by Gary Clements
I was 22 then. She was 20. Now I’m 72. She’s 70.
Here’s how it happened.
Like a sentinel pine, it takes time to grow…
Through the early and mid 1960s, I was a counselor at St. Paul YMCA Camp Widjiwagan, located near Ely, and led small groups of teenagers into the amazing country that would become BWCA with the Wilderness Act of 1964. I had known the canoe routes as a camper there from 1957 to 1961, and the magic of two week wilderness trips, of deep forest and clean, drinkable water immediately pulled my heart from the great plains of Nebraska.
“I’ll never know exactly how much my overture was aided by the mellow evening air, the scent of pine, or the glow of the rising moon…”
During those years of counseling, the camp ran sessions for both boys and girls, but they were never in camp at the same time. Thus the men’s staff and women’s staff seldom had much time together. But we were always keenly aware of each other, as college age youth are wont to do, and through stories and occasional opportunities to interact, we came to know about each other, for better or for worse.
Summer romances were not uncommon, where opportunity existed, and both my future wife and I experienced our share, though not with each other. We did know of each other, and had a good appreciation for each other’s work as counselors and wilderness explorers. It wasn’t until the summer of 1966, when we were both working as in-camp staff during the month of August, that we had a more regular opportunity to interact. When summer came to a close and it was time to return to city life, she and I sat on the steps of the path below the dining hall, looking at the full moon rise over Burntside Lake. It was just before Labor Day, and my simple query was whether I might call on her when we were both back in St. Paul, where I was beginning a teaching job and she was in her last year at the University of Minnesota.
How quaint it seems now, to have been a suitor with that approach. But she said yes, and gave me her contact information. I’ll never know exactly how much my overture was aided by the mellow evening air, the scent of pine, or the glow of the rising moon, but I have no doubt that our common experiences over those years of paddling and portaging had already created a subconscious foundation for a relationship, and we were married a year later. I know this because there have been very few summers in the 48 years since then that we have not loaded our wood/canvas (and now kevlar) canoe, and slid into the quiet waters of the BWCA and Quetico. Sometimes we have traveled with another couple, sometimes by ourselves, and sometimes with our children and grandchildren, who have also developed a firm love for the wilderness.
It takes a long time to grow a sentinel pine. You can still see them along some of the border routes, standing tall above the hillsides, beckoning the way as their ancestors did for the Ojibwe and the Voyageurs centuries ago. And it takes some time for a couple to move beyond the romantic buzz, maturing into a relationship with a foundation as solid as the granite walls that line the Basswood River. I will be ever grateful for the role the wilderness has played in that development for Jane and me, where we could teach our children the value of solitude, self-reliance, self-examination and reflection in a land where the spirit emerges, and reaches out for a kindred soul.
by Emily E. Bredon
I was already in love with John when I first brought him to the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Of course, I hadn’t told him that yet. That came later. However, on that very first trip and without words, John and I formed a deep connection that surpassed any other we had ever experienced. I owe that connection to the lakes, portages, rivers, woods, and yes, even mosquitoes, of the Boundary Waters. Though we did not meet in the BWCA, nor were either of us seasoned canoers when we first met, our story truly begins in that nearly indescribable wild. After all, the Boundary Waters are the reason John and I are married.
After our first nearly week-long trip, we felt strong both in our bodies and our spirits. We were determined to visit the BWCA annually. And so, every year around August we packed up our borrowed canoe, our packs, water purifier, sleeping bags, our tiny burner and cooking utensils, and of course our lovely yellow lab Jane, and we set off on our wilderness adventure. Each year for six years John and I would spend nights in the deep, dark, desolate woods, listening to the loons and the occasional wolves as we pondered the stars and figured out how to hang our bear pack. We were in continuous awe of the beauty of the woods and waters.
“It is all of what life is and should be. It is pure and raw natural beauty. It is love, fear, togetherness, isolation, hope, frustration, determination, and humbleness.”
