the Nick O' Tyme! by
Lack of time was all too evident as Marshall and I began our new
project. That of building our own Kevlar canoe. We started the last week
of July and our very first trip to the Boundary Waters was scheduled for
September 8. With that goal in mind we made the first saw cuts into the
plywood which would shape the mold for our new canoe.
Two hundred hours later we stuck the new registration numbers on the
bow of our craft and stood back to admire our creation. The calendar
read September 6. Smiling at each other with satisfaction, we christened
her appropriately ''Nick O'Tyme.''
Anticipation mounted, and tensions melted away, as we drove to our
entry point. Marshall and I were new to canoe camping, and the thought
of paddling in the wilderness for ten days was thrilling. The idea of
escaping our complex world, retreating from throngs of people, and
fleeing from the fast-paced life was more than inviting.
One could just imagine the irony which greeted us at the landing when
we stumbled upon a television crew filming a story about BWCA campers! I
couldn't help laughing. We had come so far to avoid a world of
technology and at the door of the wilderness we were face to face with
However, the only sound to be heard on the lake was the dripping of
water as our paddles cut into the gentle ripples. As we rounded the bend
in the river, the serenity of the rock-lined shore and the pine-scented
forest invited us into the wonder of the northwoods.
A retired couple from California had just finished hauling their gear
over our first portage. Following their lifelong dream to canoe in the
Boundary Waters, the woman told us she had had a double hip replacement
earlier in the summer. Although she was handling the rough terrain
fairly well, she kept a pair of crutches in the canoe ''just in case.''
I had great admiration for her positive attitude, courage, and
''Dry Bones'' Camp
Two gulls stood sentinel on a high pointed rock as we entered the
next lake. Looking for a place to camp we found a site in a protected
bay. ''Dry Bones'' was the name I gave our new home, for as we pulled up
to the smooth stone landing I noticed a sun-bleached skeleton neatly
arranged on the bank. Upon closer inspection we identified the ribs,
legs, and vertebrae of a moose who had probably died the previous winter
and been laid out carefully by an earlier camper.
A creamy sliver of moon cradled a morning star as the night sky
melted into dawn. After a breakfast of oatmeal and granola we proceeded
to break camp while a pudgy chipmunk awaited his chance to search for
I studied the map carefully knowing that the islands on the big lake
were notorious for confusing even the most experienced canoeist.
Defining a point in the distance as our goal, we aimed the canoe in that
direction. I felt comfortable with the progress we were making although
landmarks on the maps didn't always compare with reality. It was near
eleven o'clock when my husband diplomatically suggested that perhaps we
should consult the compass.
The sun seemed to be in the wrong place in the sky! Frustrated, I
swallowed my pride and had to admit that the sun was probably just where
it was supposed to be. After Marshall's short, but informative,
discourse on navigation, we altered our course and chalked up our
experience to choosing the ''Scenic Route.''
There was little time to react as we dug our paddles into the hard,
forceful swells at the entrance to Alice Lake. We estimated the breakers
as two feet high with white foam spilling over each wave. An empty
campsite across the channel offered refuge, but the turbulent waters
clearly jeopardized our canoe. Exhaustion was creeping in, but I knew
that missing even one stroke could mean trouble.
My shoulders tightened as we slowly covered the distance toward the
campsite. I was grateful that Marshall had chosen a canoe design with a
more rounded bottom when we built the boat. ''Nick'' responded to this
challenge admirably as she sliced through the powerful whitecaps with
grace. As the strong gales forced us sideways toward the empty campsite,
our paddling skills were severely tested. With a sigh of relief, and a
prayer of thankfulness, we climbed ashore feeling that we got there just
in the ''Nick O'Tyme'' once more.
''Paradise Point'' Camp
''Paradise Point'' was indeed a slice of heaven. It granted us
everything necessary for our three night stay. Even a nice supply of
firewood lay stacked by the grate. An old gnarled cedar, twisted from
years of brutal winter weather, pointed toward the sunset while a jetty
of boulders stretched into the choppy waters to the north.
Warming ourselves with cocoa and cookies, we stared into the dancing
flames, and sensed that all was right with the world. Soon the golden
sunset was swallowed by a star-studded sky. A gentle breeze caressed the
branches overhead while a distant loon called out a sleepy goodnight. I
peered out the tent screen to watch the stars fade as the heavens gave
way to somber clouds. My mummy bag was toasty warm and left only my nose
cold. The crisp morning smelled of pine and damp leaves; a yodel of a
loon echoed in the distance.
Plans for our day trips included a visit to the Indian pictographs on
Fishdance Lake and a side-trip to Amber Lake. Donning our lifejackets,
as we always do, Marshall and I slipped ol' Nick into the chilly waters
and began to explore.
