Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Great Northwoods
and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada
North of here, along the international border is a bunch of lakes and rivers and forests. I think of them now, in May, when the waters warm up and the leaves get green. It seems harder to actually go there but it is fun to remember. Curtain Falls thunders and roars down to Iron Lake. Argo in Canada is as pure as a swimming pool minus the chlorine. Stuart Lake is wild and isolated with fresh walleye frying in a pan.
I have spots I remember; campsites and portages that were unique. There are campsites by Lower Basswood Falls in the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness), or Rebecca Falls in Quetico (Provincial Park) that are choice and rare to find empty. Farther north still is huge Sturgeon Lake in Canada with its open waters and huge waves; and yet there is a sand beach campsite there... then there is the fear of the Maligne River, of capsizing and being swept by the current with its huge flow of water...
I feel kinship with Lac La Croix (Lake of the Cross), a border lake with bays, islands, pictographs, granite hills and good fishing. I skip in my mind to Nina Moose and Agnes and river paddling with wild rice and lily pads or thick willows and sand bars by small rapids.
I go interior to Shell and Oyster, to Heritage and Upper and Lower Pauness. I think of Finger and Fat and Slim and mysterious inner lakes like Gebeonoquet. My mind takes me north again to Kashapiwi; a narrow lake with high cliffs in Ontario, to Russell with Chatterton Falls.
I think of the towns of Atikokan, Ontario and Ely, Minnesota and trips that started and ended between them. There are other lakes, like Nels Lake by the Echo Trail, and the Little Indian Sioux River with its portages around rapids.
There are lakes called Beaverhouse and Loon and Quetico, and going to Joyce or Darkey or Crooked.
There are danger areas, Upper Basswood Falls where some have lost their lives, and transition lakes like Fall Lake or Basswood with their big waters.
I miss these lakes, remembering long portages and quiet bays. I remember the sweat of carrying a canoe past mossy spruce forests or around beaver dams. I think of White Feather Lake and the Stuart River winding in bogs and swamps that seem desolate and untraveled.
BWCA is a special place
I think of eagle's nests in Iron or Minn Lake trees and seagull nests on granite islands. I remember reading maps folded on Duluth packs and sleeping on tree roots and drinking lukewarm water from the lake.
How thankful to remember an overturned canoe used as a table, a quiet evening casting for northerns off the shore; a loon calling and its echo responding in the silence. I remember storms with lightning and wind, moody days when rain dampened our spirits; times of solitude and rest, maybe in a mesh hammock stretched between two jackpines.
I can remember snow on a few trips, bear's eyes reflecting in the campfire, moose swimming and wolves howling far away. There are scratches on the aluminum canoe that came from boulders in the river, and cliffs on Stuart to climb and watch the sunset. I think of wet feet and biting flies and swarms of mosquitoes too. I remember a warm sleeping bag, dry clothing, using the life jacket as a pillow and cool misty mornings.
There are a lot of beaver dams to encounter, rapids to wade on hot August afternoons, like Darkey River with darting fish hiding under fallen logs. There are campsites that are majestic and some better than the finest cabin spot with shorelines beyond purchase. There are so many lakes I never got to and yet I am satisfied. Forty canoe trips is a good number. Summers long ago, and journeys not so distant. There are memories of harmonicas and cleaning the grill and the smell of pine smoke from the fire. Sunsets and reflections and boundary markers cemented into stone along the Boulder River and by Bottle Portage.
There are Canadian Ranger Cabins to reflect on, with yellow float planes and ultra light canoes on sand beaches. There are old stocking caps, worn paddles, beaten up aluminum cookware and flannel shirts and clean dry moccasins for camp trails with pine needles underfoot.
I know of being humbled by the wind and waiting out the storm. I also remember reflections and full moons and deep silence. Owls hooting, ducks with little ones, turtles sunning themselves on the Horse River on logs left from logging days. Then there are the stops at Dairy Queen in Ely, with stubble on the face and the thought of a hot sauna waiting back at camp.
I could go on and on, and yet, it is enough for tonight. These places do exist, in more than my mind. They are real places and perhaps others remember them as well.
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