A year ago, almost exactly, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. Officially, my medical record reads, “High Risk Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.” What it means, though, is that for the last year I’ve been effectively grounded, unable to travel or do any of the things I love best in the world, like canoeing, camping, hiking, fishing, skiing, dogsledding… well, you get the idea.
I love the wilderness – always have. Not in the “I love sushi” or “I love Pink Floyd” kind of way, but with a fierce, loyal, I will FIGHT to protect you kind of love. It’s the kind that made my heart ache over the last year. Missing it was (sometimes) worse than the chemo. And chemo was bad…
My first (and worst) year of chemo is done (two more to go) and in October I was able to make a return trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to visit and bring supplies to my friends Dave and Amy Freeman. These are pretty incredible people, and if you don’t know them or follow their adventures, you definitely should. They were the 2014 National Geographic Explorers of the Year, and this past September they launched “A Year In The Wilderness,” a project they are undertaking to document and bring attention to the need to protect the BWCA.
If you’re wondering why anyone would want to live for a year in the wilderness, you definitely need to take a trip into the BWCA – you’ll begin to understand, pretty quickly. I’d spend a year in the wilderness it in a heartbeat if I thought I could get my mom convinced! The BWCA is one of the largest remaining, untouched wilderness areas in the United States. It is vast, unspoiled, quiet, challenging, peaceful, wild… all the things we need. Every moment of every day is adventure, whether it’s setting up camp, searching for firewood, catching and cleaning dinner, finding the perfect rock to jump from into the water, telling stories around the fire, or just watching the sun rise and then set over pristine water.
All of this beauty and water and peace is currently threatened. A mining company based in S. America is fighting hard for the right to use a very toxic, sulfide-ore copper mining practice that will permanently pollute the lakes and streams. Groundwater does not recognize or respect man’s boundaries, and there’s no doubt that acidic runoff from the mines will make its way through the Boundary Waters, eventually hitting Voyageurs National Park and even making its way down to Lake Superior. The waters of this area would be ruined, the wildlife damaged or killed, and the wilderness spoiled.
I’m not alone in this. Last week I read a series of blogs from Armed Service Veterans who have found peace and healing in the BWCA. I could totally relate to their experience. When I finally went into the wilderness this October, I was pretty run down from a year of chemo. My strength had been pretty run out, but throughout my week there I literally felt myself getting stronger. The wilderness challenges you, and the quiet heals. Past that, its just FUN. I have yet to meet a kid who has travelled through who didn’t love it, and families from all over the world trek there for the chance to spend time together in its beauty.
A year ago, I made it my Wish and my mission to permanently protect the BWCA, not just for myself, but for all of us. We all deserve a place of quite and beauty, of unscarred landscape and uninterrupted silence. We all deserve pristine waters and crisp, clean air. Even on my worst chemo days, my memories of the BWCA kept me happy and the work I get to do to protect them gave me purpose. I’ve travelled to D.C. to meet with many of our leaders about the need to protect this space, and I will continue to travel to and write about the BWCA in the months and years to come.