The Simplistic Magic & Mysticism of the Northwoods

Ever since I was a child heading up north meant getting away, vacation, reprieve from everyday life. Sitting here on this chilly grey day in Texas brings my mind to the wonder and beauty of the north woods during the spring with it’s cool mornings and evenings and warm, sunny afternoons.

Each and every trip meant escape to the beauteous peace and serenity of the woodlands and lakes that Minnesotans are fortunate enough to call their own. These trips could be with my parents and sister, my grandfather and cousins, boy scouts, or as I grew older with friends or alone but they always held such meaning; a renewed outlook on life and the world.

Any outdoor enthusiast knows the wonder of lying down in your sleeping bag gazing through the porthole screen window at a lakeshore sunset or the blanket of stars in the unpolluted skies of the north. It’s in these moments that you can find peace and solitude as your mind begins to slow down and turn itself off allowing you to live in the moment or simply forget the stress of daily life and allow introspective thoughts of yourself and the world.

The misty fog blows through and over the trees next to Bean Lake as the evening sun attempts to penetrate its thickness
The misty fog blows through and over the trees next to Bean Lake as the evening sun attempts to penetrate its thickness

With the backpacking trips there I always find amazement in the fact that every necessity is carried in one pack light enough to be carried on your back.

It only takes that 30 pounds of gear to live.

Within this 30 pounds you have shelter, clothing, food, a book possibly, some writing materials, for me it always contains a camera, and a few other odds and ends. Enough to survive, yet it all can be carried on your back.

The slow pace of hiking allows you to take in the details of the world around you. Things you simply would not notice in the hustle and bustle of daily life take on great importance. The morning dew on the pine needles, a loon calling to you from across the lake as you sit next to the campfire, the splash of the beaver’s tail on the water as you drift off to sleep. Every bend in the trail presents a place that looks too splendid to not stop and take a break, yet you have to pass some to make camp before the sun falls behind the trees and the trail disappears into the thick and noisy darkness.

The sky begins to turn colors as the sun sets behind the trees in Tettegouche State Park
The sky begins to turn colors as the sun sets behind the trees in Tettegouche State Park as the mist rolls through the valley and the sun lights the treetops

As you stop to make camp you unpack the gear that you so carefully fit into your pack. One person takes the time to set up tents while the other cooks a dinner that only takes one pot. We often decide to reduce dishes to simply eat right out of the pan and sit next to a lake or creek and replenish our energy with a dinner of mashed potatoes and pasta mixed into a trail version of hotdish, or casserole to any non-Minnesotan.

Then there is the magic of the campfire. Within those flames are many a story of wonder and enchantment. Somehow any conversation just seems more interesting as you watch the crackling flame and glow bugs while listening to the noisy silence of the woods.

The clouds reflect off the glasslike surface of the lake as the fog moves through a valley to the south
The clouds reflect off the glasslike surface of the lake as the fog moves through a valley to the south

The morning is almost a ritual for any backpacker. Being awoken by the heat of the rising sun as it fills your tent. You rise from the sleeping bag slowly and put on camp shoes to stretch as you take in the beauty once again renewed from a nights rest in the cool fresh air of the northwoods. You then find solitude and sit on a bench or log and watch the sun finish rising from the East; taking your time to wake up as your mind relaxes. There is simply no rush to get ready as you knowing you have the entire day to make the next campsite.

The morning rays of sun pierce the clouds as the cool air moves across the ground
The morning rays of sun pierce the clouds as the cool air moves across the ground

All of this magic lies just a few hours north of home. Part of its beauty is that it holds a different meaning for each individual who enters the woods. Moments of bliss and reflection await a personal experience that is hidden in the trees that surround.

My 4x5 camera on the lakeside campsite of Bear Lake
My 4×5 camera on the lakeside campsite of Bear Lake

About the photographs:

The Twin Lakes Loop located near Beaver Bay and Silver Bay is a wonderfully scenic section of the Superior Hiking Trail that every backpacker should experience. It’s difficulty level is one that any enthusiast can enjoy. Though having a few challenging ups and downs there are plenty of places to rest and enjoy the scenery to catch your breath and hike the next section. The campsite on the shore of Bear Lake is one that will exceed the expectations of even the most seasoned and traveled hiker.

