Revisiting Charles Kuralt's America for July in Ely, Minnesota:
A birch tree grows on the shore of Moose Lake. A canoe lies on the bank beside it.
From that birch tree, you could paddle the canoe up to the end of Moose Lake and camp overnight and put the canoe in another lake the next morning. You could cross that lake, and camp for the night, and paddle across another lake on the third day. You could keep this up, visiting a different lake every day, for a hundred years, and you still wouldn't get to all the lakes.
Henry David Thoreau wrote: "A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth's eye."
I sat on a rock beside the birch tree, looking into the eye of the earth. I was watching the sun go down on Moose Lake and thinking about the universe of green forest and blue water I had come to in a day's drive north from Minneapolis-St. Paul. Loons called to each other out on the lake. Thunder rumbled away to the north in Canada. I stayed there until the night came on.
This was not the Moose Lake down there south of Kettle River, and not the Moose Lake west of Nashwauk, and not the Moose Lake that the Bigfork River flows out of. God knows how many Moose Lakes there are in Minnesota. This was that other Moose Lake, the one east of Ely where the road runs out and the Boundary Waters begin.
The Boundry Waters Canoe Area is a million acres of wilderness with no roads, no buildings, no sign that human beings have ever been there, except for Indian pictographs on some of the rocks and footprints on some of the portages and signs of old campfires on some of the islands. Motors are barred; no outboard motors, no airplanes, no generators compete with nature's sounds. No cans or bottles are permitted. It is unlawful to cut down a tree, or even to cut off a bough or chip away bark. Groups of more than ten canoeists must split up and go in different directions.
If it is absolute solitude you want, you have only to paddle far enough. If the vast and glaciated U.S. wilderness isn't big enough for you, a Canadain wilderness of equal size awaits across the border. Without a topographic man and a compass, there's no way to tell which country you're in, anyway. In two or three days of paddling and portaging, you can be reasonably assured of reaching the beautiful lake of your fondest dreams, where you can set up camp for a week or two without hearing another human voice.
I had not come to Moose Lake to embark on an arduous wilderness trip, not this time. I've done it in years gone by, and I remember how long those uphill portages can be with a canoe and a backpack to carry. I thought it would be enough to wait until July when the black fly season is over, go as far north in Minnesota as I could, find a cabin on the last point of land where cabins are permitted, and just look at the wilderness and think about it.
Tags: Charles Kuralt, America