I have been attempting to compose, organize, and draft my thoughts on my recent trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA) for several days now, but it is much harder than I thought. Perhaps, much like the photos I captured while there, my storytelling can’t really do that part of the world the justice it deserves.
I thought about giving you the play by play– detailing each lake, each portage, each mosquito-infested campsite, and relaying the horrors that are northwoods latrines.
But it still didn’t seem big enough.
So what I came up with is quite a bit simpler, a little more abstract.
To be in a wilderness so dense and unspoilt is an incredibly humbling experience. The moment the paddle shatters the reflected forest on the surface of the cool, clean lake I had to involuntarily surrender control to my environment. The weather, downed trees, nosy wildlife; they all have the ability to overpower the skills I bring with me. There is only a small smattering of people, scattered few and far between, and travelers can’t count on seeing anyone. You certainly can’t count on anyone having a working communication device.
Those things in mind, I think it is a space that redefines ‘trouble.’ To be in trouble here at home (flat tire, late bus, broken appliance, and so on) is really to be inconvenienced. To be in trouble in the BWCA is to be in trouble.
To be in the BWCA is also empowering. There is that beautiful feeling of chasing (and then catching!) an experience many people don’t get to have. It is a place ripe for accomplishing many things, from the simple breakfast cooked over a camp stove to the 232 rod portage. It fosters a great sense of independence and self-reliance. At the same time, it makes one put a lot of trust in the person they travel with– trust that that person will have your best interests and safety in mind, trust that that person will communicate, trust that that person will not get (too) frustrated.
I think I may have said this about rural North Dakota too, but if there is such thing as ‘God’s Country,’ the BWCA is it. I cannot think of many places that I have been to that inspired me with a sunrise, amazed me and challenged throughout the day, instilled great fear and respect for my surroundings in me as the sunset washed the world in a purple shadow, and then gently rocked me to sleep with the most stars I have ever seen in one night and the gentle lullabye of wilderness in the nighttime.
My words, like photos that just look like water, trees, and sky, do not begin to really describe this magnificent place.