We paddled hard. We were exhausted, sweaty, and uncertain of our exact location. That outcropping of land…was that an island or peninsula? I’m pretty sure that’s Canada on our left, and the US on our right, but that’s only if I’m reading this map correctly and that spot of land is, in fact, an island. Two portages already behind us, and hopefully no more in front, at least for the rest of the day. If the targeted campsite was unoccupied, we might have a shot at foraging some blueberries. More than food, though, we needed to take a dip in the pure, clear, clean water to scrub off the day’s grime. On our way to that site, we noted other available campsites in case ours was occupied. Would we go back or try to forge ahead? We were the furthest north that we could be, and we still had 3 days paddle to get out. With no contact to the outside world possible, and our weather information three and a half days stale, we were at the most rugged point at which we could be.
Paddling around the island we held our breath. Would the target site be free or occupied? As we passed the last spruce tree blocking it from view, the three of us let out a collective sigh of relief as the site was revealed to be vacant. We swung the canoe around and paddled it straight into a granite slab that served as the landing spot for the island. Rudy was in front and he hopped out to haul the canoe in the rest of the way, balancing precariously on the slick rock. Hopping out we quickly unloaded our gear from the canoe and pulled it ashore, tipping it on it’s side.
As we began to set up camp, a vibrant and blue butterfly alighted on my backpack with a relaxed and somewhat unhurried disposition. Saying nothing to Rudy and Jim, I kept my eye on it. The color alone was such that it provoked my interest. Emotionally, though, it pulled at my heart.
Pausing by my pack for a drink of water, that very same butterfly lazily jumped off my pack and landed on my foot. “That butterfly sure likes your stuff, Rob,” Rudy called after me. “Yeah, he’s fixated with your gear, Rob!” Jim agreed. They had noticed too. It was odd because the three of us had the same Osprey backpacks, yet this brilliant blue butterfly chose only to visit mine. I didn’t dare move my foot lest I disturbed this magnificent creature and it’s friendly, oddly comforting visit.
While I stood there observing this butterfly on my boot slowly flapping it’s wings, with no apparent worry or care, a few thoughts entered my mind: was this a symbol? Could this be a sign from my recently deceased Nonna? Or could this be a sign from my yet unborn daughter? The day before I left on this trip my wife and I found out that we were having a girl. My thoughts went to her and our baby and my heart throbbed in my chest. To Rudy and Jim I muttered something about it, and in a moment the butterfly jumped back on my pack. We finished setting up camp and quickly got changed for a dip in the water.
We’d just finished drying off, hanging our microfiber towels on a line when the first rain drops fell. The northwest was hard for us to see because of the tall trees obscuring the view, but rain clouds had moved in while we were swimming on the southeast side of the island. In a mad scramble reminiscent of a yakety-sax routine we tossed our gear under the canoe, into the tent awning, and scrambled under a tarp that the three of us held over our heads as we watched the rain dance on the water and sizzle over our fire.
Still feeling stressed and emotionally raw – over losing my grandmother, being away from my pregnant wife on my longest back country trip to date, and the stress of being the defacto leader of the group, charged with navigating and safety – the rain served challenge my spirits as I fretted over losing the fire and the wet gear.
What happened next can only be described as powerful magic: the clouds passed, the sun illuminated the back side of them in a golden aura, and in the ensuing break, Jim put on some relaxing guitar music – the first music we allowed ourselves the entire trip.
It was, at once, magnificent, stunning, peaceful, and completely and utterly paradigm shifting. But nature wasn’t through dazzling us. As the sun set, and the clouds moved south, they passed to reveal a spectacularly bright moon who’s light danced on the peaceful ripples of the water with the grace a ballerina could only dream of.
This tiny little island, in the space of an afternoon, treated us to an earthly and cosmic beauty show, that several years later, and in my life, is basically unrivaled. It completely transformed my anxiety and stress in way that defies explanation. When that moon emerged from behind the clouds – we noticed it first on the water – it was like this weight had been lifted. Combined with the music and the dip in the water, and the butterfly, it was an unforgettable afternoon made up of small moments of stunning beauty.
Our whole Boundary Waters experience was an absolutely incredible adventure, and a test of all our skills and knowledge and mettle. It was a big ‘first’ for the three of us. When we finally got to a spot with cell coverage, I shared the butterfly story with my wife. She did some digging and came up with the name Nova for our daughter. Bright star, chases butterflies. I was sold. In her room, Nova has the map that we used on the trip, framed, with a butterfly sticker on the island where that visit took place.
That one trip stands out in my life like almost nothing else does. It is the single most important back country experience I’ve ever had, and the same goes for Rudy and Jim. For millions of people the promise of the Boundary Waters has endured, and for millions of others their discovery awaits. However, there are those that would seek to destroy this place and crush it’s ecosystem. Namely Twin Metals Mining Corp, a foreign mining company that has an abysmal ecological record, including spills at every single one of their mining sites. The legal battle has been on for years, but a glimmer of hope was introduced recently.
From Backcountry Hunters and Anglers: “The Boundary Waters Wilderness Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Francis Rooney (R-FL), is vital legislation that would complete an administrative withdrawal of 234,328 acres of public lands in the watershed surrounding the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from copper-nickel mining development and mineral leasing. Drafted in response to the outcry from hunters, anglers and others over the proposed sulfide-ore copper mine, the bill would maintain the pristine ecological quality and unparalleled hunting and fishing opportunities of the Boundary Waters watershed.“
Please take action Here and support this legislation. I have shared what this place means to me. What does it – and what could it – mean to you? Again, please take action to protect this treasure. https://www.backcountryhunters.org/take_action?utm_campaign=bwca_january_2020&utm_medium=email&utm_source=backcountryhunters#/132