Settling into life in the Boundary Waters

On September 23rd Amy and I paddled into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The morning before we left we savored a few things that we won’t experience for a whole year. We took our last showers, enjoying the warm water and the smell of the shampoo. We rode in a car for the last time. We flipped off the light switch as we left the last building we will enter for a whole year. Our friends have been talking about the things we will miss over the next year. I am sure they are right, there will be things that we miss, but we are focusing on the exciting things we hope to learn about and the places we will explore during our year in the wilderness.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an amazing place. There are no roads, houses, cars, or other similar signs of civilization. In 1964 the United States Congress passed The Wilderness Act, which protects the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and more than 700 other Wilderness Areas across the country. The Wilderness Act says that wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man,” and “generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature.” What do you think a wilderness area looks like? Can you draw a picture of what you think the Boundary Waters or another Wilderness Area might look like?


The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is the largest Wilderness area east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Everglades. It is located in Northern Minnesota. Can you find it on a map? Can you use Google Earth to see the lakes and rivers we are exploring? Maybe your class can buy a map like this one and use it to track our progress over the next year. You can also follow our progress through this interactive map.

Using our first Cast YOUR Vote, students asked us to talk about the plants and animals we will be learning about over the next year. The Boundary Waters is along the southern edge of the Boreal Forest, and it contains many different habitats including lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and forests. There are many different types of plants and animals that we hope to encounter. Here are a few fun facts about the animals we hope to encounter.

Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is a raptor in North America. A raptor is a bird of prey that catches, kills, and eats live animals. Its range includes most of Canada and Alaska, all of the United States (except Hawaii), and northern Mexico.

The bald eagle builds the largest nest of any North American bird, up to 13 feet (4 meters) deep, 8 feet (2.5 meters) wide, and 1 ton in weight!


Common Loon

Did you know that loons make an incredible sounding call that sounds like a wolf howl? This loon call sounds mournful and eerie to campers but to other loons it is a way of communicating with each other. It is thrilling to hear loon cries out in the wild. Their calls are almost mesmerizing when the long cries travel across the lakes.

Did you know that loons have red eyes? The red eyes help loons see better underwater.
Loons spend the summer in Alaska, Canada, and northern Border States. Loons fly south to the coast for the winter. This phenomenon is known as migration. Birds migrate during different times of the year to find food. The winters in northern climates are too cold for loons. They depend on fish to eat and since the lakes freeze over during the winter they must move south to find food.

Gray Wolf

At one time wolves were found throughout most of the United States. Today wolves are found in Alaska, Canada, and the northern parts of Minnesota, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Wolves usually spend their time in packs, or groups. They work together to hunt.




Did you know that moose are the largest member of the deer family? Moose can run really fast– up to 35 miles per hour! They can also move quickly in water, swimming up to six miles per hour.


Some of the plants that we see often out here in the Boundary Waters include white pine trees, birch trees, cedar trees, and black spruce trees. Did you know that wild rice, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries grow here? There are all sorts of flowers that we look forward to seeing in the spring too.

We look forward to sharing our plant and animal sightings during the year. Do any of these plants or animals live near you? Which ones?

Student Response Worksheets




5 thoughts on “Settling into life in the Boundary Waters”

  1. well i did not know much about a common loon but know i do also i did not know that a moose can run 35mph also the eagle is amazing

  2. It would be fun to go for a ride in a boat. But i would not do it. Because it can tip over and we would be in water and it would be no fun. Would you like to do it. It can be very uneasy. very .

  3. People are asking why it is you are choosing to live in a wilderness for a year when the Wilderness Act says people aren’t supposed to remain. Can you explain to the students difference between what you are doing and the definition in the Act? Thanks!
    (c) A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

    1. Hi, Ann,

      Dave and Amy are in an area where they can’t reply directly via the website. I’m managing the comments while they are out on this expedition. I forwarded your comment to them and received this reply from Dave.

      This is what Dave wrote:

      That is a good question. Amy and I certainly see ourselves as visitors. We are spending a very long time in the Wilderness, but we are not here permanently. After our year in the Wilderness we will leave the Wilderness and return to our home outside the Wilderness.

      As visitors, it is important that we leave the Wilderness untrammeled like the Wilderness Act says. We try our best to leave the Wilderness like we found it. Every few days we pack up our campsite and move to a new place. When we leave a campsite we walk around and make sure the we don’t leave anything behind. When the next visitor comes we don’t want them to be able to tell we were there. This is called leaving no trace.

      In fact we try to leave the Wilderness cleaner than we found it. Sometimes people leave trash. Usually, it is an accident. Things like granola bar wrappers, twist-ties, and fishing line can fall out of people’s pockets or packs.

      Sometimes we find things that we dropped by accident, but often we find small bits of trash that other visitors have left. We pick up any bits of trash and carry them with us until friends come and visit us. Our friends bring our garbage as well as any garbage that we find out of the Wilderness with them after they visit us.

      During our lives Amy and I have already spent hundreds of days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Most of our trips into the Wilderness have lasted for about a week. This journey is much longer, but as visitors, our goal is to leave the Wilderness cleaner than we found. It does not matter if we are visiting the Wilderness for a day, or a year, we need to always do our best to leave no trace while traveling in the Wilderness.

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