You can take the woman out of the BWCA, but ...by Kate Smith, Minnesota Public Radio
I can still close my eyes and see it and hear it. Some of the smells are even still there. But my sensory memory is disappearing, no matter how hard I try to hang on.
A couple of weeks ago my husband Mark and I spent time in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It had been a few years since we'd headed into the woods. Now I've been reminded that reentry from a wilderness trip comes in waves.
The initial hit of civilization is nearly always a shock to me. Paddle around a point and there's a boat landing. A dock. A road. Suddenly, you're there. The first sight of a parking lot, with cars in it, is a curiosity.
There is a predictable pattern to my initial cravings: A can of full-test, totally sugary Coca-Cola. While many people are craving a hot shower or other comforts, what I want is a cold, sugary soda and a bag of salty chips.
The second phase of reentry is about movement. After days and days of hauling everything you need across portages on your back or paddling it across the water, sitting down (that's a treat all by itself) in a cushioned car seat feels like spa treatment. You are not on the ground, hunched over in a camp chair. No. Your back is supported. You are sitting upright, and not only that: You are moving along at speeds that seem breathtaking for the first few miles. In fact, you're moving so fast there's even a breeze.
The next phase of reentry for me is mostly about plumbing. Running water. Water that just appears, hot, with no effort from me. And if running water is wonderful, the function of a modern toilet is, well, like magic.
There are places to sit in the BWCA. A friend likes to call them "wilderness thrones." But usually, there are issues to deal with that have nothing to do with one's mission. It's not like there's a screened porch, and so sometimes one finds oneself spending as much time swatting as ... well, you get the picture. Anyway, toilets are something I find renewed appreciation for coming out of the wilderness.
There's a subtle shift that happens next. It's about the sky. One of the things I like best about being in the wilderness is that you have to pay attention to the sky. It matters. You have to know what's coming, so you can be prepared. Mark is good at picking up the shifts when weather is changing. "Wind is shifting," he'll say before I even feel the breeze.
This trip, we got pounded a couple of times by some monster thunderstorms. One lightning strike produced a fire in the western region of the BWCA. We were prepared for weather; one of the first things we look for in a campsite (after the bear branch to hang the food bag, of course) is a place to string up the tarp. When the weather can be as important as it is in the wilderness, the tarp can be your first line of defense. It's where everything goes, including you, when the rains come. It's your refuge when the walls of the tent have closed in.
I love being where the sky matters. Once you're back inside, in a car, in a house, you don't look up so much. That shift is one of my big disappointments about reentry. But I try to hold on. I try to look up.
The next phase can be the trickiest: getting back up to speed. No, I'm not talking about work. I'm talking about life. The life that doesn't begin with the sunrise and end when it's dark and the bugs come out. The life that's artificially enhanced and extended with convenience. Light. Technology. Screens. Windows. Roofs. I'm all for convenience -- I like sitting down in a chair. But there's an adjustment for that too.
I work to prolong my reentry from the wilderness. I check the horizon, when I can see it. I look for weather. I revel in the sounds of nature in the city. I retain what I can as long as I can.
The image of bald eagles across the lake in an acrobatics contest. Beavers slicing through the water. The primordial ooze of a muddy portage. Raindrops hammering the tent.
It's been a couple of weeks now, and my sensory memory is starting to fade. But what a good thing it is to know that all of that wilderness is out there.
Kate Smith is senior editor for Minnesota Public Radio News.