Across the lake into the darkness of a moonless sky, I can barely make out the faint yellow glow of someone else's campfire. Mine is behind me, about 50 feet, crackling in a dreamy and muffled series of pops and snaps as the dry pine slowly burns.
I'm sitting on a sprawling slab of stone that descends into the dark water before me. Here and there across the surface of my boulder stage are plate-size natural depressions full of water from the afternoon's rain shower.
With my hands clasped together and my forearms resting on bent-up knees, I breathe in deeply the cool night lake-breeze while scenting aromas of nearby juniper bush, pine-scented smoke, mosses and wild waters.
On the lake's calm and reflective surface, I can see thousands of mirrored stars twinkling brightly. With no discernible shoreline in the black night, the dual image of stars above and stars below creates a wonderment seen only on waters not shrouded by artificial lights.
As I rise to return to my campfire, a long and mournful wail of a solitary loon sounds from a distant bay. The cry, beginning low, rises in pitch and continues at length before dropping in pitch once again. Not wishing to break the spell, I stand motionless and listen as another loon answers from the opposite side of the lake.
"Ah-haa-oooo-ooo-ahhh!" Minutes pass as I absorb the wild calls of loons until I at last free myself to attend to my fire before retiring for the night inside the comfort and warmth of a sleeping bag and tent.
Indeed, every year about this time, I find myself daydreaming about the enchanting place that we Minnesotans call, simply, "the Boundary Waters." The clear lakes, the endless pine-studded rock islands and the limitless beauty of this million-acre wilderness are gems that we are fortunate to have in our backyard.
Surprisingly, many Minnesotans have never been to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. More often than not, the reasons are far from not wanting to visit the boundary waters, but, rather, from not knowing how to do it. Rest assured; a trip to the wilds of this northern Minnesota jewel is not, by a long shot, reserved for only those young, experienced or adventuresome few.
For birders, the drive to the Boundary Waters is worth the trip alone. Plenty of birding and wildlife viewing opportunities - not to mention the plant life and scenic beauty of the landscape - exist the entire journey as one travels to gain entrance to the wilderness area.
Boundary Water entrances exist near Ely, off of the Northshore and to places like Seagull Lake via the Gunflint Trail. Numerous state parks dot the way, too.
If it's a canoe trip that fancies you, then guidance from an outfitter is the way to go if you have never experienced the Boundary Waters in this manner.
Most outfitters are able to supply everything you need for a comfortable trip: canoes, tents, cooking utensils, food, packs, rain gear and more. They can also help you plan your trip's route, while taking into account your paddling experience and the time you can spend in the wilderness.
A good way to start is by contacting the Chamber of Commerce near the area you decide to visit in the BWCAW. Cities such as Ely, Duluth and Grand Marais can send packets of free information to help you choose an outfitter.
The Internet is also a great resource to learn more about the wilderness and services available. Additionally, United States Forest Service (Superior National Forest) personnel are very helpful, if not essential, in helping you plan your trip no matter how long you plan to visit.
Also of real importance when planning a trip into the BWCAW, is the need for a permit.
Once an area has been established as your entrance point and the duration of your trip decided on, just call 800-745-3399 to make your Boundary Waters reservation. For a nominal fee you will receive a confirmation packet in the mail. Prior to arriving at your point of entrance, the actual permit needs to be picked up, usually at a nearby ranger station.
The whole idea behind the permit system is to limit access into the area's vast, yet fragile, lake country. This limitation allows all visitors to enjoy as close to an unspoiled wilderness experience as possible. Certain times of the summer, as well as certain areas, tend to fill up early, so now is the time to plan and make reservations.
Visiting the Boundary Waters, whether you're a canoeist, fisher, hunter, birder, cross country skier, snowshoer or dogsledder - or whatever you enjoy - is a place unlike any other. As you experience this enchanted place, you will soon discover that the Boundary Waters, once visited, is a place you'll want to return to year after year - much less leave - as you get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Blane Klemek is the Bemidji area assistant wildlife manager, DNR Division of Fish & Wildlife. He can be reached at email@example.com.