S.E. Livingston: BWCA: Bonding while canoeing about

Dear Family, "Is the Boundary Waters as fun as sugar?" asked Annie. "Better!" I answered with false brightness. Our family unit had just loaded into the Suburban with seven backpacks (Annie was only required to carry her baby doll), a 65-pound fo...

Dear Family,

"Is the Boundary Waters as fun as sugar?" asked Annie.

"Better!" I answered with false brightness.

Our family unit had just loaded into the Suburban with seven backpacks (Annie was only required to carry her baby doll), a 65-pound food pack and two canoes. We were headed to the Gunflint Trail for a five-day trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

When we got to the BWCA, we loaded the canoes, canoed East Bearskin Lake, unloaded, portaged, loaded, canoed Duncan Lake, unloaded, portaged the infamous stairstep portage, loaded and canoed Rose Lake to a lovely campsite on a hilly peninsula.


I'm not huge into rustic camping. That was written on my face as we finished our last portage, shoved into the lake and the clouds proceeded to drop sheets of water on us.

Twelve-year-old John steered the canoe, and I scrambled over our backpacks mid-canoe trying to pull out the seven raincoats we had stowed in outside pockets; my lifelong pursuit of not rocking the boat becoming literal. At this point in an adventure (the downward spiral), it is really important that a mommy keep up the positive energy. So, instead of crying, I acted like canoeing in a downpour was a lark, while silently questioning why I had married an adventurer in the first place.

Because we all know this is Ernie's fault. On my own, I would not be in a canoe in a secluded lake, heading out for a week of living in a tent. I just know better. Why didn't I marry someone whose idea of a vacation was holing up to read all the books on the bestseller list? I could have married that guy who liked to sing in community choirs. That would have been safe, warm and dry.

As I feebly paddled, scenes from my favorite movies flashed through my mind: "Captain Horatio Hornblower," "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Bourne Identity," "The Patriot." That's why I was out here. When I fell in love, I dropped my predilections for comfort and ease and traded them for a life of adventure with a hero -- a man's man. Those exciting tales don't take place in library stacks or coffee shops. Adventure happens in downpours on tempestuous waters trying to save a group of children while being led by a daring hero. I'd asked for this when I innocently yet enthusiastically said, "I do."

My family refused to let my perspective drag them down. The kids loved the entire trip. The seven of us tightly fit into the tent and slept all smashed together; the kids were tickled. Nine-year-old Will learned how to start fires and got up early every day to do that job. Twelve-year-old John was Ern's right-hand man, and the two of them were the comptrollers of the campground and boats. Thirteen-year-old Ellen seemed to wake up out in the wilderness. She spent her time looking for ways to help, learning new activities like wood sawing and fire tending and generally trying to start pleasant conversations. Ern was just a happy guy, reveling in the simplicity of survival in a beautiful setting while enjoying bonding with his family. (Although his motto is "real men don't bond.")

Annie and Danny spent time playing a game that made me wonder what exactly our marriage was modeling to our children. They played a married couple obsessed with cigars. Danny started it with a stick he'd burned down until it was the size of a huge cigar. Pretty soon he'd influenced his 4-year-old sister to carry around a huge cigar. The next thing I knew, Annie's baby doll was smoking a cigar too! They took their game to a little beach away from our campsite, but John visited and came back with a report. Apparently the cops had hired Annie and Dan and their cigar-smoking baby to go sit in bars and act as undercover muggers. Anytime somebody with "fancypants" walked into the bar, Annie and Dan were to detain the individual and browbeat them until they fled the premises. This game was so much fun they played it for two days, and pretty soon all of us were on the lookout for "fancypants."

I'm trying to figure out how to make a life lesson out of this camping trip. I'm wanting to give my children advice like "please don't marry someone who makes your baby smoke a cigar" or "make sure you and your spouse can work on projects together," like tracking down "fancypants." But my best advice seems to be: Marry a strong paddler!

Love lots,



Monthly columnist S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail .

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