I recently had the good fortune to spend 6 days and 5 nights on a canoe trip with 2 dear friends, Bill Caplan and Marc Rosenthal, in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While I have been there a number of times previously, and every trip is special in its own way, this particular trip had an even deeper meaning for me.
This is the fourth year in a row that I have taken a canoe trip with Bill, as he is one of my best friends, and almost 3 and a half years ago, he and his wife Rachel, left Madison to relocate to northern Minnesota, just outside of the Boundary Waters. Taking these trips with Bill allows he and I to maintain and strengthen our friendship, while enjoying the beauty and tranquility of the wilderness.
This is the second time that Marc has joined us on a canoe trip, the first time being two years ago when my son Josh also joined the 3 of us. It is also an opportunity for all of us to disconnect from the grid and unwind from the many personal stressors pervading our lives, which have, of course, been exacerbated by the triple threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis (we saw, and our lungs felt, western fire smoke during our trip), and a sociopath in the White House who thrives on chaos. Indeed, my personal stress level was at a disturbingly high level before we left.
As usual, since Bill is the most experienced canoeist and wilderness camper among us, and regularly canoes in the Boundary Waters, Marc and I were glad to let him plan our route. However, both of us did balk somewhat when Bill asked us if we were up for starting the trip with a 1.5 mile portage, as Marc and I are both over 60 and Marc had a recent bout of sciatica that none of us wanted to see flare up while we were in the wilderness.
So, Bill planned an easier trip, with a unique feature. As we started off paddling down the Little Isabella River, towards Quadga Lake, we saw what Bill had let us know we would encounter. The area had been burned in a forest fire 15 years ago, so we would experience what a forest looked like 15 years after it had regrown. Marc expressed some concern as he was looking forward to classic Boundary Waters views with forests dominated by tall spruce, pine and other conifers. But we all agreed that we would camp the first night on Quadga Lake and decide whether to stay there or move on the next day.
This was the view from our campsite during the day and at sunset. As you can see, instead of tall conifers dominating the forest, shorter spruce and lots of aspen were the dominant species to spring up after the fires. We were fortunate to witness the aspens in their peak fall glory. Standing dead trees were a stark reminder of the fire’s devastation. As we settled in for the night, we agreed that there was indeed something special about this place, and since we had the lake all to ourselves, we decided to stay for what turned out to be 3 nights.
The next day, we took a long day trip to Rice Lake. While day trips in the Boundary Waters can be easy as we did not carry all of our camping gear, this particular trip was quite long and somewhat arduous as the roundtrip involved 6 portages. In fact, the first portage had a fork in it, and I was not pleased to arrive at the end of the portage where I should have found Bill and Marc, and instead found no one. Unfortunately, we had miscommunicated about the need to take a different fork in the trail, but eventually we found each other, and though frustrated and a bit weary from an unnecessarily extra long portage, we ventured on towards Rice Lake.
What none of us knew until we arrived is that Rice Lake received its name because it is full of wild rice. In fact, initially, we kept looking for a lake while we were paddling through the rice, only to eventually realize, that virtually the entire lake was full of wild rice, grains of which literally fell into our canoes while we paddled through it.
The next day, we decide to enjoy an easier day and explore Quadga Lake. We wondered how the animals would return to a forest 15 years later, and how the fire might impact the fishing. To our delight, nature’s bounty revealed itself throughout this beautiful day.
Bill even caught a nice size Northern Pike for us to enjoy at dinner.
After 3 nights on Quadga Lake witnessing how the earth regenerates after devastation, I realized that there were many lessons to learn, especially at this time in human history. With the triple threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the sociopath in the White House, our nation and indeed, the entire world, is in dire need of regeneration. While many of us feel desperate that our world may be beyond recovery, bearing witness to the forest’s regeneration around Quadga Lake, was a poignant reminder of the resilience of the earth.
Marc’s wish to see classic Boundary Waters views was granted after we left Quadga Lake and paddled down the Isabella River to Bald Eagle Lake. The 3 of us had been there (along with my son Josh) over 2 years ago, but seeing it during peak fall season, when the park was virtually devoid of other campers, was well worth the return. We found another great campsite and spent the next 2 nights there.
The following day, after we meditated surrounded by natural beauty, we took separate day trips around the lake to explore its natural wonders.
As you can probably tell, we had glorious weather, but by our 5th day, we did encounter some rain. Fortunately, we were prepared, so we stayed dry and comfortable, and as the sun went down, the rain ended, and we enjoyed a glorious sunset with the sun’s colors reflecting on the mammatus clouds above us.
After a truly peak fall experience for 6 days in the Boundary Waters during which Bill, Marc and I deepened our friendship and lowered our stress levels, we all knew that the world around us had not improved while we took this much needed respite. Yet, we also knew that in order to fact the internal and external challenges that would face us as we re-entered the world, this opportunity to regenerate ourselves, was critical for the days, weeks and months ahead.
My mental health had vastly improved over 6 days as the calm look on my face reveals.
Six days without the internet and all the news it brings, both personal and about the state of our world, also helped to reduce our stress levels. Of course, we turned our phones on as we drove out of the park towards Bill’s house, but we were so remote that it took almost an hour before the e-mails and other notifications started pouring in. I deleted almost all of my various newspaper subscription e-mails without reading them, but of course, none of us could help but see a number of scary headlines, including the occupant of the White House’s threat to stay in office even if he lost the election. We reminded each other that we did not want to talk about the news quite yet.
Once we returned to Bill and Rachel’s home and settled in for the night, before Marc and I headed back home to Wisconsin the next day, Marc knocked on my bedroom door before we went to sleep. He expressed his increasing anxiety about the state of the world now that he had reviewed more news and talked to his wife about the troubling state of the world that we had removed ourselves from for 6 days.
I made no effort to minimize our nation’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, or the occupant of the White House’s threat to a peaceful transition after the election. However, I did tell Marc that the six days we had just spent regenerating ourselves in the Boundary Waters better prepared us to fight for a better world as we re-entered it. He smiled and acknowledged the truth of what I said, and the next day we returned home better prepared to do the work that needs to be done to heal ourselves, our nation and our world.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact me, Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting my web site: Systems Change Consulting.