Last week, I reunited with friends who are spread across the state and country.  We converged in Minneapolis and headed north to Ely, Minnesota, the gateway to canoe country.  We stopped by the Canadian border outpost, showed our border crossing permits, and glided into the wilderness stroke by stroke.

The farther into the Quetico Provincial Park we traveled, the more the modern world slipped away.  First the sound of motors diminished, then our cell signals, and then even most other travelers.  As one member of our group observed, “this trip is the only trip I ever take that allows me to be totally and completely in the moment.”

I will admit that I didn’t think about work much!  However, the opportunity for reflection and nature observation yielded some insight into my work, which I will share.

Fly smallie popper

Smallmouth bass on a fly rod

Things worth doing are often tough, hard, and exhausting! The physical challenge of paddling and portaging opens the door to new opportunities and the adventure which we seek, but this challenge and opportunity pales in comparison to the struggle to establishing canoe country as a protected place. Before the trip I read a biography of Sigurd Olson.  He was largely responsible for establishing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Voyagers National Park, and Quetico Provincial Park. He also worked to establish many other protected areas in the United States.  Getting these priceless pieces of “wilderness” established was extraordinarily difficult!  The Ely MN chamber of commerce, mostly comprised of lodge owners and timber and mining representatives at the time, nearly ran Sigurd out of town.  His vision that wilderness has value and should be protected went against the grain, but the results shine today. Ely is a thriving little town supported by a sustainable flow of canoe country tourists who migrate there, called by the beauty of nature, “unimproved.”

The genius of nature resonated.  As we work to protect our water resources here in Southwest, Missouri, seeing a largely intact and pristine watershed provides encouragement to continue to move from “grey” to “green”.  In the Quetico, recent fires, tornadoes, and windstorms have raged.  But, the resilience of the natural system regrows, repopulates, and regenerates, creating state of dynamic equilibrium, which most intact ecosystems attain.  As a testament to the water quality benefits, I drank a little of the water from the lakes without any disinfection, filtration, or purification.

Home-sweet-home on Carp Lake

Home-sweet-home on Carp Lake

Lastly, the abundant wildlife reminded us that we are part of a community. We saw loon pairs with fuzzy chicks, eagles, a bear, and yes, lots and lots of fish.  These “charismatic macro-vertebrates” sent chills down our spines, provided company on the water, and once, even tried to snatch our catch (picture an eagle narrowly missing a jumping smallmouth bass and three grown guys in a canoe screaming in surprise and horror because the fish was on the other end of our line).  I feel a strong ethical responsibility to be a steward of this community, of which we are only a part.  Aldo Leopold describes it best in his Land Ethic Essay: “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land… In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”

You should go there sometime.

Mike Kromrey
Executive Director


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