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Of Woods And Words: Don't Get Around Much


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When I stand on our deck, I can look always way across the lake to spy the sign for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a tiny island way out in the distance. The storied wilderness that plays a central role in so many people’s summer vacations is literally a very looong stone’s throw off. In fact, there’s a canoe outfitters on the next bay over, and every morning I watch troops of canoeists paddle past our bay, either heading out or returning from canoe trips.

Lately we’ve gotten into a habit of heading out in the motor boat each evening to do a few minutes of lake trout fishing. We motor right in front of the Boundary Waters sign and kill the motor. We hook the ciscoes on, throw down our lines and sinkers, and wait for a nibble. One night as we bobbed about in the boat last month, I realized it had actually been over a year since we’ve gotten to see the other side of that Boundary Waters sign. Luckily that embarrassing little fact was quickly put right with an evening paddle down the lake.

Still, there’s an assumption that people who live here year-round must spend their free time out in the woods or on the water, enjoying the vast plethora of outdoor activities this area offers. But in this summer-driven economy, I find my dog days of summer are more frequently spent behind a desk than lazing about on rock outcropping in the Boundary Waters. Days off are devoted to laundry, groceries, errands, and other to-do list items that have slipped through the cracks of the work week. The Minnesota land of summer vacations lies within eyesight from my front door, yet it often seems very far away.

They say youth is wasted on the young. Wilderness cabins might be wasted on the young too. It always worries me that the visitors here might actually know the land better than I do. But maybe that’s a worry that plagues a lot of people, no matter where they live.

When I worked in London, my coworkers were consistently amazed by all the things the Yanks did on their days off. Inevitably the group of temporary American workers that I belonged to spent their weekends doing all sorts of touristy things like visiting historic buildings, going to the theatre, or taking weekend trips to the countryside and the continent. "We never do anything like that," the Brits would say whenever we Yanks reported on our weekends at work each Monday. My British co-workers, on the other hand, spent their weekend doing the mundane things that I now do at the cabin on my days off. Not participating in the activities that supposedly personify your home might very much be part of being, well, home.

But please don’t assume that means we locals don’t realize the beauty of our home. We don’t mean to have our lives swallowed by work and routine. There’s always part of me that longs to be part of the group that does all the fun stuff in the woods.

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay beautifully summed up the urge for travel and change when she wrote: "Yet there isn’t a train I’d rather take, no matter where it’s going." Sometimes, as I watch the canoes pass from left to right across the bay, I think, there’s no canoe I’d rather take, no matter where it’s going.

Airdate: August 11, 2010