Speaking For A Quiet Place

Amy and Dave Freeman spent a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and tell about their experience in “A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters.” 

ELY- To speak for a quiet place, Amy and Dave Freeman spent a year in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

They visited over 500 lakes, rivers and streams while traveling by canoe and by dogsled to 100 different campsites.

When they were not paddling, portaging or mushing dogs on the trail, they took on all the chores that life in the wilderness demands, from gathering and chopping firewood to fetching water.

But from the very first day they entered the BWCAW, on Sept. 24, 2015, they knew. What mattered most was that they document all that they witnessed and give it a voice. Often via an expensive satellite hookup, they sent daily blogs and videos and communicated with the outside world.

And sometimes, visitors from the outside came to them and they could share what they were experiencing on national television and the pages of newspapers and magazines.

“Our main mission was really just helping people understand how special the Boundary Waters is through photos, our writing,” Dave Freeman told the Tribune.

The goal was to expose people to the Boundary Waters so they can understand how important it is, he explained.

And now, they tell of their experiences through striking photographs and their own narrative in a 303-page book, “A Year in the Wilderness: Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters.’’ It was released this fall by Milkweed Editions, almost exactly one year after the Freemans completed their year-long adventure.

The Freemans are among those calling attention to a proposal by the Chilean-owned company, Twin Metals, to build a copper-nickel mine near the BWCAW. Opponents of the mine warn that wastes from it would flow into the Boundary Waters. Sulfide ore produces an acid and can leach toxic metals and other contaminants, and can do so for hundreds of years once exposed.

Amy and Dave Freeman during the Year in the Wilderness Expedition

The Freemans are experienced outdoors people. They guide canoe and dogsled trips into the Boundary Waters. They were recognized by National Geographic magazine in 2014 as “Explorers of the Year’’ for a 11,700 mile kayak, canoe and dogsled adventure across North America.

And yet,  Dave Freeman said it initially took an adjustment on their part to bear witness to all that they saw and experienced during a year in the Boundary Waters.  It was so different from their usual wilderness adventures, where getting from Point A to Point B takes priority.

“It really freed us up and allowed us to see things we would have missed if we had been really focused on how many miles we could cover every day,’’ he said.

They gained a new appreciation for how vast the protected wilderness is. He said there are over 300 main bodies of water they did not have the time or energy to visit during their one year stay.

They watched wolves, followed their tracks in the snow, and knew that wolves were watching them. They listened to the forest come to life with a chorus of birdsong in spring, and learned to identify the individual members by their song and plumage.

And they knew the challenges of their unique quest. They fled their tent on Basswood Lake during a raging summer storm so that they could avoid the trees that were being toppled and snapped like matchsticks around them. They learned the next day that two members with a Boy Scout troop on the Canadian side of the lake died when trees fell on them.

And early in their year-long adventure, Dave experienced the heart-in-the throat sensation that came when the ice of Newfound Lake gave out under him. He was wearing a drysuit and was prepared for the risk.

These and other stories are part of their book, all woven around the recurring theme of how important clean water is to the life that makes this area special.

Those who have visited the Boundary Waters know how special it is. Freeman said their hope is that through their book, blogs and now, public appearances, they can help others realize its value and lead them to explore it and discover its value for themselves.

And of course, they continue to speak out about protecting the wilderness from the proposal to mine sulfide-bearing rocks near it. “This is an ongoing issue, something that we’ve known is going to take many years to play out,’’ Dave Freeman told the Tribune. “(It’s) something we have to be vigilant about.”

The book is certainly helping give voice to the cause to protect this quiet wilderness. Freeman said the book is already into a second printing, and the demand for it has come from all around the country. Recent book tours have taken the couple to Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Vermont, New York, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In a couple of weeks, they hope to return to the Boundary Waters. The winter dog sledding season usually starts about the middle of the month, and they will be leading trips again as guides, he said.

Amy and Dave Freeman (with Tank) make their way across Ottertrack Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness during their one year stay in the wilderness.