North of North, part 2

I never thought much about shooting in the Boundary Waters, a wilderness canoe area in northern Minnesota. Frankly, it always seemed like the OPPOSITE of the kind of place I’d like to explore.

There’s no roads in the Boundary Waters; you have to travel by boat, and you need to camp out every night. Meaning you have to bring more than just camera gear. A lot more! Everything has to be carried on your back for miles between lakes, and protected from water, in case of a canoe tip (likely) — or sudden downpour (very likely). There’s no buildings, roads, motors, plumbing, electricity, or cell service.

And there’s plenty of bugs.

Any and all human-made structures that existed prior to the formation of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness were demolished and sunk to the bottom of the lakes. Executive Order 10092, signed by President Harry Truman in 1949, prohibits aircraft from flying below 4,000 feet over the area.

Photographically speaking, what do the Boundary Waters have that other places don’t?

Skies so dark that you can see the Milky Way.

North of North

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

My brother and I shared a bedroom in Chicagoland until he turned 18. I listened to his records, accidentally broke his stuff, and watched him climb out our 3rd floor window late at night, listening to his stories when he returned. After he left for college, my high school teachers still called me by his name, thinking we were the same. During his first semester, I rode the train up to Milwaukee for a visit. We saw the Romantics in concert. Afterwards we hit the bars. I can still smell his dorm room: Speed Stick meets submarine sandwich.

By the time I was 17, he’d moved into a crusty apartment downtown Milwaukee, right behind the Ham N Egger. I parked my motorcycle in the alley, and slipped through the window that he kept unlocked for visitors. We ate white bread sandwiches for dinner and I climbed up to the rooftop for a smoke under the Newport billboard.

He joined the Peace Corps and left for Nepal. I started school in Madison. When he came to visit, we made a gallon of chili, drank Old Style, and got tattoos on our big toes. That Sunday night, I was the 10th caller on a radio show and won front row tickets for us to see Tom Waits in Chicago, on Halloween night. It was the perfect ending to a glorious weekend.

But we were heading different directions. I went to study in Ireland for a year, and he got engaged. Pretty soon he was married, running his own manufacturing business, and raising three boys. Meanwhile I’d become obsessed with photography and returned to Ireland to live on a bicycle. From there I moved to Chicago, rode a motorcycle to San Francisco, and joined a camel trek across the Australian Outback.

By the time I settled down in Minneapolis, my four brothers and sisters had birthed about 15 kids between them. My brother and I saw each other whenever we could. But we never really got to hang out again. At least not like we used to, with gallons of chili, cans of Old Style, and the occasional toe tattoo.

Until now that is.

I’m happy to report that we just rendezvou’d by the Canadian border, and disappeared into the wilderness for 10 days. We’re still eating chili, but the Old Style’s been replaced with lake water. And the tattoos… those things last forever.