ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE SPRING 2017 BOUNDARY WATERS JOURNAL REPRINTED HERE WITH PERMISSION OF STU OSTHOFF BWJ PUBLISHER
Today, camped beside the Rio Grande in the depths of Bouquillas Canyon, I am only a stone’s toss from Mexico. Although I could not be much further from the BWCAW and still be in the United States, I am feeling the same solitude and safety that I experience in the boundary water’s wilderness so far to the north. What I crave and what I search for and find in wild places around the globe is the same. It is safety. In the city, suburbs, even when surrounded by cows or acres of corn in the countryside, I feel crowded, off-kilter, and as if I do not belong. In wilderness, wherever the lure of adventure draws me, I feel my inner source, my true calling. Only the climate, landscape, vegetation and wildlife changes. The protracted bellowing of a wild burrow in this Chihuahua desert harkens me back to a loon’s song, so iconic of my beloved Canoe Country. The leopard I observed stalking a kudu in South Africa’s Kruger Park last month, reminded me of the timber wolf I watched slinking along the shore of Slim Lake last April. The kangaroo with a joey in her pouch interrupting my camp breakfast in Western Australia last year, startled me just as a moose cow and calf did when they nearly brought down the tent at a breakfast on Horseshoe Lake a few Octobers ago. It is the interplay of nature which fascinates and empowers me. To merge as seamless as possible, to be part of the fabric of nature is my quest.
It is funny that the title of a popular television program that plops random couples down in a wilderness setting is called Naked and Afraid. It perpetuates the theme of the day, that nature is out to chase you down and kill you. It promotes the concept that leaving civilization and the road behind, and venturing into the wilderness is a risky business — that wild places are full of snakes, bears, lions, and sharks who are all intent on maiming and murdering you. In my life, I have found that nothing is further from the truth. With just a modicum of preparation and care I feel totally at ease and safe in wild places, in fact, that is why I go. I seek the tranquility and peace that is best found away from the madding crowds. Travel in the bush is hard work to be sure, but it is a satisfying toil of chopping wood, packing loads, and pulling the paddle through the water. In Canoe Country I experience a spiritual renewal. My mind is uncluttered by text messages, sports scores and obligations. My to-do list is not an exploding firestorm of paperwork. Even more important, off the grid, in the wilds, I savor the respite from a media barrage that tries hard to make me aware of what I am lacking. Instead, I can focus on the blessing of being alive and being embraced by wild nature. Last June on a remote and un-populated Quetico Lake I strolled unclothed along a beach content to decipher the tracks of other mammals and of birds and bugs. Bathed in a sunset hue I was content in what I did not have; I was naked and safe.
I have discovered that to be one with nature means to eschew some creature comforts. Not because I enjoy deprivation, but because with the trappings of civilization comes a loss of freedom. By choice, I single portage, sit on rocks, camp beneath a tarp and cook over a fire. The less I take, the closer I become to my ancestors, the creatures of the forest. The less gear I buy the more money I have for flour, lard and baking powder. Naked and afraid? Only in the doctor’s office when he checks my prostate. In the North Woods, I feel content and safe. That’s why in 28 years I have traveled the Boundary Waters 77 times.
NAKED AND SAFE , BY ROB KESSELRING
Guide Service Anywhere