Sometimes, a place becomes a part of you. For me, that process began more than 20 years ago as a 7th grader, gazing across the glassy surface of a wilderness lake, listening to the haunting call of a loon on my first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I felt like we had paddled to the end of the earth on Alton Lake. Now, after years spent exploring the intricate maze of lakes and rivers that form it, this million-acre wilderness feels like home. My wife and I have been introducing people to this place for more than a decade. Plying its waters by canoe in the summer, and harnessing sled dogs or clipping into cross country skis once it’s blanketed in snow.
The Wilderness continues to teach us, and over time, our lives have become more deeply entwined with the Wilderness. Our way of life is deeply rooted in this place. Several years ago, we heard rumblings about a sulfide-ore copper mine that was being proposed along the southern edge of our nation’s most popular Wilderness. The more we learned, the more concerned we became. Pollution from the mines would flow directly into the Wilderness and would turn the edge of it into a vast industrial mining zone.
We have come to realize that blisters and cold fingers are not the only price we must pay for the lifetime of knowledge and memories we’ve gleaned from the wild. Generations before us have fought to protect our public lands, and we are benefiting from the fruit of all their efforts. Experiencing the outdoors is not enough; we must speak loudly for quiet places like the Boundary Waters so that they will be preserved for future generations, and we must introduce new people of all ages and walks of life to the forests, lakes, rivers, and mountains so that they will hear the singing Wilderness and continue to amplify its call.
My wife and I have spent the last 118 days bearing witness to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It was -26F when we woke up in our tent this morning, and we are almost a third of the way through our year in the Wilderness.
You can learn more Dave and Amy Freeman’s journey and follow along at www.wildernessclassroom.com and www.savetheBoundaryWaters.org/WildernessYear. To follow their social handles, check out @freemanexplore and @savetheBWCA.