This is my wife’s perspective on our family trip to Meeds Lake in the Boundary Waters. You can also read my daughter’s report.
My Relationship with Rocks
Those rocks on those portages were frightening. They looked treacherous. When we pulled up to the portage I simultaneously wondered how we could possibly traverse it and knew that if other people could do it, so could we. I looked at those rocks and knew they could be slippery, or tippy, and I thought about the importance of being surefooted. Last thing I want is to hurt my ankle and then have that to deal with. Good gravy… any of us could get hurt walking on these rocks.
The rocks reminded me of the hill in Medjugorje where we turned back after climbing up halfway and realizing we’re on a masochistic journey by design. Forget that! I didn’t want to see whatever was up there bad enough to continue risking our ankles on those rocks. I found it to be very suspicious that nobody had made the least of an effort to clear even the smallest of paths. When it dawned on me that my climb was supposed to be unpleasant and possibly painful I said, “We’re done. Let’s go back. Who cares what’s up there?”
But this portage wasn’t Medjugorje. We were going somewhere… from Point A to Point B. There’s no turning back. Absolutely no option of not continuing onward. We’ve got everything we need for our time we have planned to spend in the Boundary Waters.
How many times has RDG been to the Boundary Waters? Four? He’s done this before. I totally wait for his instruction. Discuss the plan for landing these canoes. Execute the plan. Everyone out. Everything out. Now who carries what? And up the rocks we go!
I’m the last one up the hill of rocks. I’m not trying to keep up any kind of pace. I don’t care. Walking alone. Looking at each rock and stepping carefully to avoid succumbing to the effects of gravity. They’ll be dropping their stuff off at the other end of the portage and heading back this way. If anything happens to me, they’ll be back. They’ll see me.
Finally, I reach the end. Drop my pack. Stretch. Pause. Walk back. These rocks are unreal! But I’m sure whatever could be done to improve this pathway has been done. There’s a board walkway every so often. Sometimes there’s a muddy puddle to walk through. Each of us walked to the end of the portage, back to the beginning, and back again to the end, carrying an appropriate sized load for our individual abilities. This had been well planned beforehand by RDG. We walked 4 portages on our 4 mile trip to our campsite, taking 4 hours to make the trip. On the way back out we chose to do one mile long portage instead of backtracking. On every portage the rocks reminded me of my frailty and mortality. Each rock reminded me that I could fall, hurt myself, break my body. And yet, I walked on… slowly… slow down to make things safer for myself… Not much else to do on those portages other than slow down and pay attention…
Well, I did do some thinking… On the portages I was alone with my thoughts. I mostly thought about rocks. I was thinking… Why would anyone call somebody else “My Rock?” I don’t think it’s because that person is challenging to relate to. It’s probably not because that person reminds you of how vulnerable and frail you are. Its probably because neither of them have ever portaged…
RDG set up a tarp as soon as we arrived at our campsite. Tied it to trees using masterfully tied knots. I was truly impressed with those knots. They could be quickly loosened to raise or lower the tarp. When it rained he lowered the tarp and we sat under it, wearing all of our clothes. It was cold. We spent the better part of one day sitting under that tarp and watching the storm. Staying dry. It rained so much that there were little rivers of water running down the paths and puddles in the place where we did not pitch our tents. When the rain stopped and the sky cleared I had a renewed appreciation for RDG’s preparedness and for the beautiful weather that followed the rainy day. Nothing like a storm to remind us to be grateful.
I like to build a fire. I like to create a structure that will ignite and burn efficiently. I like to keep it going. I did all of these things on my trip to the Boundary Waters. It was awesome! One night I left the fire alone to help my children get ready for bed and when I returned I found the fire had gone out completely! It was damp and our firewood wasn’t the greatest, so the fire needed extra attention to keep it lit. I saw the effect of my absence and I saw myself as an important part of this trip… It was a tender moment.
Our campsite made for prime sunset viewing. Each night RDG would sit and enjoy the sunset. It was beautiful. I would be distracted, though. The sun setting meant that I had a limited amount of time to make sure everybody got fed. Two evenings I cooked the fish the guys had caught and a third night I made beef stroganoff using math to figure out the ratios… 80 ounces water to… however many ounces of dehydrated ingredients… Very important math problem. I guess there’s really nothing I would have preferred more than doing an important math problem at sunset in the Boundary Waters. Stroganoff turned out excellent! Ratios were spot on!
I watched the movie, Platoon, the week before leaving for the BWCA. Excellent film. A work of art. So many concepts to examine in Platoon, but, what I see most is a film about group dynamics. If you go to the BWCA with other people you will experience group dynamics. That’s a given. Would you like to have a look at your family dynamics? Go to the wilderness together. Bring your stuff. Then you will have the opportunity to begin to see your relationships in a new way. It could be a transformative experience. As for me, I saw the need to take on specialized roles in a wilderness environment. There could only be one leader, and there needed to be only one leader. This perspective on group dynamics gave me new insight into the necessity of the hierarchical structure of the military, a subject which I had already had some thoughts about.
