Recharging in the Boundary Waters

One of my favorite places in the world is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota. Since my first trip to the BWCA with my family as a 13-year-old in 1971, I’ve returned time and again: three times with my Northfield United Methodist Church high school youth group the summers of 1974, 1975 and 1976, and about 15 times since with friends and family. Every trip is an adventure, filled with beautiful boreal forest backcountry travel via canoe and foot (on portages), abundant wildlife sightings, solitude, bonding through physical and mental challenges met as a group, and recharging through a complete change from the hurly-burly of everyday life.

I made my most recent pilgrimage to the church of the wilderness this past Friday (September 26th) through Tuesday. As I’ve done on several recent trips, I loaded my gear into my trusty Jetta and lashed my canoe on the roof rack the evening before departing, and headed out of town at about 4:00 am Friday to enable a late-morning departure from Baker Lake off the Sawbill Trail. I stopped in St. Paul en route to pick up my friend Andy Gockel who is a fellow lover of the wilderness and my partner in crime on one previous memorable fall BWCA trip.

Andy and I had a marvelous time. We saw some incredibly beautiful country (in a part of the Boundary Waters I haven’t visited before), had a close-up view of a cow moose stripping a birch sapling of its foliage in a leisurely fashion, encountered two groups of otters, heard beavers slapping their tails in the night, saw a number of bald eagles soar overhead, enjoyed numerous flocks of geese honking and winging their way south, opined about the fire/ecological reasons for the paucity of mature white and red pines in some areas and abundance in others (see Bud Heinselman’s amazing opus summarizing his lifelong ecological research in the area, “The Boundary Waters Wilderness Ecosystem,” for the definitive word on the subject), enjoyed conversation and bourbon by the campfire at some wonderful, isolated campsites, were treated to one beautiful moonless, cloudless, fill-the-sky-with-stars-and-the-Milky-Way night, were poured on another night, and saw not one other human the last three days of the five-day trip.

I got a bit carried away with my camera, too, shooting about 240 photos (don’t you just love digital cameras?!), 54 of which you can see here if you care to. I’m already thinking about my next canoe trip…

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