Unaware of the History of Nipigon/Black Sands, we visited this beautiful area in the early 1980’s and observed from afar in orange haze-filled skies the burning of forested wetlands in the BWCA and northern climes of Minnesota. Apparently ignited from the embers of a camper’s fire, it burned most the week of our stay.
One of the experiences that remains of that time, forever etched, was the quiet, as they say, a quiet that could be “cut with a knife”. My two children were 6 and 7 as they explored the forest with us and built their “dock” on the shore, hiked and swam all that week. It was an experience I am sure that I will never have again.
There were “no see ’ems” that left their bloody mark, biting flies and wildflowers, a cougar running on the road with tail up before it disappeared into the woods. I saw my first wild rose there, and took my first make-shift shower under a tree. We existed without radio … because there was no reception. We sat around a campfire with toads singing to the light and told scary stories … one of them, the Black Cat, by Edgar Allen Poe.
Those first few days were beautiful and vibrant, full of life everywhere, songs of birds and animals … and then, the air stilled, except for the rustle of some large animal outside our camper door in the pitch black of that Ontario night. We thought it might have been a bear. By the next day, we could sense the change.
When my family went into the nearest town to get supplies, I stayed. With no reception on the radio, there was a profound silence. All I had known, all my life, was sound … noise from cars, from television, radio, lawnmowers, the hum of appliances, the assault of noise, constant and enduring. The silence was at once deafening and an awakening.
In those hours before the children returned with their father, it was all so apparent that the forest inhabitants knew something we did not. The sound of the car and the voices of my family reassured me that I was not alone, that this was not my imagination and something was definitely amiss. As the sun developed a haze and the blue sky clouded with a veil of smoke, it became clear what the little creatures around us had known for more than a day already.
We found information from venturing into town for the news and stayed at the park for a little longer before our vacation had ended. In the week that we were there, it was a jewel. A jewel to know that places like this still existed. It was an honor to have been able to see, to sense the peace of that place, to leave a clean campsite and know now that those who cared for this beautiful place thousands of years, will have their home back. May the whole of society begin to do the same as these people did. May we leave this beautiful campsite, Earth, as we found it. As a wise old white man, once said:
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. ~Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac