On Saturday morning at 5:58 a.m., Boy Scout Troop 63 rolled out and headed north. We spent the weekend enjoying Lake Superior’s sites: Russ Kendall’s Smoke House -- a north shore tradition, two nights at Tettegouche State Park, and The Scandinavian Riviera that greeted us at every turn with breath-taking views and rock cliff faces. Rocks were skipped, cliffs were climbed and lines were dropped. My soul was at peace. We had a campfire, which burned late into the starry evening as old friends reminisced.
We broke camp Monday, loaded the trailer and headed to Ely by 6:30 a.m., hoping to beat a large storm that was blowing in. As we crossed over the Kawishiwi River, I did a fist pump in the air. I had finally arrived back to the Boundary Waters! I waved, and gave a nod as we drove past Dorthy Molter’s cabin, which stands as a guardian and greeter for all who enter the city on their way to the Boundary Waters. Around the corner from Dorothy’s relocated cabin is the International Wolf Center. The Troop spent the morning learning about and observing wolves -- a howling good time was had by all. We then left for Canadian Border Outfitters (CBO), off Fernberg Road on beautiful Moose Lake. We checked in, had our picnic lunch and did orientation before deciding what gear to pack in and what to leave behind.
Throughout our trip in the Boundary Waters, our outfitters at CBO put quotes from Sigurd F. Olson in our breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks to inspire us and make us think, which I've included throughout this story.
So we start the tale with this quote:
“Life is good to those who know how to live. I do not ever hope to accumulate great funds of worldly wealth, but I shall accumulate something far more valuable, a store of wonderful memories. When I reach the twilight of life I shall look back and say I'm glad I lived as I did, life has been good to me.” -- Sigurd Olson
Tuesday morning the Troop divided into two groups, which is where our story really starts. Two different rites of passage, two different sets of impressions and stories. I will tell the story of Group A, otherwise known as, "Poseidon’s Resistance." Assistant Scoutmasters John and Shawntell will tell the story of Group B, or the "Savage Squad."
Below are exerpts from the two group's trips.
Tuesday, Day 1
It would be the last time we would see the other group for three to four days. We devoured our breakfast and nervously awaited the arrival of the van to come and pick us up. Our group departed from CBO to Entry Point 27 on Snowbank Lake. It was already windy. After several attempts at loading the canoe and a close call almost tipping it only 100 feet from the dock, we boogied across Snowbank Lake and onto our first portage. It was our longest hike between lakes -- a little over a half a mile. Brad pushed us to carry everything in one trip. Against my better judgment, I agreed. The once light canoe was digging into our shoulders and the weight from the pack on our backs were making our feet scream and lungs burn, but the view of a blue sky and Disappointment Lake on the other side made our efforts worthwhile. This set precedent that we could portage everything in one trip, greatly speeding up our traveling time.
We portaged into Ima Lake and took the first campsite we came across, which was safely tucked away in a bay. We ate like kings that night with a steak dinner, and had a perfect view of the setting sun on Ima Lake. I heard the faint cry of wolves that night. That evening as the stars came out, through the wind I could hear the sniffing of a large animal 40 yards off in the thick brush. I sat straight up in my hammock. I slowly grabbed my bear horn to sound, but I had to wait until I could verify what it was before I attempted to scare it. Luckily, it slipped off into the night after a couple deep loud sniffs. I drifted off into a sleep under the windy night sky. Deb confirmed in the morning that she had heard the sniffing as well.
“The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness, and of a freedom almost forgotten.” -- Sigurd Olson
Wednesday, Day 2
At 3 a.m. the wind woke me by just about blowing me out of my hammock. The winds were not letting up, in fact they even got worse. On the plus side, it kept the mosquitos down. We ate bacon, eggs and cheese tortillas for breakfast before we paddled into the wind. We jumped across a couple more portages until we reached Cattyman / Gibson Falls. It lived up to my memory from my childhood. It was beautiful, loud and serene. We portaged from Gibson Lake into Ashigan Lake. The winds of hell were howling louder than ever, and whitecaps ripped across the lake. We all just stood in amazement. We decided to paddle into the whitecaps to the other campsite on the lake. We reached the campsite around the island and next to the portage leading to Ensign Lake. I recommended that we just stay. Ensign Lake was only going to be worse. We watched a few groups struggle that afternoon on Ashigan Lake. We watched canoes get blown into shore and crash into islands. It was wicked. I was thankful to be in the shelter of the pine trees protected from the wind. Our campsite was a four-star palace on the rocks. The boys swam in the windy lake, and Justin found a rock bath tub. We enjoyed the windy afternoon on our layover day, and some of us even took naps. Rain fell on us late afternoon -- a warning sign of things to come.
“Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life, a means of regaining serenity and equilibrium.” -- Sigurd Olson
Tuesday, Day 1
On a sunny July 11 morning, Group B, with four canoes and nine members, embarked on our Boundary Waters adventure. Launching into Snowbank Lake, we turned north and met a strong headwind. We were tucked behind an island and then entered a cove. We warmed up with our first portage of 90 rods into Parent Lake. On Parent Lake, we again faced open water, a strong headwind and whitecaps. Halfway across Parent Lake the third canoe manned by Johnny Mac and Cole decided to check the water temperature and buoyancy of the life jackets and capsized. Packs, paddles and both paddlers all went into deep water. The bull horn brought to scare bears was quickly sounded by the second canoe. The three remaining canoes rendezvoused to get the equipment and paddlers back to shore. Packs, paddlers and equipment were rescued and taken to the nearby campsite on the northeast edge of the lake. The only casualty was a cell phone that took on water. Group consensus was the campsite was beautiful with its 15-foot shallow beach, plenty of trees for hammocks and good tent pads. An overall good place to put in for the night. The Scouts quickly strung a line to dry out gear and then spent the afternoon exploring the water’s edge finding toads and crayfish. The wind dried out our gear and kept the mosquitoes at bay, but also continued throughout the night affording little opportunity for rest.
“Simplicity in all things is the secret of the wilderness and one of its most valuable lessons. It is what we leave behind that is important. I think the matter of simplicity goes further than just food, equipment, and unnecessary gadgets; it goes into the matter of thoughts and objectives as well. When in the wilds, we must not carry our problems with us or the joy is lost.” -- Sigurd Olson
Friday, Day 4
The morning's beautiful sunrise made us realize that the best was yet to come. We broke camp and began a beautiful paddle for our final day. As I looked across the water at the four boats of our group and the people in them, I couldn't help but realize that we were not the same people that started the journey. We had been lost, frustrated, wet, tired, capsized, blistered, leeched and challenged. But something truly awesome had been given to us that we could only discover in this way. We are meant for more. We are stronger, and more durable than we believe. In each of us there is greatness just waiting to be challenged and discovered. Thank you Boundary Waters for helping us reach the awesomeness that is in each of us. We saw three bald eagles soaring the final stretch while paddling back to the dock at CBO. I watched them soar effortlessly, and as I did I felt for a moment that I was soaring with them. The muscles seemed not to ache for a moment, and the beauty that is this place was felt by everyone. We made it, and there will be stories and memories in each of us that will last a lifetime.
“There is magic in the feel of a paddle and the movement of a canoe, a magic compounded of distance, adventure, solitude, and peace. The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten. It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfactions. When a man is part of his canoe, he is part of all that canoes have ever known.” -- Sigurd Olson
Both groups had made it in safe! Stories were told over a final group steak dinner and into the setting sun. Late into the night our stories brought joy and laughter. Life was simple and good for one week. Thousands of emails and texts went unread. Phone calls were missed, and the world kept turning.
Note from the author: Our trip into the Boudary Waters would not have been possible without the support from parents -- thank you from the bottom of my heart on behalf of Troop 63.
Josh Redhead is the Scoutmaster for Troop 63 and works full time as an estimator / project manager for Elder Corporation in central Iowa. In addition to his son, Connor Redhead, who is currently in Troop 63, Josh has two daughters, Emory and Kaylie, who he hopes to take on Boundary Waters trips someday. He is in the third generation of his family to make trips into the Boundary Waters, while his son Connor makes the fouth. Josh made his first trip in the mid 80s and has been coming back ever since. Josh supports the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters because he says there truly is no other place like this on Earth.
I find it amazing that I woke up at 5:00 a.m. with no alarm clock--it just happened. The Wilderness started to come alive; bright bulbs in the sky faded away as the sun started its trek around Snowbank Lake for the 209th time this year. My accomplice on this trip, fellow Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters Intern Levi, was still sleeping as the second day of our five-day trip began. As I sat on the shoreline eating a Clif Bar, I watched the lake start to burn; red-orange ripples calmly came and went across its surface. The flames were topped by a uniform blanket of fog rising from the water. The sun’s rays struggled their way through the tree line to the east. Quickly realizing I would rather be paddling than sitting on land, I gathered my tackle and gear. With a swift push of the canoe, I was off into the burning water.
With my jig bouncing along the the rocky bottom, the choir of loons on the lake crescendoed as I floated without a care in the world. Two members of the choir decided to give me a wake-up call by surfacing right in front of the canoe. They were at ease: stretching their wings, shaking their heads and taking turns dunking themselves in the flames. Without fear of me, the loons slowly moved on making only the slightest ripples in the burning water. Just as quickly as they arrived, they left.
In the time that the loons had come and gone, I realized how relaxing it was to not be in the concrete jungle we call civilization. Without the sounds of the city constantly ringing in my ears, the serenity of the Wilderness allowed me to sit back and ponder what an amazing experience I have had while in the Boundary Waters. In that moment, it hit me that I was there. I was enveloped in what I was working so hard to save with the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. The sounds, the sights, the smells; they were all so real.
Mother Nature had let loose a couple of weeks prior to our arrival on Snowbank Lake. Wind gusts of 100 plus miles per hour had transformed the dense forest into channels of trees either snapped in half or uprooted completely. The shoreline was littered with fallen Jack Pines that still held their green needles—and my curiosity as to how many Smallmouth Bass were under each of them. The biggest issue I faced the rest of the day, and the trip for that matter, was deciding what lure to fish with.
“Should I use a Dare Devil, jointed Rapala or a Mepps spinner?” I asked Levi.
“Use whatever you … want!” Levi said with a jerking sound in his voice. “Yee-yee!”
I spun around to check out what was going on, and there he was with an exhilarating bend in his pole.
The line shot under the boat, and line screamed from his drag. Making sure that the line wasn’t going to break, Levi slowly muscled the fish to the surface.
As quick as we saw the flash of its belly, the smallmouth took its second run to the bottom. A tug of the line bought a look of serendipity and excitement to Levi’s face. The sun was high in the sky now, and the red-hot-coal-colored water of the morning had transitioned to flickers of bright yellow flames off the waves. Slowly bringing his prize back to the surface and into the net, we celebrated accordingly with picture taking and way too many handshakes.
Our afternoon transitioned into evening, and it was decided that the night bite would be best spent on Flash Lake. The flickers of bright yellow flames followed us along the 140-rod portage which seemed effortless as we were both too eager to get our lines back in the water. Our goal was simple: catch walleyes to cook over the fire for dinner.
