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Boundary Waters named by USA Today as one of the Top Ten Places to Extend the Summer

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Boundary Waters

In the Nick O' Tyme! by Heather Monthei

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 the media!

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 determination.


''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 stray crumbs.

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 inside.

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.

''Williamson'' Camp

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 interesting story.

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 my line.

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 come.

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 level.

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 special bonding.

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 glowing coals.

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.

--article courtesy of

Little Indian Sioux South Sharing Treasure

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