Day one of hitch five began with the usual early morning scramble to eat breakfast and pack up gear for the upcoming days. However, unlike past hitches, we also had to pack up everything in the apartment - cupboards, refrigerator, closets, bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bathrooms - and stuff boxes and bags into Dave’s car and Kelsey’s van. After multiple trips carrying miscellaneous items up and down the two flights of stairs and driving back and forth to the Kawishiwi office, we drove out of Ely together for the last time. The five hour ride from Ely to the end destination at Seagull Lake in the Eastern side of the Boundary Waters was absolutely gorgeous. By the time we got to the parking lot at the edge of the lake, the afternoon was nearly coming to an end. Paddling across the open water surrounded by hills of burned, dead snags felt incredibly natural and maps weren’t needed as we made our way across the familiar lake. August in the Boundary Waters can be wildly busy and, unfortunately, trying to find an open campsite led to portaging 100 rods and cruising yet another lake as the sun began to set. Despite the long physically and mentally draining day, paddling between rocky islands on glassy waters reflecting pink-orange skies was the perfect ending to the day. By the last hitch it could be assumed that Katharine and I would remember to bring a tent but, alas, we ended up sleeping on bedrock under a cloudless sky speckled with stars and a nearly full moon.
The targeted invasive for the first day of weed pulling was purple loosestrife. Unfortunately, or fortunately, none was found and the afternoon was spent checking up on old weed sites. Night two was spent at the Forest Service “boneyard” off of the Gunflint Trail. Dinner was delicious and the mosquitos were horrendous. After about 12 hours of slapping and itching fresh bites, we took it as a sign that we were to spend our last nights in the Boundary Waters.
Jack returned to join us for one last day of adventure and weed hunting. The seven of us traveled to Duncan, Daniels, and Rose Lakes with a lunch stop at the top of a thundering waterfall. After farewells were bid to Jack, a refreshing evening was welcomed with swims, relaxing and yet another amazing dinner.
The next two days, and the last two with a full crew, were fruitful day excursions to Clearwater, Caribou and Poplar Lakes. One last evening together was enjoyed in Grand Marais eating an amazing meal, ice cream, and sitting by the shore of Lake Superior. After the drive back to the base camp on Bearskin Lake we played card games as the full moon rose above the tree tops across the lake.
On the morning of day six, camp was broken down and the crew silently paddled across still water through rising fog. An ever exciting moose spotting made the long drive back to Grand Marais go quickly, and coffee was enjoyed by all before Dave and Nick headed off to continue their own adventures.
Kelsey, Katharine, Clare and I drove to Eagle Mountain (the highest point in MN at 2,301 feet - whoooooo!) and hiked up to an incredibly extensive site of Tansy. The further back into the woods we went, the more the patch of Tansy grew. A steady rain - the first we had had to work in all summer - pattered down on our four hard hats as we went to work. After the site was completed we hiked up to the top of the “mountain” and got to the first look out point as the sky turned sunny once again.
The last day of field work for the summer was spent on the beautiful Brule Lake. At about 9 a.m. we got to our campsite and set up tents and the tarp, then paddled off to the first of our two Canada thistle sites. Clare, thinking like a thistle, found the rather large patch after much searching. As we walked back to our canoes an incredible patch of blueberries was found and we made certain to pick our fair share. Making our way back to the campsite across choppy water was a welcomed challenge and we ended it with one more lunch in the great Boundary Waters. After a few hours of relaxing and divulging our greatest secrets, we made our delicious dinner of “Katharine’s pancakes” with the addition of bananas, fresh blueberries and topped off with fresh raspberries. Our last crew dinner of the summer was also the first we cooked under our tarp. After playing cards and watching the rain for a few hours we emerged to find a pink and gold flushed sky with a rainbow stretched across the trees.
A summer of working and living in such a beautiful wilderness area has certainly been an incredible experience. We have come to know the ways of the Northwoods, the eerie calls of the loons, and the feel of paddling with sore shoulders and toughened hands. To spend nearly every waking minute for three months with people who started out as complete strangers isn’t something many people get to do. We’ve traveled together, experienced the same shifts in weather, felt the same cool breeze come off the lakes. This experience forms a different type of bond; something so pure and real. There is no hiding of flaws or emotions, each person is exactly who they are. Together we’ve watched days pass sitting around a campfire near the rocky shore of a still, glassy lake. We’ve learned to live a pure and simple life.
“I am lost and I rejoice in the openness. I cannot decide where to go, so for now, I will dance where I am and be. There is no goal, no destination, just wilderness and life and being. I sing and dance and live in the wilderness, and I am home.” -Dance of Tziporah
Sigurd Olson was an environmental writer who lived most of his life in Ely, Minnesota, where we have been based out of this summer. Much of his writing has been described as putting into words what many people feel while out on wilderness canoe trips. Reading his words after spending the summer paddling the same ancient lakes that Sigurd Olson did has given a new meaning to the experience. An excerpt from the chapter titled “Awareness” from his book Reflections from the North Country has been especially enjoyed by our crew:
“We think we are finding all the answers, but this can never be done, for there are certain things that cannot be explained: relationships, intuitions, the grand thrust of the evolutional process, the riddle of a bloodstream, nuclear and genetic knowledge, the life-giving function of chloroplasts. The longer I contemplate this world of living things and look at the earth itself, the more I am convinced there can never be an end to wonder and awareness, and that one of the real tragedies in life is to waste time when there is so much to see and learn.”
May the long time sun shine on you.