days, starry nights, northern lights. Those summers became engraved in my DNA.
As I met the man I eventually married, he of course needed to pass “the BWCA test.” Despite the perils of a mosquito-infested first trip, he passed the test and grew to love the wilderness as well. He paddled in to our wedding site, where I waited on the banks of a northern lake, wearing a white dress with flowers in hand. We honeymooned on nearby BWCA lakes.
Our first child took her first trip when she was six months old, and her two younger brothers followed suit. Ample chocolate filled the food pack for many years, to ensure the trip would be fun and treat filled for all. The strategy worked. Family BWCA adventures have become a staple in summer.
My daughter and I now have annual mother-daughter trips with a group of mother-daughter friends. Girls who were in kindergarten and barely able to hike over portages without tears can now out-paddle and out-portage their mothers. The BWCA: Pristine. Ageless. Timeless. Soul-filling. Strength and character-building. Treasure.
Perhaps I was naïve to assume that the Boundary Waters would always be the sanctuary that it’s been. Given that the BWCA is the most visited wilderness area in the country, I assumed uncompromised protection. It’s not so simple. If one looks at a mining prospecting map of northern Minnesota, it is a polka-dotted blueprint of that which imposes on the boundary of this pristine wilderness. The Duluth Complex: a vast swath of mineral-containing rock, worth billions to the mining industry, embedded under the surface of our northern Minnesota soil and water. The region is no stranger to mining.
But one needs not dig too deeply to realize that sulfide-ore mining is a much different type of mining than anything done within our borders up until now. Once sulfide-containing rock is extracted and exposed to air and water, it becomes a potential source of acid mine drainage for centuries. I have been unable to find evidence of a sulfide mine in existence that has not had significant deleterious affects to the surrounding waters and ecosystem. Couple this reality with the water-rich geography of northern Minnesota and it’s hard not to be concerned. Current proposals underway would put our last mother-daughter trip campsite on the Kawishawi River at ground-zero for acid mine drainage. The thought is quite sobering.
As a physician, the concerns run even deeper. The World Health Organization lists the Top Ten Environmental Toxins of Greatest Risk to Human Health. Of these 10, at least five of these are known toxins released from sulfide mining: mercury (as well as the sulfides released that methylate mercury already in the environment to its more toxic form- methylmercury), arsenic, lead, manganese and air pollution.
More and more medical literature is connecting the dots between environmental toxins and the eventual effects on human health. Take the Lancet article from February 2014 as one of many examples: “Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence …. we identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, arsenic ….”
We can no longer separate toxic assaults to our environment from eventual potential effect to human health. Suffice it to say, a much longer blog post would be needed to address each of the specific toxins, the known deleterious effects to human health, and the risks to each vulnerable population: unborn fetuses, children, on site-workers, nearby residents, and frequent utilizers of the Boundary Waters. We do know, however, that effects will be insidious and that the generations to come will be the ones paying the price.
It is not possible to mine to the border of one Boundary Waters lake, and continue to drink straight out of the water and eat the fish out of the next for decades to come without effect. Our treasured wilderness, and the environmental and human health that go hand-in-hand, is at risk. There are some things too precious to compromise. As my own kids have caught fish, swam, paddled, and portaged alongside their grandparents, my hope includes doing the same with my grandchildren in decades to come. Perhaps best summarized in the wise words of Sigurd Olson: “Not only has wilderness been a force in molding our character as a people, but its influence continues, and will, if we are wise enough to preserve it on this continent, be a stabilizing power as well as a spiritual reserve for the future.“
Now is the time to raise our voices, to assure that this beloved wilderness can continue to be a stabilizing power and spiritual reserve for all, long into the future.
Dr. Jennifer Pearson is a family medicine physician from Duluth.
On a cold, snowy Saturday morning in November, our group of paddlers set off from the Moose Lake BWCAW entry point on a mission to resupply Dave and Amy Freeman. Distributed in our canoes were various portage packs brimming with food, gear, clothing and other essentials—Including two pair of snow shoes, intended to see Dave and Amy through the critical ice-in period expected some time in the near future. A period when they will be cut off from resupply for an extended period of time when the danger of thin ice will prevent travel by either watercraft, ski, sled or snowshoe. Our course was set for a rendezvous at the Splash Lake portage.
At the time of this writing, Dave and Amy Freeman have been out living and working in the Boundary Waters Wilderness for more than seven weeks. Their work will keep them there for a full year. They are educating school children, taking water quality samples, contributing to science, photographing and filming and acting as the standard bearers for tens of thousands of people with whom they are in solidarity. The goal of this solidarity is simple: to keep the place undisturbed. We on this resupply trip felt proud and privileged to be participating in this effort.
We found Dave and Amy waiting at the portage, backdropped by snow-covered evergreens and a gurgling stream teaming with spawning whitefish. Eagles were circling overhead. I'm happy to report they both look healthy and happy, upbeat and at ease in the woods. We spent part of the morning with them visiting and repacking, organizing and loading their fresh supplies. On the portage trail there was an abundance of fresh wolf scat. Amy told us how they had heard and seen wolves the last few days. They've heard splashing as the wolves take advantage of the white fish in the shallows. Amy described the beauty of being camped near a pack that has been howling just a short distance from their tent. Dave told us how they too have been enjoying eating the fresh fish that are schooling. They recently met up with friends in the area out netting the fish.
In the early afternoon we hugged one another goodbye. Darkness comes early this time of year. Amy and Dave climbed aboard their heavily ladened canoe and paddled north toward Knife Lake and our group headed south toward the take out and our respective homes. A slate grey sky and light winds reminded us of the coming winter. Though we were parting ways, our goal is the same.
Brad Carlson is a native of Virgina, MN, and lives with his wife in a small cabin on the Kawishiwi Trail, eight miles outside of Ely. They split their time between Ely and Austin, TX. Carlson is a retired deaf blind specialist in the field of vocational rehabilitation. Carlson spent his childhood growing up in proximity to the Wilderness and Superior National Forest. He and his wife love paddling the waters of the Wilderness and exploring the back country. They feel strongly that this place should be left undisturbed—forever.