My chartreuse jig hadn’t been in the flames of Flash Lake for more than a minute, and my dinner was nibbling on what they thought was theirs.
In the couple minutes that I spent reeling in my dinner, Levi and I spattered out nonsense terms that took the place of the name “walleye.” That jibberish sounded something like this:
“Wall-frys tonight for dinner baby!”
“Mr. Wall Senior!”
“Cricky, it’s a Wallapalooza!”
The fish we caught weren’t what made this evening bite so memorable for me, it was absorbing the moment. Baby loons trying to hoot just like mom and dad, a hen wood duck buzzing over our heads on her way back to the nest full of hatchlings and the occasional conversation about anything under the moon.
Our afternoon quickly turned into evening, and the flames changed color. Slivers of deep blue, purple and pink sliced the surface of the burning water. The woods were silent, and so were we. Halfway across Snowbank Lake, our paddles went still. I now knew why some 250,000 people visit and come back to the Boundary Waters; I felt like I was in a picture that you would see on someone’s laptop background.
The bright bulbs in the sky returned, and the burning water dwindled away.
Trip Tales is a recurring blog series featuring stories from supporters about their adventures in the Wilderness. Submit your own to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robyn and I celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary on a boat. Not an island-hopping yacht or luxury cruise liner, but an 18-and-a-half-foot canoe. A performance touring Minnesota II loaded with 60 pounds of gear, a fishing rod, and a bear-proof barrel with enough food for our 100-mile, seven-day adventure through the wilderness country known as Quetico Provincial Park in southern Ontario, Canada.
It was a good plan. We prepped, meal-planned, and made appropriate arrangements with Canadian officials and our outfitter pals at Piragis Northwoods Company in Ely, Minnesota.
What could possibly go wrong?
Back in early March, a tube of six maps arrived at the house. Spreading them out on the dining room table, we stitched together a route that would carry us over 30 lakes, four rivers, a handful of beaver marshes and 14 miles of portages from Beaverhouse Lake in Quetico’s northwest corner to Moose Lake on the U.S. border. Our outfitter, Drew Brocket (if you’re planning a trip up here, he’s your man) described the route as a giant 7. “You’ll cross some big water, that’ll open up into some of the best paddling in the area,” Drew said. “It’s a little more rugged than what you’re used to with Boundary Waters, but it’s really extraordinary country up there.”
Drew explained that Quetico sees a tenth of the traffic as its sister park in the U.S., so we could expect some gnarly portages, especially this early in the season. “But that’s part of the fun, right? Oh, and one more thing worth noting,” Drew added. “Quetico is under a Restricted Fire Ban right now, so you’ll need to make sure you bring a stove with you for cooking.” A restricted what? “Does your stove burn jet fuel? The pilots won’t let you carry any flammable liquids on the plane.” Drew explained that we’d need to bring in a couple empty fuel canisters that the pilot would fill from his plane once we landed on Beaverhouse.
Note to selves: buy new camp stove that burns jet fuel siphoned off a 1948 de Havilland Beaver plane by a friendly bush pilot. Check.
There is no “I” in canoe. The key to a successful voyage, and a marriage for that matter, is teamwork, communication, and a dash of blind trust thrown in for good measure. Up here, both paddlers can count on getting wet, slogging through knee-deep mud, scrambling over slippery boulders and dealing with tricky put-ins and take-outs. You’re likely to hear things like:
WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO GET A FISHING LURE OUT OF YOUR FINGER?!?!
HOW CAN BOTH THE COMPASS AND THE MAP BE WRONG?!?!?
HEY LOOK, A BEAR!
WHITE CAPS ARE PRETTY.
I DIDN’T KNOW A STORM FRONT COULD BLOW IN FROM THE NORTH, SOUTH, EAST AND WEST AT THE SAME TIME. COOL.
To panic is to fail. Ducks fly together.
Case in point: having missed the portage at the end of Kahshahpiwi Creek, Robyn and I had to slash our way a quarter mile along a creekbed fighting the trees and river rock the whole way. We dug in and worked together to maneuver the canoe up and over rocks and fallen trees, hopping from mossy boulder to mossy boulder taking care to retrace our steps as we double backed for the rest of the gear. What we thought would be a quick 15-minute carry-over turned into a 90-minute battle with nature. It’s all part of the deal when you’re traveling through the Northwoods.
We get it, Earth. You’re a bad ass.
While traveling can be a bit more rugged as Drew described, navigating Quetico is really quite simple. With good maps, guidebooks and a compass, you can move effortlessly between the wilderness lakes, rivers and beaver marshes. Battling white-capped lakes, setting up two-sided rain tarps, drying a tent in a downpour and removing a treble hook from your index finger, however, requires an altogether different set of skills and temperament.
The key to your happiness is an ability to quickly reset, and adjust your expectations, which it turns out, is a skillset neither Robyn nor I possess. At some point, you just have to laugh and embrace the elements and take every moment for what it is.
By Tuesday evening, we were both laughing. Hysterically.
For the fortunate ones who are blessed with good weather and angling chops, you can live like kings up here. In late-May-early-June, the waters are chock-full of lake trout and walleye just waiting to become a sunset dinner.
Not blessed with such skills* or weather, Robyn and I had to settle on dehydrated meals we enjoyed in our make-shift tarp-lined dining room with the pitter patter of rain for our evening soundtrack as we recalled the day’s adventures and reset our travel plans for the next big push in the morning. With the continued gusty winds, we traded in a direct route of big lakes for a series of smaller ones. It was a good strategy that paid off.
(*) To be fair, crappy weather, rain, wind and high daily mileage kept us from ever casting a line into the water. That said, I’m not much of an angler, though I can fillet a fish like nobody’s business.
