On summer’s busiest weekend, we searched for campsites on the Namekagon River. Mostly daytrippers floated from Whispering Pines landing to Riverside. We weren’t worried. Yet, as 5 o’clock approached, we passed site after site occupied by tents, canoes and campers. Our men wielding paddles kept optimistic; one, incurably buoyant, called out, “Four sites in the next mile!” and then, “three sites coming up on the right!”
Suddenly we became aware of a canoe holding two people and a border collie paddling furiously, slipping alongside us from behind an island. Their cadence was allegro, not largo, as befitted a summer’s day. It dawned on us that they intended to beat us to the first available campsite. They appeared quite grim as they stroked five times on the right, switch! five times on the left, switch! They soon disappeared out of sight.
We next saw them hauling their cooler from the canoe to a site on the righthand bank. “Good luck,” the woman called, magnanimously. “Hope you find a nice spot!”
I gritted my teeth, thinking dark thoughts about human nature. I wondered if the pair had battled for rare campsites in the Boundary Waters and felt life in a canoe was a zero-sum game with winners and losers. That even on an utterly lovely July day, they were determined to be winners.
We did find a campsite, one fragrant with red pine and a golden vista. Later, I wondered how much of the world’s beauty is missed when one’s heart is two sizes too small.