The Sounds of Bygone Voices

Too many parents of small children make the mistake of putting off camping until the kids are “old enough.” Too late, they discover that by the time the kids get old enough, they’d rather be doing something else. 

No, the time to take kids out is now. We’re not talking, here, of wilderness, over mountains, through rivers, and over glaciers, but we are also most certainly not talking of setting up camp in the living room in front of the TV either. Though that might be good practice, since all good camping requires planning, and camping with kids requires the best possible planning.

Kids don’t need much to keep them happy. All they really want is and need is to be comfortable, safe, and well fed. Start with short, easygoing outings, with plenty of games, books, crayons, and favorite teddy bears. Spoil them rotten on such trips. Double desserts and triple attention. Listen together to loons, tell each other great stories.

For what playpen could be better, and safer, than a ten? Pitched in the pines. Under the stars.

Wit & Wisdom of the Great Outdoors

Jerry Wilber

The cliff overlooking Bear Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail (The Twin Lakes Loop between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay, MN) on a calm evening as we are about to make the steep hike down into the campsite
The cliff overlooking Bear Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail (The Twin Lakes Loop between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay, MN) on a calm evening as we are about to make the steep hike down into the campsite

I was paging through a book that I came to possess when my grandfather passed from his collection and found a post-it note bookmarking this passage. It was eery to read and imagine that this was his mission with my cousins and me. As with everything I inherited from my grandpa it has to do with the outdoors. This was always my connection with him, that is no secret. All the days and nights I spent hidden from the world in the great wilderness of Minnesota taught me how to live. There is a unity that bonds everything in the world from our fellow people to each blade of grass. Our time spent together was often volunteering at various camps for the Boy Scouts of America, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and other organizations he cared a great deal for. Looking back now I see how we were helping others to learn about the peace and wonder that can be found at the campsite. Pitching tents as a team, taking day hikes to learn about flora and fauna found in the area, the stories told around the yellow glow of a campfire, and the inner peace found lying in your tent as you listen to the voices of the wind through the busy night woods. Often we were trying to help people to find the wonder explained in this passage. Admiration of the outdoors is inherently linked with a respect for it. If we do not care for our wilderness now it will not be there to share with our children and grandchildren to make these connections that cannot be found in the hustle and bustle of daily life. As I move towards a phase of my life where I am ready to have children and many of my friends are having them this is an important notion to keep in mind and an important practice to put in place.

At Home Up North

Easily one of my favorite campsites on the Superior Hiking Trail this view of the sunset from where our tents were set up shows why it is worth the effort to get to.
Easily one of my favorite campsites on the Superior Hiking Trail this view of the sunset from where our tents were set up shows why it is worth the effort to get to.

After moving to Texas I have been more drawn to trying to capture the magic of the sunset. The colors in the sky that are created during this time of the day are so vibrant and magnificent it is hard not to feel an appreciation for things beyond the control of man. I must admit I have not yet captured a Texas sunset I deem worthy of showing, but upon looking back on images I had taken I found this wondrous scene on the shore of Bear Lake on the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT). This section, the Twin Lakes Loop, is one of the most popular areas for many reasons. Foremost is it’s beauty, this section goes from rocky outcrops, through wooded marshes, scenic lakes, and more. It is also on the southernmost leg of the SHT; making it an easy weekend destination from the Twin Cities. Over the past several years I have found myself at this campsite countless times. This image is a perfect example of the serenity found at any given moment while sitting at this campsite. The subtle details in this image are overwhelming to anybody who has been to this location. The strips of birch bark along the shore are easily mistaken for litter, but are simply a sign of the beavers who have a den built at the southernmost tip of this lake on the stream that leads to Beaver Lake. Hidden in the water is the beaver swimming across the lake creating the ripples that are coming towards the shoreline from where the photograph is taken. The crystal clear water is all too inviting on the heated days of July and August after a sweaty hike through the ups and downs of the Sawtooth Mountains to get to this hidden oasis. This view accompanies every activity at the campsite from cooking breakfast over the propane stove, conversing over a campfire on a chilly eve in the north woods, lying in the afternoon sun to relax after a day hike, etc. Easily my favorite parts of the day while at this campsite are the sunrise and sunset. Even if you are not an early riser it is hard to not be awoken by the early morning sun heating up your tent on the shore. For these reasons and more this location is a place that in my heart has a feeling of home.