Our weeks in the Boundary Waters have not all been s’mores and smooching, however. John and I found new ways to argue while navigating both large and small waters, we suffered some injuries, and we went nights without sleep as we rode out some pretty scary storms. And of course, we endured the mosquitoes. I can recall one day, after we had spent an exceptionally long time portaging and rowing in rain, we finally found a campsite. We frantically tried to set up our tent and tarp as the wind mocked us, and we were cursing at each other as mosquitoes had their way with our only exposed skin: our faces. I remember it with a smile now, though at the time I yearned for the indoors and to be as far away from John as possible.
That is what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is though. It is all of what life is and should be. It is pure and raw natural beauty. It is love, fear, togetherness, isolation, hope, frustration, determination, and humbleness. John and I have experienced all of that together and that has made us fall in love more deeply.
In 2012, we again made our usual August trip to the beautiful Boundary Waters. We dropped in late afternoon, and so were astounded to see that there was a gorgeous campsite on the west-facing side of an island with a sandy beach. Before even setting up our tent, I took Jane to the beach and watched her play as I sat out looking at the sunset. It was everything I had waited for all year. There was nowhere else I’d rather be. Soon, John sat next to me. I was about to ask where he had been when he pulled a small box from behind him. A perfect amethyst ring sat neatly inside it, and my eyes filled with the happiest of tears. The rest is history.
Unlike some love stories, this one didn’t exactly start in the BWCA. Stephen and I had been seeing each other a few months when we decided to spend a week in northern paradise–just the two of us. I’d guided a few trips with large groups before, but he had never been. I saw our trip together as an opportunity to determine his worthiness and see if he could survive a week a) paddling, b) paddling with me, and c) in the real wilderness that the BWCA offers.
Little did I know that he’d prove his worth early on in our journey.
“I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack.”
After a nasty encounter on day one at Lake Saganaga with a nasty red squirrel who compromised some of our provisions, day two promised to be more relaxing with fishing and paddling on the agenda. I sterned, of course! Nothing so progressive like letting a woman steer the way. After making camp at a new island, Stephen, not a regular fisherman, landed a sizeable pike and needed my “expert” help bringing it in. After much thrashing by the pike, it became extremely tangled in a hand net– the hook too. In trying to detangle the lure from the net for him with an unhappy fish in tow, I soon found a treble hook lodged…. deeply in my ring finger! With a fish still attached! Unable to push the barb through for easy removal, my wilderness doctor rushed into action. He grabbed a multi tool to snap the lure (still attached to an angry pike) from the hook in my hand, which reassuringly caused the tool to break…. Gently, without disturbing the fish, he was able to free the hook from the lure, leaving only me attached, or hooked, rather, to a little wooden bait. With a shot of whiskey for each of us and a pocket knife, he calmly looked me in the eye and performed some trail surgery to cut the hook from my finger. Soon, I was freed!
It was hilarious, embarrassing, and terrifying. Still, in that moment, I had a feeling he was someone I could be with forever. Maybe it was the pulse in the new hook-gouged mark on my itchy ring finger, maybe it was the whiskey. I could have been lightheaded from the miniscule loss of blood, or the euphoria of being out in our wonderful wild place. Whatever it was, I suddenly looked at him in a whole new light. Misty sunset light. I thought this guy was someone I can count on if a bear really does come after our food pack. I’m sure I teared up at the revelation.
A year later, we’re still together for the long haul. Though he may have to work on his catch and release skills, when it comes to the right way to approach some BWCA first aid, he is definitely a keeper. So was the pike, by the way. We ate it for dinner, in the rain. With a few more rounds of whiskey.
On Wednesday, July 15, Indeed Brewing hosted the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness in their taproom as part of their “Indeed We Can” program. It works like this: Indeed employees nominate their favorite non-profit organizations to receive the proceeds from the taproom every Wednesday evening, and that nonprofit gets to feature their work. We’re grateful that we were nominated and we had a great time talking to folks about our work keeping the Boundary Waters wild and protected forever.
