He puffed atop a moss-included log, flexing the dappled ruff around his neck as he issued an angry honk. My buddy Lisa stood before him, enraptured.
I stumbled out of my drowsing bag and into the frosty morning. Outnumbered, the grouse retreated. Lisa fired up a camp range and heated pancakes from a mixture. As the mist lifted off the lake and adolescent loons cried within the distance, we sat down to eat interlopers in nature.
Lisa and I had been three days into a 4-day canoe experience through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota’s spongy higher reaches. There, America’s most pristine watershed flows into Canada.
Lisa had rhapsodized approximately the area for years, but I’d always been suspicious of the infamous mosquitoes and black flies. Though she lives in New York City now, Lisa is a local Minnesotan like me. Having lettered in the University of Minnesota group, she has frequently traversed this lake-dappled panorama, paddling from shore to shore, sporting her canoe overland to the following body of water, and then floating once more. Finally, I’d agreed to go in early October, the end of the season, when the bugs are not as horrific, and the first chew of winter is already in the air. We had been geared up for our journey using David and Nancy Seaton of Hungry Jack Outfitters, who also mapped our direction: 25 miles through the watery woods west of Lake Superior, from the beaver resorts of Ham Lake to the satisfaction docks of Poplar Lake.
Before setting out in the Seatons’ Kevlar canoe, Lisa and I had pushed north from Minneapolis to Duluth. We would have a lunch of smoked lake trout at Northern Waters Smokehaus, within the city’s business waterfront, which grew into a purchasing district. We continued alongside Lake Superior’s coast on a dual carriageway coated with evergreens until we reached the harbor village of Grand Marais. A holiday spot for sailors, hikers, and artwork buffs, it’s the jap jumping-off factor for paddles into the northern Boundary Waters. There, we wandered through North House Folk School, watching weekenders construct Adirondack chairs, weave willow-branch baskets, and bake, sauce, pickle, and mull many styles of apple. We perused the rugged wares (looking knives, GKS deer-leather-based snowmobile mitts) at Joynes Ben Franklin Department Store and the artisanal items (hand-carved teak serving spoons, hand-poured candles that odor of the woodland ground) on the boutique Upstate MN.
That night, we drove the Gunflint Trail to our lakefront cabin at Bearskin Lodge, where we dashed via the cold darkish to sit in our personal non-public outdoor Jacuzzi under a starry sky. We went to the nearby Poplar Haus, a 5-cabin hotel with a chef-driven restaurant in a converted dive bar for dinner. Like Upstate MN, the paintings of thirtysomethings fled the greater populated southern part of the country for the best lifestyles.
“People need to live here,” David Seaton instructed me. “They want to retire here.”
In truth, the ardor humans experience for this rural corner of America has led to a struggle over its future. The Trump administration canceled a proposed 20-yr moratorium on copper and nickel mining inside the forests near the Boundary Waters just weeks before our trip. Because water pollution could be inevitable and a commercial spill could devastate the ecosystem, Hungry Jack is one of 10 plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Right now, Seaton had us, paddlers, to recommend: “If there is a moose in your direction thrashing his antlers, live away. Hoist your meals % off the floor, or a endure will steal them. Use the collapsible camp seat so that you don’t get the wet-butt syndrome.
“The weather file isn’t terrible till Wednesday,” he added. “Then matters get ugly.”
So we planned to reach our final destination, Poplar Lake, where Seaton would be waiting to pick us up before things got unsightly. Still, even the high-quality-laid plans of bold New Yorkers can fall prey to the charms of the Boundary Waters. The paddles’ lapping rhythm and the eerily human songs of the wood wolves slowed our inner clocks. As we crossed every lake, we took inside the beauty of the soggy panorama, with its charismatic fungi and rotting stumps lingering at the reflection of the spruces at the water, the leaves of the paper birches turning gold, and the crows flapping overhead. We submitted gladly to the work of each portage, which required trips to get the entirety across. The clothing baggage was heavier as our socks and sweaters inevitably got moist, but the food baggage was lighter.