When I was 14, I fell in love ... with the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. Each summer, my church youth group from Sioux Falls, South Dakota would make the eight-hour trek up to Camp Vermilion near Cook to spend a week canoeing and portaging in the wilderness.
The Boundary Waters presented physical challenges and phenomenal natural beauty of God’s creation. I grew to appreciate the amount of work it required to haul packs or carry canoes across long muddy paths only to end up on the other side facing another lake that had to be crossed before the process of portaging repeated itself.
After I graduated from St. Olaf in 2002, I spent my summer as a canoe guide and fulfilled a dream I had from high school. I also met my future wife while working at camp. Double bonus!
In the 20 years since I was a guide, I’ve taken many more trips, including groups from all three churches that I’ve served as a pastor. I’ve noticed a lot of changes around Camp Vermilion. Trees have been cleared and new buildings have been built. But once I get into the wilderness, things haven’t changed that much.
Until this summer.
The week after Independence Day, I brought three full groups (9 people are allowed to travel together in one group) up to Camp Vermilion again. The highlight was bringing my own 14-year-old daughter with me for her first canoe trip. I hoped that she would love the experience as I did at her age.
It was a great trip. Yet the environment had changed.
The water levels were lower than I’ve ever seen them. Beavers had constructed massive dams to horde water along the rivers.
Portages to lakes we hoped to stay at were impassable because where there once was water, now was bottomed out streams that had deep muddy beds.
As we finished eating lunch on a rock our second day, we ventured north on Iron Lake towards Bottle Portage at the Canadian border on Lac La Croix. We hadn’t seen another person yet, but suddenly, we smelled a campfire.
As we paddled further, we realized that this was not a regular campfire. The tall flume of smoke billowing towards the sky originated behind a large island to the east of us. Our guide used her satellite phone to call in the potential forest fire.
A week after we returned, the entire portion of the Boundary Waters along the Echo Trail that we had just visited would be evacuated due to forest fires. I felt sick as I read the news.
I’m not a climate scientist. But I do care a lot about our planet, and things are changing.
I hope that we can each be mindful of the actions we are taking. We must take better care of our home. I want my daughter to be able to bring her kids to this little slice of heaven known as the Boundary Waters, too. When that day comes, I hope there is still a Boundary Waters there for her to enjoy.
Pastor John Klawiter is the senior pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Forest Lake. For more information, email him at email@example.com.