Wilderness has a way of being at once both adventurous and serene, quiet and yet buzzing with a symphony of life. Living on the edge of the BWCAW, I experience these beautiful juxtapositions almost daily, but they were recently more amplified to me during my first time paddling on Seagull Lake.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never been much of a paddler; hiking has always been my thing. But, as the signs of late summer have been whipping by fast and furiously, I decided I should expand my exploration repertoire with some lake adventures before summer’s end. I decided on Seagull Lake for my first solo outing, a decision driven primarily by the adventure it seemed to offer because of its size and abundance of islands to explore. As I informed one coworker of my intention to paddle Seagull, she reacted with both excitement and wariness, cautioning me to have the utmost diligence in navigating the many, often confusing series of islands. With map in hand and a sense of adventure in my heart, I headed up the Gunflint.
I put in at the public access, delighting in the feeling of fine beach sand before my departure. I hopped in the canoe and glided out over calm waters under happy, puffy clouds sailing through the liquid blue sky.
I had decided that I would paddle to the palisades, a popular area on Seagull for climbing and general sight-seeing. I tried orienting myself by looking at the map, an then at the scene around me, trying to distinguish the waterway through which I was to pass. But at first glance, the shorelines looked just like one big evergreen blur, with no opening immediately detectable. I studied the map a little more and just started paddling in the general direction of where I thought the waterway would be. I was soon able to distinguish a break in the shoreline, and felt relieved. But I also felt a stirring sense that this journey may be harder than I had thought. Nevertheless, I pressed on, trusting that if I remained diligent about checking my map and noting distinctions in the landscape along the way, I would be okay.
One of the first gifts of the trip was an encounter with a pair of loons, who surfaced near my canoe. I quickly stopped paddling, so as not to frighten or disturb them. After studying me curiously for about 30 seconds, they successively made their signature graceful dive, flying into the deep water below.
I continued on, paddling around points, past the burned (and eerily beautiful) trees of the northeastern shore, between islands, and eventually made it to the first set of palisades. You have to get close to these rock faces to really appreciate their size and beauty. I wanted to press on to see if I could find more, but as I looked to the south and west of me, it seemed I was hedged in by a complex series of islands, more numerous and concentrated than I’d yet come across. I decided this might be a good place to turn around, lest my sense of adventure turn into recklessness. Before heading back, I pulled into an inviting island nearby, went for a swim (to the tune of loon calls echoing across the water–an experience I highly recommend), and had some lunch.
As a staff member here at Bearskin, I feel so lucky to be living on the edge of some of the most beautiful, pristine wilderness in the country, and this summer has proved to be one of the most fun, inspiring, and adventurous of my life. It has been in experiences like my paddle on Seagull, in which I’ve explored new wildernesses (with a reliable map, of course), that I’ve built confidence in myself, and a deeper sense of connection to the land. It has been in places like Seagull that you sense the Earth’s aliveness, both in the quiet and the calm, and in the buzzing of flies, the calling of loons, and the lapping of water on rock. The small sampling I got of Seagull Lake was not enough, and I’m sure I’ll return again someday, hopefully next time with someone more experienced!