As part of the festivities, there were two sessions of Boundary Waters Wilderness bar trivia. We had some strong competition in each session, with just one point separating the top three teams. Here are the winners:
Game #1 (out of 40 points)
- Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers 28
- Air, Water, Bread Dough 27
- Abstract Feather 26
Game #2 (out of 40 points)
- An Album Cover 30
- Canoewering 29
- All American Woodcocks 28
If you missed it, keep an eye out for future events like this. Folks had a good time and learned something about the Boundary Waters by playing. If you think you can do better than our champions, here’s your chance. Take the quiz below. We gave 2 points for the exact answer, and 1 point for a partial or nearly correct answer. Here’s Game #1, can you beat the Yellow Bellied Sapsuckers score of 28? The answers are below, but cheaters never win, so no peeking!
- The highest point in Minnesota is located in the BWCA, what is its name?
- What is the maximum number of watercraft permitted in a single group in the Boundary Waters?
- What is the largest and deepest lake located in the BWCA? (Hint: it is not entirely within the BWCA boundaries)
- Name two officially designated hiking trails in the BWCA Wilderness.
- What is the most popular overnight paddling entry point to the Boundary Waters Wilderness by number of entry permits per day?
- Who was the last permanent human resident of the BWCA Wilderness?
- What is the least popular BWCA wilderness overnight paddling entry point from among these choices? Crocodile River, Angleworm Lake, North Fowl Lake, Mudro Lake
- Which Forest Service scientist retired so that be could lobby to protect the BWCA as a wilderness area in the 1970s?
- How many rods are in a mile?
- How long are you permitted to stay in the BWCA after you have entered?
- Which one of these is not a waterfall located in the BWCA? Curtain Falls, Basswood Falls, High Falls of the Pigeon River, Johnson Falls
- What is the oldest, still operating resort on the Gunflint Trail?
- According to the Leave No Trace video shown to BWCA visitors, how far away from the shoreline are you supposed to bathe, wash dishes, or dig a cathole?
- Which wilderness advocate was hung in effigy outside of Ely Junior High School in 1977?
- Which portage along the border route divides the Rainy River and Lake Superior watersheds?
- The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, of which the BWCAW is part. In what year was the Wilderness Act passed?
- Which bird found in the BWCA is commonly known as the Whiskeyjack or “Camp Robber”?
- On what date (the actual, precise date) did the infamous “Boundary Water Blowdown” storm happen?
- True or false, the Boundary Waters is bigger than Quetico Provincial Park.
- Which of the following items are allowed in the BWCA wilderness? Stand-up paddle boards, Sails, Portage wheels, Drones
TIEBREAKER: How many lakes 10 acres in size and larger are in the BWCA?
- Eagle Mountain – elevation 2,301 feet.
- Any two of Border Route, Angleworm, Kekekabic, Pow Wow, Sioux Hustler, Big Moose Lake Trail, Disappointment, Eagle Mountain, Herriman Lake, Norway, South Lake, Snowbank
- Moose Lake
- Dorothy Molter
- Crocodile River
- Miron (Bud) Heinselman
- No limit (as long as you can stay in, 14 day limit at a specific campsite)
- High Falls of the Pigeon River (in Grand Portage State Park)
- Clearwater Lodge – founded in 1915
- 150 feet
- Sigurd Olson
- Height of Land Portage
- Gray Jay
- July 4, 1999
- Stand-up paddle boards
Jim Dion announcing the website launch in Duluth
By Shannon Boehm, Friends Intern
In March, I had the privilege to be a part of a monumental event for The Heart of the Continent Partnership: The launch of their geotourism website for National Geographic. This initiative was started by Jim Dion of National Geographic. With this project, National Geographic partners with a host of regions to create a framework for engaging communities and creating a regional geotourism infrastructure for locations throughout the world. The project creates an interactive website for the region that will assist people all over the world in planning trips that sustain or enhance the geographical character of a place. With other regions throughout the country providing great success stories, The Heart of the Continent Partnership has been working with National Geographic to become one of them, and this past week’s media launch marked the beginning.
