Whether by circumstance as a result of multiple similar occurrences or as a result of myself being in a generally more reflective state I find myself asking why more often lately. As this specifically relates to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area I wonder why the million acres of woods and waters in Northeastern Minnesota was designated as a space that would be protected from expanding settlement and mechanization. It’s very easy to forget that these areas had to be fought for to be set aside as a wilderness, and with that comes the assumption that they have always existed. In trying to better understand the why of it’s existence I often turn to the author and environmentalist who was crucial in protecting the area known as the BWCA Sigurd Olson. He has a way of crystalizing and defining a vague idea and when I read it always feels like I knew it to be true. In answering the why does it exist question I think he sums it up best.
“And so when we talk about intangible values remember that they cannot be separated from the others. The conservation of waters, forests, soils, and wildlife are all involved with the conservation of the human spirit. The goal we all strive toward is happiness, contentment, the dignity of the individual, and the good life. This goal will elude us forever if we forget the importance of the intangibles.”
With a better understanding as to why it exists in hand I am still always wondering why I am so continually drawn back to the park. There has always been something different that has pulled me into trips into the BWCA, but always a larger underlying need to return, and in some cases the wilderness was only just a backdrop. In the beginning as a teenager it was the excitement of socializing with friends in an unsupervised environment and being trusted to plan and enact a trip on my own. Over the years I found myself obsessing with different aspects of canoe camping, whether it was fishing, paddling, photography, or cooking. Pushing myself to physical limits whether by the length of the trip, the number of portages, or the time of year was a masochistic style of trip I used to take in my 20’s. On one of those month long trips a few years back in a trip journal I was ruminating to myself about a trip to an unnamed lake and even back then I think I knew what keeps me coming back.
“As I lay in my tent listening to the periods of heavy rain resume I think about that mud hole. Maybe it doesn’t have to contain any fish or incredible campsites to still have something to offer. I realize we have been overthinking it. We ventured up to an unnamed dead end lake in hopes of fishing and maybe a neat campsite, but deep down I know we went up there for something bigger, yet simpler. It’s the same reason were on this trip, because it’s there; and in experiencing it we can better understand it. Staring at maps can only get you so far. This morning I knew there was an unnamed lake separated by three portages north of Darky Lake. Now I know what it looks like.”