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Boundary Waters named by USA Today as one of the Top Ten Places to Extend the Summer

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Boundary Waters

Solitude: A Choice of Mind by Peter Schield

''There is a difference between loneliness and being alone; there is a choice of mind in being alone, but loneliness comes up through the heart and into the throat.'' --William Faulkner

''That inward eye which is the bliss of solitude.''-- William Wordsworth

When I think of all the advancements that have been made in communication technology in recent years I am struck by the fact that all of these faxing, emailing, paging, downloading, and calling devices also serve to keep us from being in touch with ourselves. We are so busy trying to communicate with one another that we have little time remaining for solitude and self-reflection.

This technology serves to blind the ''inward eye'' that Wordsworth declared ''the bliss of solitude.'' For those seeking a respite from this chaos of communication the Boundary Waters Canoe Area offers an ideal setting for solitude and introspection.

''What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.'' --Ellen Burstyn

My first trip to the BWCA was a two-week trip in June of 1987 with the Outward Bound School based in Ely, Minnesota. I was a high school sophomore and at a point of adolescent angst where I was not getting along well with my parents, teachers, and coaches.

My parents had learned of the Outward Bound program and its emphasis on leadership, group dynamic skills in a wilderness setting, and personal introspection and growth. Knowing that I already possessed an inherent love of wilderness, canoeing, and camping Mom and Dad decided that such a program might be good for me.

''One can achieve everything in solitude.'' --Henri Beyle Stendhal

So, off I went for two weeks in the Boundary Waters; the haven for canoeing and camping that I had heard about for years. I remember not knowing much about Outward Bound itself, and considered it more or less as another summer camp. Little did I know that it would be so much more.

The highlight of that experience was a three day, two night ''solo'' in which I was dropped off by myself on the shore of a small lake with no food, no tent, a sleeping bag, the clothes on my body, a 6' X 6' tarp for shelter, and a pencil and paper. My trip leaders did not allow me to bring anything to pass the time or serve as a distraction from the primary goal of thinking about my life.

And think, I did. And I was the better kid for it.

''Solitude is as needful to the imagination as society is wholesome for the character.''--James R. Lowell

Take a moment to consider how much time you take in a day, week, or month to just sit and think. Without any distractions. Not very much, is it? As I sat on a huge rock on the shore of my little lake for hours on end, talking to nobody and eating nothing, I did some hard-core thinking about myself, my life, and what I wanted that life to be like. I got to a point where I could stare so deeply at the simplest things; the leaf on a nearby plant, a fly landing and sitting on my arm, a rock beneath the crystal clear water.

Having that sort of forced solitude afforded my mind the opportunity to kick into overdrive and explore realms that I had never tapped into. I got lost in my thoughts and would cease to be aware of my immediate surroundings. When I came out of those thoughts it was like returning to consciousness. Such deliberate, intense, and uninterrupted thought brought clarity to the perception I held of myself and my life.

I emerged from that experience in the Boundary Waters with a clear view of how I wanted my life to be. My parents, upon picking me up at the Duluth bus station, told me that I was ''a different person.'' They commented on the fact that I had matured, that I was more cooperative and confident, and I seemed more at peace with myself and with those around me. I attribute that remarkable personal growth to the solitude I experienced on that small lake in the Boundary Waters.

''Solitude sometimes is the best society.''--John Milton

''The thoughtful soul to solitude retires.''--Edward Fitzgerald

Years later, while in college, I spent a few summers working at a canoe outfitter, near Grand Marais, Minnesota. There were so many aspects of that experience that were wonderful for me, including the wide array of people that I met as employers, co-workers, and customers. However, I always cherished my time alone and enjoyed plenty of it through short solo trips into surrounding lakes.

Of course, I enjoyed paddling and exploring new lakes, portaging, and setting up camp. But what I really enjoyed was the solitude of it all. Just as during my solo experience with Outward Bound those solo trips heightened my senses to the details of my surroundings and I found that I could focus intently on the small things that surrounded me. At the same time my mind absolutely took off so that I could see the big picture of my life with great clarity. Those trips, although brief, were cathartic for me, and I always returned from them feeling mentally, emotionally, and physically rejuvenated.

''The nurse of full-grown souls is solitude.''--James R. Lowell

In today's fast-paced world, where we are continually striving to find faster ways to communicate with others, I think that most people would benefit from taking some time to get back in touch with themselves. This requires time, deliberate effort, and an appropriate environment. The Boundary Waters offers such an environment.

As Faulkner wrote, ''...there is a choice of mind in being alone.'' Is it time for you to make that choice?

''It is in solitude that we discover that being is more important than having and that we are worth more than the results of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.''--William Faulkner


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