Due to low visibility and unstable weather conditions at the beginning of the week, we had to flip our trip and paddle into the park on Saturday and make our way to the northwest corner of Quetico by 2 p.m. the following Friday to meet our float plane, which, weather-permitting, would safely bring us back to Ely, Minnesota. The other option was a 5-hour van ride back to the U.S. On Friday, June 5, we rounded the aspen-studded penninsula that guarded the Canadian Ranger Station, hoping against all hope to see a plane rather than a van awaiting us. Being an hour ahead of schedule, we saw neither.
After a quick lunch, we heard the chopsaw buzz of a 1948 de Havilland Beaver plane. It’s such a loud beast of a machine that it took almost a full minute until we finally spotted it low in the sky in its final approach onto the wide basin of Beaverhouse Lake.
After tying up to the dock, the pilot quickly loaded up our gear and strapped our 18-and-a-half-foot canoe to the plane (he had to ask Robyn to read the fine print on the boat to determine its length since he didn’t have his reading glasses with him — gulp).
And like that, we were ready for our first-ever water take-off.
Once we were settled (Robyn saddled up in the front seat), our pilot concluded his short safety briefing with one final instruction: should anything happen to him during the flight, we were directed to push a little red button on the dash, presumably so the Canadian authorities could retrieve our carcasses and gear. My stomach turned cartwheels as my imagination raced.
With that simple, terrifying declaration, he put on his radio headset — which he’d retro-fitted with a yellow kitchen sponge that was duct-taped to the headband for added comfort — and fired up the engine (singular, as in, oneengine). Within minutes, we were sailing across Beaverhouse towards the eastern shoreline.
Giving us a thumbs up, he pushed the throttle bar into the windshield. The cockpit filled with a deafening roar as the plane’s floats gently slipped out of the water and we gradually climbed up and up and up, over the wilderness lakes and trees. As far as we could see there wasn’t a house or road in sight. Nothing but the raw beauty of Quetico.
Cruising home, we weren’t thinking so much about Sir G’s large pizza and cold beer or the hot water, toilet seats, and comfortable pillowtop mattress that awaited us in Cabin #8 at our favorite Northwoods retreat, the Burntside Lodge, but rather the lucky few who were still cruising from lake to lake to lake below us. No matter how hard it can be at times, this trip gets under your skin like a splinter. It’s funny how quickly your thoughts can turn from utter relief to sentimental sappiness with just the right nudge in perspective.
Referring to Sigurd Olsen’s 1938 article “Why Wilderness?," David Backes writes:
Sigurd maintains that there is a “fierce satisfaction that only comes with hardship.” Fighting the waves, slogging through a mucky portage with a heavy pack and canoe, setting up camp after a bone-wearying day, and then sleeping on the ground may not always be fun, but nevertheless are for many people a stress-releasing break from a comfortable yet vaguely unsatisfying urban life. The exercise in itself helps release stress, but in addition is the sense of perspective that comes from spending days or weeks at a time in which the major decisions have to do with such basic physical necessities as food and shelter. Echoing Bob Marshall and Bertrand Russell, Sigurd also argues that sharing the physical difficulties and the simple pleasures of a wilderness trip with others can bring about a camaraderie that otherwise is most often found in the midst of war.
A hyperbolic leap, perhaps, but Backes and Olsen were certainly on to something, here. The wilderness can be an unpredictable, unforgiving place that requires you to surrender in new and unexpected ways.
In the end, you come to discover that the struggle is the joy of cruising.
Did you see the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Sunday cover story on our National Campaign Chair Becky Rom's lifelong quest to protect the Boundary Waters.
"Now, more than 55 years later, she’s winning where it counts — in Washington, D.C. Rom, 67, is the brains and, many say, the heart behind the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, a swift and surprisingly effective national campaign that would seal off the BWCA by simply imposing a permanent ban on mining in its watershed. Thanks largely to that effort, the federal government is on the verge of issuing a decision that could put a halt to a $2.8 billion copper mine that has been proposed on the edge of the wilderness area.
The decision could mark a turning point for Minnesota — a shift in the balance between the state’s long heritage of mining and the vision to protect one of the few purely wild places left in the country...There is more at stake than [Rom's] love for the million-acre wilderness that shaped her own life. She longs to create a community that thrives on preserving the natural wonder around it, rather than exploiting it." -- Star Tribune
As Becky is quoted in the Star Tribune: "Every generation has a responsibility. It’s not something I could walk away from."
Today is Give to the Max Day, Minnesota's biggest day of giving. Last year, hundreds of you showed support for the protection of the Boundary Waters on Give to the Max Day and we're so grateful. Please give again today and support our efforts to protect this beloved Wilderness for future generations. Give to the Max Day offers an exciting opportunity for those far and wide to give to support the Campaign. Here are stories from longtime supporters to help inspire you.
Vice President, 1977-1981
We’ve been fighting to protect the Boundary Waters for nearly a century. Today’s threat dwarfs them all. Sulfide-ore mining has never — never — been undertaken without serious environmental consequences. Sulfide-ore mining is dangerous everywhere and most dangerous in wet environments. And the Boundary Waters is nothing if not wet.
The consequences of such mining are perpetual. They will surely outlive all of us and will just as surely outlive the mining company’s pledges, promises and sureties. We must do what Minnesotans before us have done: defend the wilderness. I hope you’ll join me in this fight by making a donation to help ensure that the Boundary Waters Wilderness remains the place it is today.
Mining could cost us the soul of this splendid place that we have thought well-protected. Let’s not let that happen.
