During the first week of June, I left for a 10 day adventure in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). This was the third annual trip I’ve taken with a friend of mine, Bry. Although traveling is one of my favorite pastimes and I am always careful to carve time out of my busy schedule for trips, the annual Boundary Waters Trip holds a special place in my heart. From the moment my paddle hits the water, I’m enchanted by the mesmerizing colors and reflections in the endless waters. The dark water against the bright blue sky, with the light green of the new leaves of the deciduous trees blending with the dark greens of the conifers, and the sunlight making it all sparkle just so – it captivates my attention, letting all my worries from the “real world” slip away.
I may be biased, but I’d say the BWCA is one of the most special places we have in this great state. The solitude you can find here is rivaled by no other park in our region. If you’re willing to work for it (via a couple longer portages to the more remote areas) you can go days at a time without encountering another human. There is no cell phone service, so even if you wanted to, you can’t remain in touch. You can’t quickly check your work email, or update friends and family on social media. The fact that it’s not an option quickly takes away a tremendous urge to check our devices, an impulse that has led to an addiction of our screens. We’re left with nothing to do but enjoy the beauty around us, appreciate one another’s company, and explore everything around us until we’re tired enough to sleep.
Bry and I do not fish when we go into the BWCA. People always ask us, “Well, then what do you do up there?!” We move our campsite nearly everyday, and quickly fall into a routine: wake up, eat breakfast, pack up camp, canoe/portage until we’ve found a spot that calls to us (or we’re too exhausted to go any farther), set up camp, and spend the rest of the afternoon/evening resting in our hammocks, reading our books, swimming, playing with the dog(s), exploring the woods, wondering at the plants and animals we encounter, sitting by the fire, and soaking up the beauty in unforgettable landscape. We relax. We recharge. We enjoy the moment, leaving all of our worries and stress at the edge of the wilderness area. We take time for ourselves – something we often forget to do in today’s society.
I almost backed out of our trip this year. My father-in-law had just passed, my car was stolen with my beloved dog in it, and then he was let out on a highway where he was fatally struck by a car. I felt too overwhelmed to even think about going on a wilderness trip, especially without my best companion.
Bry gently urged me to come, assuring me that it would be good for me, that it would be healing. Of course, she was right. Those afternoons with nothing to do but sit and think gave me time to grieve, to process, and to remember all the wonderful times I’d shared with my furry companion on our trips the previous years. Just like every year before, the trip restored a sense of much needed calm to my life. We all need to take time in the great outdoors to restore that sense of calm that returns to us by being in nature.
Each year, I bring a Sigurd Olson book and I often read aloud a few chapters and spend the rest of the afternoon contemplating his words. I find comfort in knowing our experiences in this magical place are much the same, despite the nearly 100 years that has passed between his first journey into the BWCA and my own. His words sum up my feelings much more eloquently that I ever could. Here are some of my favorite passages we read on this trip, from Reflections from the North Country.
“In the wilderness there is never this sense of having to move, never the feeling of boredom if nothing dramatic happens. Time moves slowly, as it should, for it is part of beauty that cannot be hurried if it is to be understood. Without this easy flowing, life can become empty and hectic.”
“I discovered long ago what psychologists call ‘creative silence’: the impact of solitude on the mind, the awakening of ideas and thoughts normally hidden when one is with others, the emergence of concepts often lost owing to the interruptions and responsibilities. During such times, one drinks from the deep wells of the past… Everyone needs such quiet times, some solitude to recoup his sense of perspective.”
“In nature all things are beautiful… All living things are beautiful if one realizes what has gone into their evolution. The mysteries of how plants live and gain their sustenance, their adaptations to the environment, the infinite interdependencies between them and all living things make each one a miracle in itself.”
“Beauty is composed of many things and never stands alone. It is part of horizons, blue in the distance, great primeval silences, knowledge of all things of the earth. It embodies the hopes and dreams of those who have gone before, including the spirit world; it is so fragile it can be destroyed by a sound or thought…. Of all creatures, we have the power to appreciate beauty and are able to contemplate its meaning.”
‘We cannot all live in the wilderness, or even close to it, but we can, no matter where we spend our lives, remember that background which shaped this sense of the eternal rhythm, remember that days, no matter how frenzied their pace, can be calm and unhurried. Knowing we can be calm and unhurried we can refuse to be caught in the so-called rat race and the tension which kills Godlike leisure. Though conscious of the roar around us, we can find peace if we remember we all came from a common mold and primeval background. It is when we forget and divorce ourselves entirely from what man once knew that our lives may spin off without meaning.”