The canoe slipped into the water like a knife cutting silk, little waves sloshing against the rocky shoreline as I settled in the stern. Fingers curled around the paddle, muscles tensing for the first sweeping stroke sending me out from shore.
A fine mist obstructed visibility, softening the far shoreline into a mere suggestion of land.
The muscles and sinus in my arms and shoulders hummed from three days of paddling; not sore, but aware they'd been used.
The summer is nearly over, and I'd come to this place to experience a few days in their fullness. I'd come to paddle, to sleep in the crook of ungiving ground, to light fires and smell of woodsmoke, to exist in the fullness of the day's heat, wind, and rain.
I like the adversity of this labor; the familiar weight of a canoe settling on my shoulders during portages, the world narrowed to the view under the curve of a boat. I don’t mind the rain settling on my skin, the mud in my shoes, the accumulation of scuffs on knuckles and ankles. I may even one day learn to enjoy paddling into a stiff headwind, and for now, I am satisfied each time I have done it.
I like the stillness, too, before anyone else has woken. In the hush of the sun rounding the far curve of the horizon, the hum of my brain softens. Out here in the wild, the only things that matter are movement, rest, and food.
Sometimes we all need to retreat to places like this, if only to remember how to truly see the world around us — not the one that exists on computers, TV screens, or newspaper pages, but the one that we actually live in.
Here among the islands, lakes, and rivers of the Boundary Waters, I'd found exactly what I was looking for. This wilderness, which people have set aside precisely as a place outside of the normal, is where hundreds if not thousands travel annually to collect their thoughts, to allow their mind to still and settle. I am one of many, coming here to be one of the few.
“If we were meant to stay in one place, we'd have roots instead of feet.” —Rachel Wolchin