A great adventure – my journey in northern Minnesota

I am a Swedish interpretive naturalist who got the wonderful opportunity to explore northern Minnesota. I wanted to know more about the wolves of the north and I wanted to experience the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness close to the border with Canada. And I wanted to see the “sanctuary” for nature interpreters with my own eyes — the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center.

This story really begins with an exchange between nature interpreters and outdoor educators from Sweden and colleagues working in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area. We visited parks and visitor centers in the metro area for two weeks and when my colleagues flew home I stayed to explore the north. I wanted to make my journey worth the carbon dioxide emissions caused by the air travel. I was kindly provided with economic support from the American-Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, which was another organisation involved in our exchange. That made a huge difference.


For me, Minnesota is like a parallel world to Sweden.  They both share a  history of having a rather young landscape, washed clean by the ice age. Both areas were colonized by large herbivores and humans shortly after the ice sheet retracted northwards, some 10-12 000 years ago. Jumping forward to the latenineteenth century, people from the Nordic countries immigrated to Minnesota in their thousands. Swedes, Norwegians and Finns  left penury  in the old world to seek out a new life in North America. They brought their culture with them, including the semi-religious hatred of wolves that was spread at sermons in the state church in Sweden during that time. The heritage of these Nordic settlers is clearly visible to me, from Swede Hollow in Saint Paul to Finland State Forest in the north. And I wanted to learn more about the public’s opinion when it comes to wolves, among so many other things. 


I drove to Ely Canoe Outfitting Company. This outfitting business was an experience in and of itself to me. The closest thing we have is perhaps when you rent equipment for downhill skiing. I got a kevlar one-man canoe mounted on the top of my rental car and a bag full of food, packed in smaller bags labelled “breakfast”, “dinner”and so on —all this during the time I watched two videos about the rules and regulations of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and had a nice cup of strong, black coffee. I was soon back on the road, driving towards the Canadian border. But not all the way. 


I parked the car at Moose Bay, packed the canoe and was back on the water, this time on Moose Lake. The plan was to portage over to Wind Lake, paddle over the lake and portage over to Wind Bay. From there, I could reach Canada. Or at least see Canada. I just wanted to see the border, I knew it was illegal to enter Canada without the proper documentation. According to my plan, that should take me two days and I had four days at my disposal. Four days to paddle my own canoe. That would give me enough time to howl after wolves and go looking for tracks in the mud. I was so looking forward to this after the two very rewarding but also intense weeks down in the crowded city of Minneapolis and the metro area. The film below is in Swedish, but in it I display some of the aspects of canoeing in the Boundary Waters. 


After a quick snack I paddled my  canoe towards the north-west, towards the portage over to Wind Bay. There was some wind on the lake but the sky was blue and the water was warm. For a Swede it’s unusual to canoe in a lake without seeing any cabins by the shoreline and without any clear-cut forest in sight. The forest surrounding me might be young, perhaps around 30 years, but it seemed to have regenerated in a natural way after one or several forest fires, with several different tree species growing intermixed. That felt wild and rich to me from a biodiversity point of view. 


If you want to read my hole text on my travels as a interpretive naturalist in northern Minnesota, you find my report here