My name is Joseph Goldstein and I'm 15 years old. Two years ago I was diagnosed with what’s officially known as “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” That is doctor-talk for, “Wow, bad luck, mate. This is gonna stink.” I’d tell you about the experience, but most people aren’t terribly interested in the particulars of hair loss and vomit. The important detail is that I’m still here, and I’ve made it my mission to help save the Boundary Waters!
There’s an obvious metaphor here: the toxic runoff from sulfide-ore copper mining on the borders of the Boundary Waters is a cancer that will kill our Wilderness. Unlike my hair, once the Boundary Waters is gone, it will be gone for good. There will be NO recovery from the poison that will leach from the mines planned along the borders of our perfect waters.
We cannot allow this to happen. Not Here. Not Ever. And that’s why we need you to give what you can to protect this special place.
National Campaign Chair
The Boundary Waters is my home. No matter where I have lived and traveled, I have always returned here. I grew up in Ely and took my first canoe trip at the age of two. I explored the Boundary Waters by canoe and by foot as much and as often as I could as a child.
If we allow sulfide-ore copper mines to be built on the edge of this canoe country, it will never recover. The cleanest water in the world would be polluted. Woods and wetlands would be destroyed. Wildlife and fish would suffer. My home would no longer be a place for families to enjoy.
Because of everything you’ve helped us accomplish, we’re hopeful that the US Department of the Interior Forest Service will deny the leases Twin Metals’ leases needs to mine on the edge of the Wilderness. We will continue to advocate for the removal of the lands in the watershed of the Boundary Waters from the federal mining program. The edge of the Boundary Waters is simply the wrong place for an industrial mining district. But unfortunately, that is only a temporary solution. We will be working harder than ever before in the coming years to win permanent protection for this incredible Wilderness.
Piragis Northwoods Company
Soon after coming to Ely, Nancy and I fell in love with Ely, its people and especially the surrounding wilderness. We’ve now been residents for 40 years. We started our retail business and canoe outfitting company, Piragis Northwoods Company, in 1979 on the main street of Ely.
The threat that sulfide-ore mining represents hits me and our business at the core of our existence. Hundreds of paddlers pass through our doors each summer, telling us how important this pure wilderness is to their lives and their psyches. The Ely Chamber of Commerce advertises Ely as “the last pure experience.”
When I heard that the Boundary Waters was threatened by sulfide-ore copper mining, I couldn't sit back.
Dave and Amy Freeman
Explorers and wilderness guides, Paddle to DC 2014 & Year in the Wilderness 2015-2016
During our 366 continuous days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, we made huge progress towards protection of this incredible place. On day 167 in the Wilderness, Governor Dayton publicly announced his support of protecting the Boundary Waters. On day 210, Sally Jewell added her voice. And on day 265, the Forest Service announced they were “deeply concerned” about the threat of mining on the edge of the Wilderness.
Although our fight isn’t over, this is a lot to be proud of.
Please help save the Boundary Waters. Stand up for what is truly important. Our time here on earth is short and precious, but the decisions we make right now will have a ripple effect long into the future.
Paul and Sue Schurke
Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge & Wintergreen Northernwear
I have been fortunate to travel to some of the most remote and incredible places on the planet. I've completed six North Pole expeditions, and trekked across Alaska and Siberia. Yet I have found the same silence and immersion in nature right at home in the Boundary Waters that I have found in more remote places. Sigurd Olson made the same observation; this place is as beautiful and pristine as any place out there.
For 30 years, my wife Sue and I have owned and operated Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge. We offer guided dogsled vacations to more than 500 people each year. People come from all over the world to experience the Boundary Waters as a place "untrammeled by humans."
Our lodge is just five miles downstream from Twin Metals’ proposed mine sites. Mining threatens the wildness, serenity and pristine lakes and streams that are so unique to the Boundary Waters.
With every step and stroke into the Boundary Waters, visitors can experience the beauty and grandeur of this canoe country and the solitude and quiet that you can only truly find in wilderness.
Thank you to everyone who has given to support the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters. Please consider giving today!
Yesterday, I pulled a container off a shelf in a cupboard in my kitchen. I filled a pot of water from a faucet and set it on an electric stove to boil. As I opened the container, a familiar smell brought me back to the Wilderness. The container was filled with wild rice that Dave and I harvested late this summer. As I breathed in the rich, grainy smell of the wild rice, memories of our time spent harvesting with four friends were as clear as if it had happened yesterday.
It was mid-August when I smelled wild rice for the first time. As we paddled the Nina Moose River between Lake Agnes and Nina Moose Lake, the shallow water was covered in a swaying, shimmering carpet of green. Actually, carpet isn't quite the right word. The stalks are tall, two to three feet or so—about head height if you’re sitting in a canoe. Like a field of wheat, but green and partially submerged. The smell of the rice was rich and grain-like.
When I say I smelled it for the first time, I don't mean this was my first ever encounter with the wild grain. Rather, this was the first time my nose told my brain, "Ah. That is the scent of wild rice." It took this long for my nose to become accustomed to the scents of the Wilderness. I believe throughout the course of A Year in the Wilderness my sense of smell—like all my senses—became more attuned. I smelled algae from lakes in the late summer. I can recognize the scent of a cedar forest vs. a pine forest. The scent of Labrador tea conjures up thoughts of a pleasant-smelling soap. I even remember the smell of other canoeists we encountered on portages or on the water. They often smelled of soap, sunscreen or bug spray.
The scent of wild rice was satisfying and almost made my mouth water. It is the abundant, water-dependent food source of the area. It is a sacred food of the Anishinaabeg—linked to their ancestral history. Their story of migration is tied to wild rice. I was told that long ago they traveled to northern Minnesota from the eastern United States, and settled in this region once they found a place where food grows on the water.
