A Year in the Wilderness: Feeling Winter’s First Arctic Blast – Week 14, Post 8

Cold morning sunrise in the Wilderness
Dave Freeman grabs an armload of firewood to ward off the intense cold as dawn approaches. Photo by: Dave Freeman

The cold stung my face when I unzipped the tent door and ventured out. The sled dogs remained curled in tight balls, with their furry tails draped over their noses to conserve heat. Only Acorn lifted her head to sniff the air and let out a short, playful howl to acknowledge my presence. The wilderness was silent except for the rhythmic squeak of cold snow under my boots. The sun’s glow on the eastern horizon illuminated the lake in a beautiful blue light. Soon the sun would bring warmth to the land. For the first time this winter, I could really feel the cold, a biting cold that grabs you deep down. It was a cold that reminded me that if our clothing were stripped away or shelter lost, we would be left in a world of hurt. Unlike the wolves, whose calls often pierce the frigid darkness, we are visitors in this frozen landscape.

A ribbon of white smoke curled from the stove pipe beckoning me back into the relative warmth of the tent. I scooped up an armload of ash, ready to stoke the stove, sip coffee, and let the sun warm the land before venturing out for the day. The thermometer had stopped working because of the cold, but it didn’t matter, cold is cold, and winter’s first Arctic blast had finally arrived.

Skiing across Fall Lake in the Boundary Waters
The Freemans glide silently  through  falling snow with their dog team on Day 114 of their Year in the Wilderness. Photo by: Max Pittman

After washing down breakfast with a second batch of coffee and feeding the dogs their morning meal, we prepared for a run. Sled dogs have an extra gear that only shows up when the temperature drops. At the first sign that it was time to run, they emerged from their warm beds and began bouncing and barking with excitedly. Soon we were rocketing down the lake, the sled dogs leaning into their harnesses with Amy and me skijoring behind. We skied hard to pump warm blood back into our fingers and toes and the dogs picked up the pace. Toward the end of our run, we picked up a toboggan-load of dry, dead, down ash to haul back to camp. The sun would soon disappear and we knew another cold night lay ahead.

Star filled winter night in the wilderness
“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” -Vincent Van Gogh

When we checked on the dogs and wrapping them in their blankets for the night before heading to bed, the sky was covered in stars and the temperature had dropped to – 20 degrees Fahrenheit. There is something about the cold that makes the stars shimmer and dance. Totally alone in the wilderness, we reveled in their beauty, torn between the warmth of our tent and the spectacle unfolding overhead. If being surrounded by millions of acres of roadless wilderness makes you feel small, looking up on a clear, cold, moonless night from your camp on a frozen wilderness lake makes you feel infinitesimal.

We are tiny grains of sand that land on earth for the blink of an eye, but no matter how brief our time here is, or how easy it is to get lost amongst the dust where we settle, our actions shape the earth in ways that are as hard to comprehend as the limitlessness of space.

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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.