The Kawishiwi River was calm and two dozen mergansers bobbed in the
fast-flowing current. As we turned south at the T-intersection, I
acknowledged the flat smooth granite wall which would create the gallery
for the native American art. A spindly ash stretched a fruited limb from
a long crevice in the rock. A shallow cave gouged out by the waters held
mystery and one's imagination could be triggered by the spirit stories
of the Maymaygwashi, the legendary tricksters who might have dwelled
Natives dating back hundreds of years are credited for the
pictographs which give us clues to the traditions, experiences, and
beliefs of the Ojibway people. Their paintings reveal their close ties
to the natural world and the animal kingdom upon which their lives
depended. Many of the images are thought to be results of fasting on
vision quests and offer a deep level of spiritual insight. How
differently our eyes interpreted the images; I felt ignorant and
incompetent as I tried to decipher the deeper meaning of their messages.
The wind slapped our faces as we reversed our course and angled into
the opening of Amber Lake. Lily pads squeaked as they brushed against
the sides of the canoe. A winding grassy channel led to a placid lake
where two huge nests sat in the same tree. I noted both moose and wolf
tracks imbedded in the moist soil on the muddy bank, and we imagined
what magic could be unleashed there.
A day-trip to Cacabic and Thomas Lakes was on our agenda the next
day, although we planned to hike the 238 rods to Thomas as merely a
''Sunday stroll.'' We were glad we left the canoe at the landing as we
approached the 100 yard bog that straddled the beginning of the trail.
The sulfuric odor should have been a warning flag for the mirey floor at
my feet. As my boot plunged into the yielding earth, I felt the muck
grasp my foot welding it beneath the surface. My only hope was a nearby
shrub which aided my balance so I could dislodge my foot. The slurp of
breaking suction confirmed my freedom, and I wasted no time in finding
more solid ground.
A startled exclamation shattered the silence on the deserted portage.
I turned to find that Marshall's first step found a spot right between
the submerged log corduroy which was supposed to ease walking through
the bog. His leg sank deep into the quagmire, sludge spilling over the
top of his knee-high rubber boots and soaking clear down to his toes.
The remainder of the trail wound through the thicket and over a small
ridge. Bunchberry still sported their bright crimson berries and a
red-capped toadstool stood partially hidden in some tall green grass.
I coined a nearby clearing ''Laundry Ledge'' for we used it for more
than just lunch. A preliminary rinsing of Marshall's pant legs, boots
and socks was tackled before any thought of nourishment. The stench from
the bog enhanced the wet footwear already embedded with several days
use. Then crackers and cheese, pemmican, and trail mix held hunger at
bay before we retrieved the paddles.
The constant percussion of the afternoon shower beat a steady rhythm
on our tent roof; water droplets splashed down the domed sides. As night
fell, the stillness prevailed; even the loons were mute. There were no
other campers on this pristine lake. We were alone with our thoughts.
The morning air was crisp and clean as the pewter skies gave way to
blue. Remnants of the night's rainfall dripped from the branches over
the tent, and a small twig skidded down the rainfly.
The lake was mirror-like, and I could lie there no longer. The
ceiling was leaden, but the clouds sported a peach-buff hue behind the
feathery wisps. As we prepared to break camp, I took a last admiring
look at the aged birch behind the tent. I wrapped my arms around the
trunk to measure its girth and was amazed to find the tips of my fingers
barely touched. As I stepped back to consider what I had done, I
realized that I had not only measured its diameter; I had hugged the
tree in the process. I had shared part of myself with the wilderness and
in so doing embraced its spirit. It was my last personal contact with
the campsite on ''Paradise Point.''
As Marshall and I paddled back through the quiet waters of the
Kawishiwi River, I spotted a large dark form in the channel ahead of us.
The unwieldy head of a bull moose bobbed with each step as he lumbered
through the water, climbed the bank, and disappeared into the dense
thicket. Suddenly a trumpeting blast pierced the morning's composure as
the animal summoned his mate. We stopped our paddling and sat mesmerized
as the revelry repeated itself becoming more faint as the moose roamed
deeper into the boreal forest.
Our next island campsite was large enough for solitude yet small
enough for a thorough exploration, and we wasted no time before
investigating its unique treasures. The name ''Williamson'' was engraved
on a slab of granite in the center of the site, and we imagined the
clearing as a place with historical significance or at least an
The large granite promontory extending over the wrinkled water was an
ideal spot to fish, and Marshall confidently cast his line in
anticipation of an evening fish-fry. I chose my spot on a lower shelf of
a nearby bank where I confronted a new set of problems. Battling both a
stiff breeze and a sticky thumb released on my reel, I succeeded in
flinging the lure only a few feet from the shoreline, creating a
''plop'' instead of a ''whir''. After several unsuccessful casts I
managed to wedge the bait between some rocks and had a terrible time
obtaining its release. Determined to improve my technique, I kept
trying, each time improving slightly until I heard a thump overhead
rather than in the water. I craned my neck in total exasperation only to
find my lure dangling from a tree branch several feet above me. Instant
zip-lock pasta was becoming more and more appetizing as I disentangled
With my pole over my shoulder I stalked back toward the campsite
unaware of the chaos I was leaving behind me. An abrupt tug on my line
caused me to pivot in my tracks. I had not only snagged the plastic line
on a bare tree branch, but I had created a veritable web, a most
intricate display of string art as it criss-crossed the path for about
30 yards. I stared in disbelief before summoning Marshall to the rescue.