We were honored to be joined by four friends—wild rice harvesting experts—for four days. Read about our experience in a post I wrote for Canoe & Kayak magazine.
That evening I heard two massive birds land in the bay near our campsite. I dropped what I was doing to investigate. Two gleaming white trumpeter swans floated amidst the green stalks of wild rice. I sat on the ground, partially concealed by a jack pine tree to watch the graceful birds. It didn't take long to discern what they were up to. Their black bills grabbed the tops of the stalks, and their long necks curved as they gobbled up the kernels of rice. Over and over, they repeated the process with practiced bobs of their heads. Clearly, it was not just people who depend on the wild rice.
Due to its sensitivity to water pollution, wild rice is the region's canary in the coalmine. The pollutant of concern is elevated levels of sulfate in the water that could result downstream of Twin Metals and other potential copper mines. Sulfate turns into sulfide in the mucky bottom of lakes and streams where wild rice grows. Sulfide is toxic to wild rice because it inhibits nutrient uptake through its roots. If copper mines were built south of the Boundary Waters, the wild rice would be the first plant to suffer.
If we allow these mines to be built, we might as well say goodbye to the wild rice in this region. It is my firm belief that we have no right to allow an activity that produces pollution, which is scientifically proven harms wild rice, to occur within a watershed where it grows in abundance. Rather, it is our responsibility to leave it alone. Keep waters that grow wild rice clean so the Anishinaabeg and others may harvest it next fall, and the next, and the next, and so on. I'd like to give future generations the chance to float in a canoe amidst the head-high stalks and breath in the same aroma I did, to winnow it, parch it, taste it and be nourished by it. This is our responsibility to the place where land and water don't belong to one particular person or company—they belong to all of us.
Want to try some wild rice for yourself? Be sure you get the real deal. The “wild rice” in a box of rice pilaf on the grocery store shelf was probably cultivated in California, where 70% of the wild rice sold in the U.S. is grown. Get hand-harvested, hand-parched, truly wild, wild rice. Check out our trusted source HERE. Enjoy this whole grain that is slightly higher in protein than most others, and is a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, Vitamin B6 and niacin.
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. From September 23, 2015 to September 23, 2016, the Freemans spent A Year in the Wilderness, camping at approximately 120 different sites, exploring 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveling more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. They documented their year and will continue to share their stories on social media (@FreemanExplore, #WildernessYear) and in blog posts. A documentary about their journey, Bear Witness, premieres fall 2016. A book about their year will be published by Milkweed Editions in fall 2017.
Fifteen-year-old Joseph Goldstein is dedicated to protecting the Boundary Waters. In March 2015, he shared a very personal story and plea for Boundary Waters protection. Today, he shares an update and a speech he made earlier this month on behalf of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.
Nine years ago my parents took my brother and me to the Boundary Waters for the first time. For me, it was like coming home. I fell in love, and, as I was recently reminded, I sobbed when it was time to leave. Since then, the BWCA has become “my place” – that space in the world that I want to be as much as I can, whenever I can.
Two years ago today, I was diagnosed with leukemia, which I guess makes today my “Diagnosaversary” or “Cancerversary.” Something like that. I’d tell you about the experience, but most people aren’t terribly interested in the particulars of hair loss and vomit. The important detail is that I’m still here, and I’ve made it my mission to help save the Boundary Waters!
Saving the BWCA started as my “Wish.” I wanted to help, and using my Wish to protect this place we all love seemed the perfect ask. But, along the way I’ve learned that life doesn’t work that way (so much wisdom between 13 and 15!). So, while I still wish to save our Wilderness, now I’m working at it, too.
There’s an obvious metaphor here: the toxic runoff from sulfide-ore copper mining on the borders of the BWCA is a cancer that will kill our Wilderness. We cannot allow this to happen. I hope you will stand with me today in saying, “Not Here. Not Ever.”
Today, I have three little brothers who love the BWCA as much as I do, and so many friends who are working every day to protect this special place for all of us. But we need more; we need YOU, too.
Please add your voice to the Save the Boundary Waters campaign today. This Wilderness is in danger, and it deserves our protection.
Two years ago this month I was diagnosed with what’s officially known as “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” That is doctor-talk for, “Wow, bad luck, mate. This is gonna stink.”
So, my family deals with tough times in two ways: we body slam it with hard work and we mock it with sarcastic humor. My leukemia diagnosis was no different. My mom and I figure we’re gonna make a fortune someday with a very special line of “Sarcastic Cancer Wear.” I probably should mention that my dad doesn’t find our cancer jokes even the tiniest bit funny. But frankly, that just ups the hilarity for the rest of us.
The hard work, though? That’s the good stuff. That’s where you roll your sleeves up and dive into a problem, and that is exactly what the threat to the Boundary Waters prompted me to do.
To hear my mom tell the story, Tinkerbell came to visit me in the hospital and granted me a Wish, which I immediately and selflessly sacrificed in order to join the fight on behalf of the Boundary Waters. Moms are supposed to make us sound like super heroes, and my mom is the queen of spin.
In truth, a very nice woman from the Make A Wish foundation came and told me that, because of my “bad luck,” the foundation would grant me a Wish. She talked about the wishes they’d granted for other kids my age: trips, ponies, swimming pools .... Pretty cool ideas when you’re strapped to a chair getting chemo. And I’ll tell you the truth – I wrestled hard with the idea of wishing for a trip to the North Pole. But, by the time we were driving home that afternoon I knew, I knew, what I wanted: to save the Boundary Waters, forever, against the threat mining on its borders. I figured it was the perfect ask. Because after all, who’s gonna say no to a kid with cancer, right?