Mayor Ness and HOCP Chair Jewell at Glensheen Mansion
The media launch for this initiative was a two-day, three-city journey to spread awareness and gain support, with all events being held at locations showcased on the new website. On Thursday morning we started in Duluth at the historical Glensheen Mansion. We heard from several supporters and contributors to the initiative including Frank Jewell, County Commissioner for St Louis County and HOCP Chairman, Don Ness, the mayor of Duluth. We then ventured along the north shore to Grand Portage National Monument, where we were welcomed with a drum circle performance by local tribal members, and graced with the words of one of the their tribal leaders, along with other speakers promoting the new website. Our last stop was in Thunder Bay, Ontario on Friday morning at Fort Williams Historical Park. We heard from more supporters of the geotourism initiative including representatives from the offices of the mayors from both Thunder Bay and Atikokan.
Drum Circle at Grand Portage
This was a really great way to see the ways that people from not only different backgrounds, but also different countries can work together to support such a great initiative. They all recognized the unique attributes and natural wonders our region has to offer as well as the benefit that this National Geographic initiative could have for all of the local communities involved. I was very honored to be a part of such great discussions regarding tourism and the environment, and I look forward to watching this partnership and the geotourism initiative progress.
Visit the website www.traveltheheart.org and download the mobile app for iPhone or Android.
Over 40 people joined the Friends for our annual Winter Wilderness Weekend at Camp Menogyn on the edge of the BWCA Wilderness January 16th through 19th. The weather was great, with light snow, mild temperatures and just enough clear sky to see a glimpse of the northern lights. Here are some shots from the weekend’s snowshoeing, dogsledding, and other winter activities (though there are no shots of the sauna and jumping in a hole cut in Bearskin Lake.) If you missed this weekend but would like to do something similar, YMCA Camp Menogyn offers another winter family weekend over Presidents Day weekend in February. You can register and learn more here.
Thanks to everybody who joined us and made it such a memorable weekend. Truly, the Boundary Waters are not just for summer fun – there’s a ton of fun to be had in the winter too!
The campers get an orientation to dogsledding from the Camp Menogyn mushers
The view from the dogsled, heading along the back trail behind Camp Menogyn
This group went snowshoeing on the Caribou Rock Trail. This is the overlook of Bearskin Lake.
The view from the top of the Caribou Rock Trail overlook of Bearskin Lake.
The hill behind the dining hall is a great place to go sledding!
The Menogyn boathouse is covered in snow, but whispers a promise of canoeing in the spring
The kids had a great time in the snow
Dreaming of blue skies and open water? – Photo: Cori Mattke
In the depths of winter, a beacon of hope shines – the annual opening of BWCAW permit reservations. The Boundary Waters has a simple and easy to use permit system. If you plan to camp overnight in the wilderness or utilize a limited number of entry points that permit boats with small motors for day use, you’ll need a permit. That permit entitles you to enter the wilderness area at that entry point on that day. You don’t need to reserve individual campsites, you just need a permit to enter.
To enter the BWCAW from May 1 to September 30, 2015 a permit must be acquired online, at a Forest Service office, or through a cooperating outfitter. Before May 1 or after September 30th, you can use a self-issued permit at the entry point.
The annual lottery for entry permits for Fall Lake (entry points 24 and D) and Moose Lake (entry points 25, F and G) closes on January 13th. These are two of the most popular lakes to enter the wilderness and these are the only five entry points that are in the lottery. In 2012, the Forest Service made significant changes and dropped the vast majority of entry points from the permit lottery due to improvements in technology (namely, the internet) and the fact that permits were available for nearly all entry points after a lottery process.
If you enter the lottery for these permits, you’ll get word back from the Forest Service by January 21st.
If you aren’t planning a Fall or Moose Lake entry in 2015, the date you need to mark on your calendar is Wednesday, January 28th. That’s the day that all 2015 entry permits go on sale. If you want to enter the BWCAW on a popular weekend (like Independence Day or Labor Day) you’d be well-served to get your reservation in early. Besides, there’s no better cure for the winter paddling itch than curling up by the fire with a map and planning your next big Boundary Waters adventure.
Lastly, if you’re a last-minute planner, don’t think that you can’t find an entry permit a bit later. There are almost always good options for spur of the moment BWCAW trips, but you may have to be flexible in where you put in.
