Archive for September, 2014

Back to the Boundary Waters

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Wet portage

Carrying a canoe across a rocky portage, paddling into a stiff breeze, stepping into the muck while traversing a beaver flowage, and sleeping on a rocky point with rain pattering on your tent can give you stiff muscles and wet feet.

But those experiences in canoe country also bring a sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of meeting physical and mental challenges we seldom experience in our everyday lives.

Sawbill sunset

Just back from four days in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) – needing a shower, clothes smelling of wood smoke, and ready for a night in my own bed – my only regret was waiting so long to get back to the wild country I’d visited periodically since 1965. The maze of rivers and lakes, bordered by pines, spruces, birches, and cedars, comprise an ecosystem that lures adventurers from around the world.

Temperance River

Is it because we long to relive the historic fur trade, when voyageurs paddled these waters carrying prized beaver pelts? Or is it a more spiritual attempt to learn about our inner selves? Or maybe just an escape from the electronic world of cell phones and computers and TV . . .

Perhaps it’s longing to return “home,” which is what Native Americans called the pristine country that gave them life and livelihoods.

Breakfast cook

But will my grandkids be able to experience that get-away? What lies ahead for the BWCAW – and for other tracts of the 100-million-plus acres of wilderness we’ve set aside since the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964?

The threats never seem to end. There’s been pressure to keep more areas open to motorboats and snowmobiles; proposals to erect cell phone towers almost on the wilderness boundaries; new demands for mining and logging keep popping up. And what about the popularity of wilderness areas, with so many visitors that some sites are in jeopardy of losing the solitude and serenity that should define “wilderness?”

White pine

We must introduce the next generation to the wild country – while instilling in them an ethic to protect it. We try to tread lightly on those portage trails, not build campfires so large that we deplete all the dry wood, and keep only enough fish for a meal or two. As visitors in the homes of others – moose, loons, wolves, bears, otter, eagles – we should show respect for our hosts and not defile their habitat.

The wilderness should leave our bodies and souls refreshed and restored – and we should leave the wilderness, well, wild.

Ah, Wilderness!

Monday, September 15th, 2014

Sawbill Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

Wilderness:

An untrammeled place where man does not remain?

Perhaps – if you’re a bureaucrat or lawyer or legislator.

But to Jamie Pinkham, a Nez Perce Indian who grew up in Idaho, wilderness means “home.” Pinkham recalls camping with his grandmother in a tipi while harvesting berries. He didn’t think of the outings as wilderness trips, but rather as following the season to places where Nature provided the resources that sustained his people.

Pinkham offered that perspective at the recent Lake Superior Wilderness Conference in Duluth, Minn., which celebrated the 1964 passage of The Wilderness Act. From 9.1 million acres protected initially, the country’s designated wilderness has grown to more than 100 million acres in 757 sites.

Award-winning environmental writer Michael Frome, now age 94, reported on the long debate over the controversial legislation. He called The Wilderness Act “democracy at its best.” Although federal agencies mostly opposed the measure, citizen conservation groups managed to push it through Congress. And Congress has approved all the subsequent wilderness additions.

Frome reflected that wilderness can help us find out who we are, where we came from, and what we are part of. Wilderness is sacred space, with sacred rhythms. Wilderness preservation and appreciation could be one antidote to the hatred, prejudice, and greed that trouble our world, he suggested.

Jim Pfitzer, in a monologue portraying Aldo Leopold, noted Leopold’s role in setting aside New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness in 1924. As a young forester, and later as a leader in the conservation movement, Leopold recognized the value of wild places – especially for future generations.

“I am glad I shall never be young without wild country to be young in,” Leopold wrote.

But involving young people is becoming even more of a challenge in a society so disconnected from the natural world, lamented Chad Dayton, an educator with Wilderness Inquiry. He called for partnerships among public schools and public lands – noting that too few land managers are willing to cope with a “youth invasion.” More exposure to public lands – wild lands – could help kids develop ethics and stewardship, he said.

The conference concluded with “Paddle to D.C.” – the send-off of Dave and Amy Freeman to paddle their canoe 2,000 miles to Washington, D. C., to lobby for protection of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) watershed from threats of sulfide ore mining.