Turns out that in the non-Tinkerbell version of life, though, wish granting is a lot more complicated and takes a lot more work. But that’s ok, ‘cause as I said, we body-slam hard work in our family.
Luckily, the ground game to Save the Boundary Waters was already underway, led by the people who brought us here tonight. All they needed me to do was to step up when and where I could. I started by writing to President Obama. And then to members of Congress, the Senate, and any other government official who might be willing to help. I went to DC with my friends Jason and Ellie to lobby on behalf of the BWCA, and I took every chance I could to head to Ely, grab a paddle or a dogsled and head into the Wilderness to recharge with my family and the friends who are here tonight.
As funny as we try to make it though, at the end of the day living with cancer is no joke. It’s hard in ways that are difficult to articulate, and it takes things from you that you have to fight very, very hard to reclaim. (Except my hair – my hair came back just fine). There’s joy in the fight, though, especially when you’re scrapping for what is right, what is just, what is fair, and what is good: The fight to save the Wilderness is all of those things.
Wilderness brings out the best in us, and it’s a powerful and demanding teacher. We have to learn to persevere, to earn our comforts, to appreciate silence, and to find a decent fishing spot if we want to eat. And believe me, nothing comes between a Goldstein and their fish-fry. But if we are going to save the Boundary Waters, we have to go to the mattresses, and we have to go NOW because, unlike my hair, once it’s gone, it will be gone for good. There will be NO recovery from the poison that will leach from the mines planned along the borders of our perfect waters.
My parents say it's the hubris of youth to believe that life is binary (obviously, they also like to use words I have to Google). My mom even went so far as to once make me write a position paper in favor of mining, an effort on her part to teach me dissect an argument from the other side, or something about shades of gray ... it was all very mom-ish and it obviously didn't stick.
But I think that the greatest thing about youth is that you GET to be as hubris-y as you want. You get to say things like “either you're a defender or you’re a destroyer.” There is no room for gray on this issue. The science, the community, my friends and my gut all tell me the same thing: we are called to be fierce defenders of this sacred place.
In my letter to President Obama, I said, “Wilderness is important for its own sake.” I believed this when I wrote it two years ago, and I believe it even more today. Dave and Amy brought incredible attention to this cause, but it is up to all of us to safeguard the Boundary Waters because it cannot defend itself. My three little brothers are counting on you and me to do this. Everyone who has ever fallen in love with, found peace and healing in, or made their living on these waters is counting on you and me to do this. People who haven’t yet set foot here, who have never experienced the joy of a walleye pulled from the lake, or listened to the call of a loon at sunset, or experienced the peace of a paddle steadily dipping into these waters - they are counting on you and me, too, and they don’t even know it. We can’t let them down. We can’t let the Wilderness down.
On September 23, 2016, Amy and Dave Freeman completed A Year in the Wilderness. Their yearlong expedition exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness helped share the beauty of this wild landscape and bring awareness to the risks it faces from sulfide-ore copper mining. The Freemans will continue to share highlights from their year and what's next for their efforts to protect the Boundary Waters on this blog. Below, Amy Freeman shares a journal entry from the last day of A Year in the Wilderness.
After 366 continuous days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, on September 23, 2016, Dave and I paddled our canoe down the winding South Kawishiwi River back to where we started. Somewhere in the middle of a nondescript portage we crossed an imaginary line. There was no sign. There was no change in the character of the forest. The moose, gray wolves and red squirrels haven’t been told where the boundary of this federally designated Wilderness Area lies.
The water also knows no boundary. The border encircling the BWCAW is an imaginary line—a line drawn on a map, sometimes straight, sometimes following a particular waterway, sometimes skirting around private property or a road.
In this unfortunate instance, a bend in a river was left out when the BWCAW was formed. The water flows out of the Wilderness Area, through a chain of lakes and then back into the BWCAW at Fall Lake. I say it is unfortunate, because the water in this gap is vulnerable. Currently, the water flows past 29 wilderness-edge resorts, campgrounds and businesses, not to mention numerous cabins and homes. What if the proposed Twin Metals copper nickel mine is built? How would this water change if it flowed out of the Wilderness and past an industrial mining zone, over a tunnel designed to transport a slurry of toxic waste rock? How would the character of our nation’s most popular Wilderness Area be marred?
If this mine and others like it were to be built, I bet the imaginary line would become much more apparent than it is now—even abrupt—as one exits the Wilderness and enters “civilization”. But when it comes to the water that would re-enter the Wilderness, the line would blur again—man’s influence and pollution would spill over into the Wilderness Area. Maybe it wouldn’t be obvious to the untrained eye. Any acid mine drainage would be subtle at first. The wild rice would thin out. Aquatic insects and then certain fish species would diminish. The degradation could play out slowly over a long period of time.
If a spill were to happen, man’s infiltration of the Wilderness would be obvious. Can your mind’s eye even juxtapose a river turned orange tumbling into Fall Lake . . . orange water running past towering white pines, orange water no longer providing a shimmering reflection of those trees . . . orange water no longer safe to drink?
Would people still come here to paddle, unplug, camp and fish?
We entered the Wilderness a year ago with the intention of bearing witness to this place. It was an opportunity to simultaneously listen to the land and attempt to speak for the land through daily photos and posts.
I’ll never forget when a visiting journalist asked, "What does the land say to you?" I’m not sure if she expected some concise, profound answer that applied to her, or if she thought we were delusional and she was just playing along.
The thing is Dave and I realized it's not important to share specifically what the land said to us through the call of a loon echoing across a still lake, the muffled fall of snowflakes, the metamorphosis of dozens of dragonflies, the smell of wild rice, or the beauty of 365 sunrises.