This bizarre picture would be something to laugh about for years to
The warmth of the campfire healed my spirit as it warmed our bodies.
Except for the tremolo of a loon, total silence prevailed. As I
considered my surroundings, I grieved at how our materialistic world
often shows more concern for preserving our man-made empire than it does
for protecting the natural world. There are so few places left on our
earth that remain as our Creator intended.
A whippoorwill and several crows joined the loons in a wilderness
wake-up call. As we paddled down picturesque Hudson Lake, the sun poured
its liquid gold on the sparkling ripples. We packed away our winter
coats and rain gear for the first time in days.
Stopping to admire the splendor of the rapids, we watched the current
spill over the rocky embankment. Portages like this are more than a mere
link between two bodies of water; they are way-stations where a weary
pilgrim can stop to embrace the natural world.
Delight of Dawn Camp
''Delight of Dawn'' was the place we called home for the next several
nights. Our island campsite was well situated for our next few
day-trips. A rock ledge reached over the channel which separated us from
the next island; an eagle nest perched high in a white pine across from
us. A wall of boulders in the interior of the site was padded with
mounds of moss while a small pool encased in stone lay on the lower
Our day-trip to Horseshoe Lake was easy and rewarded us with pristine
wilderness. Brewis Lake was small but held a lot of charm as did Harbor
Lake where we stopped for lunch. Marshall and I shared our thoughts as
the sunlight warmed the rocks around us. What a joy it was to
participate in this journey together, our common goals resulting in a
As we sat around the campfire that evening, we listened to the gentle
night murmurs around us. The only light came from the flames in the
grate; our imaginations created pictures to illustrate the wilderness
sounds. The star-filled sky grew in intensity as the fire dwindled to
The quarter moon sent its beam through the pines in the backwoods
guiding my steps to the campsite commode. How fitting it was that the
ivory crescent occupied the place of honor high over the latrine!
A gentle fog danced on the lake as the rising sun warmed the
surrounding trees. From our stone overlook we watched the eastern
horizon as it exploded into color. In a matter of moments the haze
thickened obscuring the water line and creating a ''double sun'' as the
solar body reflected on the lake. Then just as suddenly the fog lifted
and morning was born.
The plan was to meander to the side lakes of Rifle and Rock Island.
As we paddled through a narrows, an eagle perched majestically on a
naked branch of an island pine; his far off gaze communicated an air of
dignity and pride.
As I stepped onto the portage to Rock Island Lake I heard frantic
scratching on a nearby tree. Searching up the trunk, I made eye-contact
with two brilliant eyes set into a triangular face, that of a
sable-colored pine marten. I froze in awe as he dug his sharp claws into
the coarse bark of the red pine. Then he was gone, vanished like a flash
into the woods.
Navigating the lake was simple enough; the water was smooth and the
sun was radiant. The brilliance, however, blinded us from seeing the
submerged rock until it was too late. The pointed spine of the long
narrowboulder seemed to reach under our canoe, lifting it up and
spinning us in place. The more we shifted position, the more we pivoted
on the axis. Marshall's composed thinking rescued us from our peril as
he slowly reached his leg over the gunwale to step out on the offending
obstruction to set us free.
Solitude at its finest was found on long, narrow Rifle Lake. One lone
maple stood out against the evergreen backdrop, its orange and crimson
leaves boasting their autumn glow. Relaxing on the shore, we inhaled the
pungent aroma of pine.
We watched the tendrils of flames as they wrapped around a pine knot
in our last evening campfire. A distant barred owl added his
pronouncement of nightfall as the skies filled with pulsing stars.
The 28 degree morning was crystal clear; Venus beamed brightly
through the screen window of the tent. Taking time to gather my thoughts
on paper I taxed yet another flashlight battery while Marshall slept.
Soon the canopy of stars paled into the sapphire sky. The trees across
from us were haloed by the creamy dawn as gentle wisps of fog coated the
glassy surface of the lake. A loon graced the morning with her call.
As I emerged from the tent, two Canada jays perched nearby with
obvious intentions of joining us for breakfast. My frosty breath created
its own clouds, and my nose was numb from the frigid temperatures. The
icy liquid in our water bucket burned my brittle fingers as I prepared
our last morning meal.
It was painful to say goodbye to our wilderness home. As Marshall and
I paddled back to our entry point, my thoughts regressed to mundane
concerns of civilized life: would the car start and how many loads of
laundry did we have! A light shower urged us to quicken our pace; and as
we reached the landing, it began to rain in earnest. It looked as though
we got out in the ''Nick O'Tyme!''
We have relived our first wilderness experience many times over the
past years. I study maps all winter trying to determine the best lakes
to visit, the most captivating sights to see, and choose from the
selection of waterfalls, pictographs, and historical or scenic points of
interest. I imagine a confrontation with a moose or bear and hear in my
mind the rare howl of a wolf or the alien call of a loon. The wilderness
instills in us a deep sense of peace that cannot be found in too many
places. Reflecting on our past canoeing experiences helps me hold onto
that spirit until we can return to that place where our souls can once
again be nourished by the call of the wild.