Our paddles keen and bright,
Flashing like silver;
Swift as the wild goose flight,
Dip, dip, and swing.
That old Girl Scout song infiltrates my brain, repeats over and over again, accompanying the strokes that propel our canoe. I’ve been yearning for this. There is no escape quite like launching a canoe and becoming one with the water. Losing myself in the pristine wilderness, the tree-ringed lakes, and the silence broken only by loon calls and the swish of our paddles.
I’ve been lobbying for a trip to the Boundary Waters. To camp and sit by the fire. To look beyond at the brilliant stars. To hope for an Aurora. To crawl out of the tent in the morning and drink my coffee while looking out at the calm water. To set out and paddle the whole day long. But it wasn’t in the cards.
While in Grand Marais with our son Erik and his wife, Katie, we went up the Sawbill Trail and rented two canoes for the day. Rich and I paddled one, they shared one with their dog, Finley who rode complacently in the duffer spot.
It all came flooding back. That Boundary Waters feeling, the seclusion, the lack of technology and urgency which pervades our lives. Just us and the water. Dip dip and swing.
We traveled the length of Sawbill Lake, surfing the rollers stirred up by a strong south wind. All the while knowing we would have to paddle back again into that same wind. But we forged onward regardless. An 80 rod portage took us into Ada Creek where we found quiet backwaters to have a floating lunch. Finley wondered why we didn’t portage more often so he could run. It was all good.
Yes, it was a brutal return battling into the wind. But it did the trick. I didn’t think about COVID all day. I didn’t worry about wearing a mask, washing my hands for 20 seconds or who was in my circle. All I had to do was paddle. Dip, dip and swing.
This morning Rich and I launched a canoe once again. We are staying in a secluded lake home at Gunflint Pines Resort, which comes complete with private lakefront, a canoe, and our own fire ring on the shore. Gunflint Lake is not quite in the Boundary Waters, but close enough. The fog was just lifting from our end of the lake when we pushed off.
It was calm as we crossed the large lake in the early morning. Our destination was Magnetic Lake, but we accidentally sidetracked into a quiet inlet instead. I didn’t care. Nascent fall colors accented the forest reflected in the calm waters. We pondered the international border that ran along our route, the US to our left, Canada on our right. The rest of the world didn’t exist. Dip, dip and swing.
We couldn’t help but be attracted to the ornate golden estate that populated the opposite shore on Magnetic Lake. It turned out to be on the island we were encouraged to encircle, and I insisted we do so. I was intrigued with the intricate carvings on the perfectly maintained structures and flower boxes with red blooms.
The wind came up and challenged us on our return. It wouldn’t be a canoe trip without requiring a bit of extra effort. The far shoreline advanced ever so slowly as we beat our way into the waves, back across the endless expanse of water. We poured all we had into the task. It’s all that mattered. Just as I wanted. Dip, dip and swing.