Journeys: The Perfect Non-Event

Need to get away? Visit the Boundary Waters Canoe Area


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A view of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Photo by Cassie Bauman.

Photo by Cassie Bauman

My first canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in late August was not what one would call eventful. But that's what was so beautiful about it. When I first decided to write about my vacation, my hope was to create this moving, descriptive essay about the way life slowed down and the peace I felt in the wilderness. But then life (read: work) happened, and here I am, writing my first draft on Sunday afternoon (after a very stressful Packers vs. Vikings game, I might add).

Honestly, laboring to put into words the simple goodness of going to the Boundary Waters seems a little counter-intuitive to how restorative the experience really was. So instead, I made lists in the mindset of 5!, so 5*4*3*2*1. (I had a lot of ways to categorize the lists.)

Five Wildlife:

  • Loons. Our state bird was the most common animal we saw and the most common noise we heard. 
  • Eagles and ospreys. They were in abundance as well, sweeping through the air currents and resting on the trees.
  • Red squirrels. At our first campsite, the red squirrels were either annoyed at our presence or apathetic to it.
  • Mice. Our third campsite had bold mice that ran over our tents and tried to get into our packs. They were not deterred by fake dog barking or flashlights, much to our dismay.
  • One turtle. I just caught a glimpse of his back end as he kicked away from me in the water.

One of my favorite wildlife moments was taking a mini canoe detour with my fiance to get a closer look at a beaver dam. Alas, no beavers, but it was still nice. 

Four Flora:

  • Moss. As someone who walked around the campgrounds barefoot, the spongy moss was a treat.
  • Shades of green. While the scenery doesn’t change much in the Boundary Waters, looking out at the different trees mottled together across the horizon made me understand why green is many people’s favorite color.
  • Swimming. Rocky bottom aside, splashing and swimming in the crisp waters was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Once I got my head wet, the cold went away.
  • The islands. I didn't know what to expect from the Boundary Waters, but I sure wasn’t expecting all of the islands dividing up the water’s expanse, like little worlds that the imagination could run away with.

I’m sure if the skies were clearer, stars would be on this list. I was definitely prepared with my constellation book, though, even if it was too rainy to see them.

Three Games:

  • Love Letter. There are many versions of this board game; we used the original edition.
  • Presidents. I have never been more difficult about card game rules.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure. This isn’t really a game, but the old school book series was definitely exhausted during the downpour of rain we had on our last day. We were trying our best to find Atlantis.

Two Things I Missed:

  • Pasta. This trip showed me not only how much I emotionally love pasta but how habituated my biology is to it. When we had camp stove pasta for the last night, I was basically doing a happy jig.
  • Salty chips. Yep. That was all I missed during my trip to the Boundary Waters: products of my own poor dietary habits. I was with my fiance and some of my closest friends—what was there to complain about? (Actually, my friend Cassie would argue that we missed the sun; all of the days were cloudy or drizzling, and it outright poured on the last full day. We had unquestionable sunlight for exactly half of an afternoon.)

One Thing I Didn’t Miss:

  • Cellphone data. As stupid as it sounds, not having cellphone data was one of my favorite, if not my favorite aspects about the Boundary Waters. I couldn’t check my work email out of idle habit or deadline stress and I was able to simply enjoy myself in the moment without any electronic distractions.

While lists might seem like a strange way to document a trip, they really do dive into the little things I enjoyed during our time in the Boundary Waters. We went canoeing, set up camp, tried to dry out our wet clothes, ate food, and relaxed. We had no exciting itinerary, no intense standoffs with bears or epic portages or white water rapids. But it was perfect and just what I needed. I do wish I had more pictures (the cover photo was graciously taken by Cassie Bauman), but hey. I guess you’ll have to go experience it for yourself.

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