By Allison Dobscha and Arielle Johnson, Friends Interns
A little over two weeks ago, we had the privilege of taking part in a quarterly meeting for the Heart of the Continent Partnership, a coalition of Canadian and American organizations working together to sustain the economy, ecosystems, and culture of the Ontario/Northeastern Minnesota region. As interns for the Friends since September, we have had the opportunity to taste wilderness-inspired beer at Brews and Canoes, listen to Jamie Pinkham’s engaging stories at the Annual Gathering, and discuss the work of the Friends with interested individuals at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo. Before the HOCP meeting, we expected to simply sit, listen, and absorb everything we could from upcoming meetings and events. We did not initially anticipate that our own voices and opinions would be valued and encouraged by the HOCP participants.
HOCP attendees toured the Soudan Mine as part of the meeting.
On Thursday, we had the opportunity to sit in on the steering committee meeting, tour the Soudan Underground Mine, and learn more about local coalitions. We learned specifically about the Iron Range Partnership for Sustainability’s techniques for connecting citizens and nourishing strong partnerships, as well as their definition of sustainability as a three-legged stool: resources, economy, community. On Friday, several panelists spoke about their experience with Environmental Education in the region, and the entire group was asked to take an active role in exploring potential ways for the partnership to contribute to regional outdoor education projects. We brainstormed ideas for how to better educate children and families about the kinds of outdoor activities available in this beautiful part of the continent. At one point, the discussion facilitator asked to hear specifically from people under the age of thirty. Joining with some students from Vermilion Community College, we floated our ideas for creating cross-border networks and drew attention to the existing gaps in environmental education.
Laurentian Environmental Learning Center is beautiful in winter.
Arielle and I were proud to be included in this discussion and to find that we had opinions worth contributing. These conversations are common in the Friends office, but we were excited and energized by how many organizations were interested in tackling the same issues through collaboration as well. HOCP struck me as a unique group, committed to dialogue even in the face of challenges and boundaries. Our experience at the meeting genuinely raised our hopes for the future of environmental problem-solving, and for our own roles in it.
After 100 days of paddling, sailing and portaging from Ely, on December 3rd, Amy and Dave Freeman completed their quest to deliver their petition canoe “Sig” to Washington D.C. From the shores of Birch Lake, the Freemans paddled through the BWCA, portaged across the Grand Portage, sailed down the north shore to Duluth, across Lake Superior and Lake Huron, then paddled the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers to the Canadian capitol, then down Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, past the Statue of Liberty, then south to Baltimore and Washington D.C. There they were joined by forty people from Minnesota who visited with lawmakers and agency staff to tell them that the Boundary Waters is too precious to put at risk from the world’s most polluting industry. The Friends of the Boundary Waters is one of thirteen partner organizations in the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, which provided logistics for the trip and organized the meetings in D.C.
Learn more at the Paddle to D.C. website, check out this amazing film by Patagonia’s Nate Ptacek about Amy and Dave’s journey, and see some of the best photos from the journey below.
Paddle to DC: A Quest for Clean Water from Nate Ptacek on Vimeo.
Here are Amy and Dave after meeting with White House staff to tell them about the threat to the Boundary Waters.
“Sig” bears the signatures of hundreds of people (joined by thousands more who signed an electronic petition) asking President Obama to protect the Boundary Waters watershed from sulfide mining.
All along the way, Dave and Amy did events to raise awareness of the threat of sulfide mining – in little towns like Knife River, MN and big cities like Ottawa, Canada. This picture is at the Patagonia store in Washington, D.C.
In D.C., Amy and Dave presented “Sig” to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, who will put it on display in the U.S. Forest Service headquarters.
It’s not often you see a canoe being portaged past the Washington Monument…
or paddled past the Statue of Liberty.
Thanks to Dave and Amy from bringing the message about the threat to this precious place from Ely, Minnesota …
To the intersection of Ely and Minnesota in Washington D.C.!
Photo credits: Dave and Amy Freeman (freemanexplore on Instagram) and Nate Ptacek (arborealis on Instagram)