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In the Boundary Waters

Each year for the past five I’ve taken a trip to northern Minnesota to canoe and fish with good buddies, and sometimes my brother.

We always stay in a (very) rustic log cabin just outside the Boundary Waters near Ely, farther north from the cabin I used to visit with my folks, brother and sister as a kid. We fish, we canoe, we eat walleye and northern pike for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and enjoy beer in the evenings, listening to loons. It’s pretty perfect. 

Cabin near Boundary Waters

Different Year/ Different Experience

Every trip has been different — one year we hardly fished at all due to the rain; one year my brother and a friend sang and played guitar, mandolin and harmonica; on the third trip we portaged and canoed for miles through rapids, camped out when it was dang cold and I may or may not have peed my pants, trying to get out of too much clothing. It was glorious. 

On our visit this year my college buddy Dave and I paddled across beautiful lakes to see pictographs created by Native Americans, painted on a huge vertical bolder bordering a narrow strait between two lakes. We missed them the first time past, as they are only 12” across, but on the second pass, we caught a view. 

Native American Pictographs

Art – Ancient and Modern

This artwork is 400 years old. Nestled among the pristine lakes, the tall white pines and birch, the incredible rock formations covered by forest, this historic art was at home in the wilderness. And seeing it made me feel a connection with those who etched into the rock their view of the world including canoes.

Nature as Inspiration

Wilderness inspired my own artwork, the evidence of which populates the pages of Leafensong. The drawings are an integral part of the book. I didn’t draw to illustrate the story at the beginning; my drawings led me to the story. 

I always loved being in forests, experiencing the wonder of them. They overwhelmed my senses, but for me it was mainly the visual experience I enjoyed. Both the whole of a forest and the minutia interested me. Seeing the variety of trees, their unique bark, leaves, shapes, sizes, textures, lines, spaces, the expected and unexpected. 

One Led to the Other

When I began drawing in earnest, at about 30 years old, the first thing I drew was a tree. That led to me studying drawing, reading about art, but also hiking among trees and drawing them — two things I loved. Sitting in a forest and drawing trees led my imagination to my story. Now I sometimes draw to illustrate scenes in my book but also continue to write what my drawings inspire.

Back to the Beginning

And lest you think I’ve gone off on a tangent, this brings me back to the artwork painted onto a rock 400 years ago in the Boundary Waters. Someone, or many someones, walked those woods and were inspired by what they saw and had to get it down. They were inspired by the forest, and so was I. 

pen and ink drawing of canoe and water

That’s just cool. 

Next year I’ll go back to the Boundary Waters again, I’ll take in the beauty of that wild place and it will fill me up to overflowing. I’ll get some new ideas about art, about how a tree looks in the sunlight, about what strange new things my characters could be up to in their own forest. And I’ll let you know when I do. 

But before that, come to my Final Fridays art show in downtown Lawrence to see some of the work that the wilderness of northeast Kansas has inspired:

Final Fridays information for August 30th in Lawrence, KS

To read an amazing article on protecting the Boundary Waters, and how they are being threatened, click here.

To get your own, free, downloadable print of one of my pieces of artwork click here.

To read a post about how I built my own canoe, click here.

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