The Basswood River in Minnesota’s Boundary Water Canoe Area spills over many ledges and squeezes through rock walls where it empties out of Basswood Lake. There is a mile-long portage that bypasses the first mile and a half of river, where most of these rapids lie. Gazing up the river this morning from our campsite at the base of the rapids we longed to see what was around the next bend. It had been many years since I followed the river channel rather than taking the mile-long portage. Amy had always taken the portage, never witnessing this stretch of the river. In reality, taking the portage is probably faster and easier than following the river, but we had time and we wanted to feel the pull of the river and hear all of its throbbing, boiling rapids. We spent several hours paddling, lining, and portaging past the many ledges and rapids. We didn’t see a soul all day; we had the river to ourselves.
After more than a month immersed in wilderness, it’s becoming easier to notice small windows into the natural world that surround us but often go unnoticed. I recently watched the sun’s early morning rays melt frost off tiny wild strawberry leaves. A few moments after the sunlight illuminated the leaves, the tiny ice crystals were transformed into glistening droplets of water. Slowly, as sun burned the mist off the water, the forest awoke. The low, rapid drumming sound of a grouse broke the silence and signaled that it was time to start the day.
Life in the wilderness is far from idle; there are lots of chores to do. Once the sun is up, we clean our breakfast dishes and go about our chores. As the temperature slowly drops and the days get shorter, gathering firewood is becoming part of our daily routine. We rarely build a campfire and in the summer we do most of our cooking on a small camp stove. However, when the temperature dips below freezing, we build a small fire in a portable wood stove that heats our tent. Once all the bears are hibernating, we will start cooking on the wood stove inside our tent as well.
We always gather our firewood away from our campsite. We often paddle the canoe a short distance from our campsite and walk back in the forest to look for wood. It is usually easy to find plenty of dry, downed trees that we can harvest wood from. Ash is our favorite, but usually we find jack pine or black spruce. We load the wood into our canoe and paddle it back to camp. Once we are back at our campsite we use a small saw to cut the wood into 10 to 12 inch pieces to feed into our wood stove. This time of year we can easily gather enough wood in an hour to last us for several days, but as the temperature drops we will have to spend more time each day gathering wood. The pay off is that we get to enjoy heat of the stove and the relaxing crackle of the fire when we wake up in the morning and while we relax in the tent after dinner.
wilderness helps us realize that we are a part of something much greater and remember we are placed on earth for a instant in geologic time. What we do with our time and how we leave the earth is up to us. Our time in wilderness has shown us the importance of protecting this place for future generations. Edward Abby said,”the idea of wilderness doesn’t need defense, it only needs defenders.” From full-fledged dirtbags living the rad life out of their vans to folks that have never ventured into the wilderness, it’s up to all of us to recognize the value of Wilderness and defend wild places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Amy and Dave Freeman, 2014 Adventurers of the Year, are spending 365 days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to call attention to the threats that a series of proposed sulfide-ore copper mines pose to our nation’s most popular wilderness. They are sharing their Wilderness Adventures through regular blog posts throughout their Year in the Wilderness right here on the Beyond the Edge blog. Learn more about protecting the Boundary Waters, follow them @freemanexplore, and connect kids with the adventure through the Wilderness Classroom.