Yes, we were harassed by mosquitoes. Yes, it stormed for much of our time there. And yes, we all loved every minute. But here are a few more interesting and admirable qualities we discovered on our journey to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota.
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is picturesque like the Grand Canyon. While we were photographing the area, it seemed the images captured were going to tell the story all on their own. Words couldn’t justly explain the wide-open, beautiful landscape. A review of said photographs upon return validates that there were some beautiful photographs taken there, but those photographs can’t even get close to revealing the area’s expanse or grandeur. Beauty, in the highest sense of how you experience it, is something the BWCAW has to offer in volume.
A Peaceful, Welcoming Quiet
One quality that stood out to me on my first trip there was how peaceful it was. For an area that is comparatively one of the busier wilderness areas in the United States, it offers a great sense of isolation and solitude. That isn’t to say it feels desolate but instead peaceful. On our trip, the signs of humans that were most apparent were the 20-some-odd vehicles parked alongside ours where we, like them, would put-in and head north. On a day-to-day basis, encountering people wasn’t all that common. On two days of our trip, we didn’t have contact with anyone outside of our group. Those days, the closest we came to others was seeing small matchstick-like canoes on the horizon bobbing up and down when there were waves, or gliding steadily when there were none. The peaceful quiet wasn’t a silence. It was the experience of hearing only wind, water, waves, animals, and each other for days on end.
I was never aware of Minnesota’s unofficial, “stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.”\\ I can say, however, that it is more than real, and was more than apparent on our trip. This was an experience everywhere we went. Just about everyone we encountered was, well, nice. To those in Minnesota, that is the norm. To a visitor from one of the largest cities in the United States, it was abstract and refreshing to encounter fellow weekend explorers with such palpable positivity. Our group had not only noticed it but had been talking about how courteous and flat-out sincere everyone we had come across was. At a stop in Duluth, we asked our waitress if it was normal for everyone to be so easy-going, helpful, genuinely considerate, and, well, nice. That was when we got our education on Minnesota Nice.
I will be back
On the last day of our trip, a friend I hadn’t seen in a dozen years or more grilled me on why I hadn’t been in contact while I was in Minnesota. I knew the trip was short, and it wouldn’t have worked out, that was the truth. The other truth, I said as my response: “Don’t worry, I’ll be back.” I plan to be. Whether that trip is by canoe or dog sled has yet to be decided, but I will be back.  Atkins, Annette (2008). Creating Minnesota: A History from the Inside Out. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 242, 243, 248.