What is important is that the land speaks to anyone who takes the time to listen—and so it is imperative that we preserve the BWCAW and wild places like it so that future generations have the opportunity to hear it too.
I hope that you take the time to listen—and heed the call to speak up in its defense.
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. From September 23, 2015 to September 23, 2016, the Freemans spent A Year in the Wilderness, campaing at approximately 120 different sites, exploring 500 lakes, rivers and streams, and traveling more than 2,000 miles by canoe, foot, ski, snowshoe and dog team. They documented their year and will continue to share their stories on social media (@FreemanExplore, #WildernessYear) and in blog posts. A documentary about their journey, Bear Witness, premieres fall 2016. A book about their year will be published by Milkweed Editions in fall 2017.
We watch geese in formation high above Basswood Lake headed south. The smell of fall fills the portage trails. It is clear the Earth is completing its annual circle and our Year in the Wilderness is almost over. Levi, our expedition manager at Sustainable Ely, is arranging to have clean clothes ready for us to change into when we leave the Wilderness and paddle up to River Point Resort & Outfitting Company for the party celebrating the end of A Year in the Wilderness. We hope you can join us--it is sure to be a lot of fun with live music, food, beer and a flotilla of boats escorting us down Birch Lake.
We are filled with emotions--sad to leave the Wilderness, happy to see friends and family, excited to find new ways to share and protect this very special place. Honestly, I think we are more nervous about exiting the Wilderness than we were about entering it nearly a year ago. The questions we find ourselves pondering as we paddle and portage are: what have we learned during the last year and how can we continue to share what we have learned? Here are some of the lessons that resonate with us the most.
Don't be afraid ask for help
While Amy and I were out here alone most of the time, A Year in the Wilderness has taught us that asking for help and collaborating with others is critical to the success of almost anything. Physically we could have hauled all of our food and everything we needed into the Wilderness, been totally self-contained and forgotten about by all but our family and closest friends. Only our goal wasn't to spend 365 days in the Boundary Waters, it was to bear witness to the Wilderness and help ensure its protection. To that end, our greatest fear was being forgotten about once we entered the Wilderness. It was the help that we received in so many forms from thousands of people that allowed us to fulfill our main objective of lifting up the Boundary Waters and bringing national attention to the threats posed by Twin Metals and other sulfide-ore copper mines being proposed along the edge of the Wilderness.
We quickly learned that if we needed supplies brought in to us, audio files for our weekly podcast brought out, or help in any number of ways, all we had to do was ask. Levi would find volunteers to make it happen. We need to go back look through all our notes, but we estimate approximately 300 people trekked into the Wilderness to nourish us with food, supplies, and fellowship. This simply blows us away and demonstrates what a special place this is far better an any of our words or actions could ever do. Letters, comments, songs, brownies, pictures, books, petition signatures--we have been showered with support from across the country and around the world and for that we are truly humbled and grateful. Your actions have shown us that we will protect this national treasure because together we are strong.
Do things you are passionate about
There are few things that make us feel as alive and no place we would rather be than in the wild. There have been challenging moments and some suffering over the last year, but our time in the Wilderness has helped us see clearly that passion and purpose are what drive us, making the hard times fade in our memories. Following our hearts and living with a strong sense of purpose can be scary, it can make the highs higher and the risks greater, but we only have one life and one chance to save the Boundary Waters. A Year in the Wilderness has taught us we have to let our hearts lead us, especially into the unknown.
Sometimes less is more
This is not a new lesson for us; it is something tens of thousands of miles of Wilderness travel have taught us. One of the greatest gifts that Wilderness provides is simplicity. Life is simple out here. We gather water from the lake, make a meal, pack up camp, and travel on without leaving a trace, carrying everything we need with us.
We hope that when we leave the Wilderness we can remember this lesson. We want to surround ourselves with more people we care about and more experiences, remove some of the noise and clutter that can easily create barriers and distractions. It won't be easy, but "easy" and "worth doing it" often don't go together.
This Wilderness is so precious to all of us
More than anything, A Year in the Wilderness has heightened our senses, caused us to slow down, live in the moment, and see how precious the Wilderness oases that remain on earth are to humanity and all life. It has become painfully clear that in an age when humans are more disconnected from nature than ever, the future of our species and the ecosystems that support us will be lost if Wilderness is lost.
Wilderness is the earth's DNA unaltered, a window into the complex framework of air, water, climate, soil, and nutrients that sustain all life; it is nature at its finest. Wilderness nourishes our souls and is the North Star guiding us towards a sustainable future. We must not lose sight of its value and we must speak loudly for these quiet places.
Dave and Amy Freeman
This year we're back at the Minnesota State Fair. We have a booth in the Dairy Building where we are educating visitors about the risks facing the Boundary Waters and gathering signatures in support of permanent protection for the Wilderness from proposed sulfide-ore copper mining.
Come visit our booth where you can spin the wheel to win a button or bookmark, take action to get a Save the Boundary Waters bag and sign our new petition. Take a minute to put a sticker on our big BWCA map marking your favorite lake too if you can. You'll also get to see an exclusive sneak peek at the documentary Bear Witness, about Dave and Amy Freeman's Year in the Wilderness.
The State Fair is also a great time to get social. Take a photo in our booth, use our Snapchat geofilter in the Dairy Building and share your photos and messages about the need to #SavetheBWCA.
This year we again partnered with The Heavy Table to bring you a great review of Minnesota State Fair foods. Check out their annual food tour then watch as James Norton runs through the best and worst in this video filmed in our booth at the Fair.