I remember the week before we left for the Boundary Waters… I was so nervous and anxious about this trip, wondering if we would have everything we needed, being unsure of my place. This had been an extra stressful summer for me and going on this trip was even more stress for me. Even though our trip was supposed to be a fun time, I still saw the potential for there to be big challenges, accidents, or errors made. It seemed like there wasn’t much I could do to make myself feel better about the stressful nature of my first trip to this wilderness. The only thing helpful that I remember doing to help plan for this trip was to say that we needed a bigger bag of marshmallows to last us the whole trip. Marshmallows are important, and lightweight, so we needed the big bag. And I found the shelf stable cooked bacon at Aldi. That was good. But the rest of the planning and preparation was done by RDG.
Am I the Only One Who Smells That?
One day we decided to canoe across the lake to check out a portage, and possibly stop by another campsite to see how it compares to the one we had chosen. The big boys fished as they paddled. We arrived at the portage and my girl decided to take a dip. The boys stayed out in the canoe and fished. We were fairly far away from our campsite when we saw the sky start to change colors. Looked like it might rain. We imagined possible scenarios. We made the decision to start heading back to our campsite, possibly stopping at another campsite on the way to see how it compares to ours. I am so glad we stopped at that campsite!
The entire time I was in the Boundary Waters my focus was largely on how to meet our basic needs: shelter, warmth, water, food, safety, rest. The beauty of our surroundings was there, and I perceived it, but the reality of our vulnerability, neediness, and dependence was often at the forefront of my mind. We landed our canoes at this campsite and took them out of the water. I was curious if we got the better of the two campsites, so I started to explore this one.
As I walked down the pathway, looking around, I encountered a fragrance so captivating I forgot everything else and chased after it as if it were a fairy. Am I the only one who smells this? Its the most sensual thing I ever smelled and I was experiencing it for the first time at this campsite! I was so enthralled at the scent I must have been talking about it… I was definitely trying to figure out where it was coming from. The only thing I came up with is that, perhaps, it was coming from the earth near the red raspberry bushes. I know that other people have smelled this smell before, as, although this was the first time I encountered it, I knew almost instantly that this is the scent many masculine colognes are trying to imitate. Now I understand it! But no perfume comes close to the mysterious and seductive aroma that I found on the paths at that particular campsite. I sought that aroma out on the rest of my trip, and I sometimes found it, but it was elusive. Although our island campsite was superior to the other one in every other way, it didn’t have that scent that was the highlight of my trip.
On Being New
This was my first trip to the BWCA. It wasn’t my first time camping, or my first time canoeing, but it was my very first time portaging and being so far out in the wilderness with only the things we chose to bring with us. Having other heavy things on my mind during the months before my trip, I hadn’t been thinking about the significance of my doing something fun and important for the very first time. So, what makes for a good first time in the BWCA? Preparation. Being with people who are supportive and willing to cooperate. Respect for our differences. Realistic expectations.
What wasn’t I expecting from my first time camping in the Boundary Waters? The huge bruises on the outside of my thighs that I got from sleeping on a rock. Did I roll off my foam camping mat during the night? Or did I get those bruises even though I had a mat on top of that rock? I’m not sure. I’ve never slept on a rock before. The first few nights it didn’t even occur to me that the rock under my mat might have an effect on me. I like to sleep on my camping mat. Most of the time its great, but, apparently, a big, flat, tent sized rock underneath negates some of that greatness. Go figure. So, on the last night of our trip, while trying to fall asleep at night, on that rock, I was thinking… why would anyone call their romantic partner “My Rock?” This rock that I’m experiencing is not very fun and I’m looking forward to leaving it behind.
Before our trip began I had been wondering if our trip would be long enough. It was plenty long. It was a lot of work for everyone to be on this trip and when we were all packed up on the last day and paddling out I was satisfied with my experience. When we got back to civilization I was feeling spent. I had a new perspective on lots of things. And, as it so happened, I had another camping trip planned for myself and CTG less than a week after I returned home. I brought my bruises and my husband’s inflatable camping mat on that trip. I was still feeling a little tender, so I decided to be extra gentle with myself, give myself a chance to heal.
Pamela Hartnell says
Cool pants for the adventure. You defenetly have the gift of writing. I can feel the gratitude for a camp leader in your writings about Rand. How he helped to take the edge off your fears in the extreme wilderness. Happy that you all were able to have this family experience together. Looking forward to reading about your next visit to the Boundary Waters . Marshmallows, always fun for a fire. I’ll take the wild rasberries .