Slim Lake, off of the North Arm Road off of the Echo Trail north of Ely, has been a great introduction to the BWCA Wilderness for our family and our friends. Our first tentative half-hour canoe outings were here. The portage in is short and easy, and the lake is beautiful. After a short canoe paddle, or even during it, there are high rock outcrops to climb, like Hans and his friend Albert in the picture above.
However, it's been hard to impress the boys with the importance of the Wilderness or the boundary they cross when we enter it. How do you impress a jaded kid with what isn't there? No motors, no houses, no tangible signs of humans. It's all about what is not there. Even the definition in the 1964 Wilderness Act is a negative: untrammeled.
What marks the Wilderness? Sometime in the last ten years the classic wooden sign at the wilderness boundary has disappeared, so you don't get that dramatic moment of stepping into the BWCAW. Instead, we filled out the day permit at the parking lot and talked just a bit about the rules and regs. Later, on a shore excursion to climb a nice hunk of granite, in a a fine moment of boy energy well-spent, we dismantled an illegal firepit and chucked the smoke-stained boulders into the lake with ginormous splooshes. The firepit had two of those plastic BWCA-legal beer bottles, which was ironic given the illegality of the campsite.
But I still don't think they got it. Twelve-year-olds maybe can't grasp the bigger concept...I didn't when I was canoeing the BWCA and Quetico at that age. And that's fine.
Wilderness is a great place to climb the rocks and make goofy faces and be with your buddy. And that's as true for a 12-year-old as a 44-year-old.