Sunday, August 16.
Just returned form a fabulous broasted chicken meal at The Junction Grill near Babbitt, down the road from Ely, during which I read lots of maps and other p.r. pieces about this beautiful place on Planet Earth. Got into my motel room around 5 p.m. Clothes from canoe trip now washed and hanging in the bathroom.
But first, let’s back up a week:
During the first four days of this three-week trip, I functioned as one of the guides during a retreat — billed as a “pilot project” — at Oakwood Center near Selma Indiana. A fabulous time, during which about two dozen of us kept discovering what it means to actually Be At Home on Planet Earth. We were attempting to slow down — to recognize the ubiquity of the obvious; to feel into the invisible presence breathing through us. To actually experience how primal life flows through our bodies; how these bodies, in turn, participate in the living, breathing body of Earth. In short, we were attempting to grasp and hold what, in this hyperactive, technologically wired culture, our minds tend to completely ignore and/or take utterly for granted. And to this end we jointly, and at times spontaneously, co-created a number of, let us say — NOVEL — and astonishingly successful techniques. These techniques shall remain unmentioned for now.
Then I drove a million hours to Minneapolis in one day.
That was Monday last. Spent Tuesday kayaking the lakes in Minneapolis with my like-minded cousin Ben Kreilkamp who I discovered has been practicing tai chi for 40 years! Then he and his dear friend Adrian and I sat outside for a fabulous restaurant meal in perfect late summer evening twilight.
The next day I drove four hours north from Minneapolis to the Boundary Waters Region of Minnesota, where it intersects with Canada. But first, a mistake: drove probably 30 minutes south of Minneapolis (while noticing that the Sun was on the wrong side of the car and trying to ignore the noticing), before realizing that, aha! — 35W (south) is not the same as 35W (north).
In any case, I still got here, to Ely Minnesota, in plenty of time to meet my guides and group from Wilderness Inquiry at the Ranger Station east of Ely shortly before 2 p.m. Our group: four old women, including me, all of us members of Great Broads for Wilderness, two guides, both young, one female and one male, and one 25-year old man who decided to join this group at the last minute, despite being told who else would be in on it . . .
The two guides have been friends ever since they met in Ecuador, and this is their first guiding trip where they were partnered. Our five days together were filled with high-spirited adventure, with many portages (carrying both canoe and supplies from one lake to another, including one portage that was nearly 1/2 mile long — both coming and going), extraordinary meals with fresh produce and ultimately way too much food. Even drink! We polished off both red and wine cardboard flasks while on the trip, and enjoyed them hugely while sitting around the camp fire laughing and seriously conversing by turns.
But ultimately, the main deal was THE PLACE: the boundary waters that teem with loons and eagles, and beaver, and, supposedly fish (we didn’t see many, and fish weren’t biting for fishermen), bear and wolves. Also frogs, one of which kept finding me and actually allowing me to pet it, and a single species of butterfly which continuously occupied our various camps. On the final day, a final butterfly landed on me, and decided to stay on my body in various places for a long time. As a result, for me at least, frogs and butterflies were a huge part of this spectacular trip which also featured wind that, during the final two days, blew the many lakes that we paddled through in our canoes into white tipped waves which required HUGE ENERGY to navigate — both staying the course and not getting blown into rocks. Plus, it happened to be perhaps the most important weekend for canoeing, since it’s August, when the mosquitos are almost gone and school is just around the corner. Which meant that canoe parties were all searching for open campsites, a limited number of which are set up and available. Plus, crowding at the portages themselves, one of which, as I said, was very long, and at which, various parties would good-naturedly cue up.
Those five days turned into one of the most magical experiences of my long life, both because of the wilderness experience (where cell phones don’t work), and because of the capacity of our two guides to make the best of whatever happened, to truly “be at ease with whatever is arising,” including both helping us old broads in our 70s not only get in and out of canoes while slip-sliding on slippery underwater rocks, but to sit inside a cascading waterfall one at a time, and crucially, to learn how to navigate the waters while propelling the canoes forward in the direction desired, no matter how brutal and tricky the winds.
Until that is, the final day, today. When we woke up after an incredible night during which thunder and lightning and a bit of rain swirled through and kept on swirling, the winds not dying down, but actually picking up. Which is, according to our guides Cory and Dan, very uncharacteristic. Usually winds in the boundary waters pick up in the afternoons; mornings are calm. Well, not this day. In fact, one of our three canoes couldn’t make it around a point — the wind was pushing the waves so powerfully onto the loaded canoe with two people in it, only one of whom was both strong and knew what she was doing.
The result? The first two canoes made it to the leeward shade of an island and waiting for the other canoe — to no avail. Oops! Did it get swamped? So both canoes, despite exhaustion from battling the winds, headed back, to round that first point where hopefully, the third canoe would come into view. Nope.
Oh, but wait! There’s a motor boat with fishermen! Dan blew his very loud whistle. Once. Twice. They turned, waved, and headed towards us. Thus did what I would call divine intervention interrupt what could have been some kind of tragedy.
It turned out that the third canoe couldn’t get enough oomph to round the first point into the biting wind, and headed for shore, to regroup, and redistribute its considerable weight. Then, amazingly enough, just as they were headed out again, they heard the sound of a motor, and yep! There was their rescue team!
In short, what was supposed to take one hour of paddling, took four hours of being rescued, an elaborate operation that climaxed with three canoes being yoked together and pulled in tandem as a kind of raft behind the motorboat with the two fishermen who were glad of a rescue operation, since the fish were not biting; our two guides and the young man each sat in one of the canoes, bailing water with the pans that we had used to wash our dishes all the way across to the take out point with us, “the ladies,” having already been ferried across on the motor boat, waiting on the other side.
So, it turns out, this five day adventure turned out to be one wherein the adventure just kept getting stronger, riskier, day by day. And great fun! We, the ladies, aka Great Old Broads, relished every minute of our at times terrified exhilaration in the company of the three beautifully aware, strong, gentle, funny, and insightful young ones who hopefully, will inherit an Earth upon which her human inhabitants are beginning to remember to surrender to our Love for Her. For once that happens, we humans will find ourselves naturally and joyfully tasked with cleaning her up, transforming our toxic waste into compost for renewed life.