Fiddler on My Tent


There was a fiddler on the roof of my tent just west of the Gunflint Trail in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Tradition! Tradition!

I zipped open my tent door to find Tevye dancing in the moonlight along the shore of Little Long Lake.

Tradition! Tradition!

Like the musical Fiddler on the Roof, a four-day canoe trip with my sons, Eric and Mike, gave us time to share, break and make our family camping traditions.

I began taking my two sons to the Boundary Waters 20 years ago hoping to instill in them a tradition and appreciation of the wilderness. For 12 years we faithfully took an annual canoe trip.

College, jobs, separate trips and my interest in biking got in the way of our canoe country threesomes. While we managed to get out in pairs, the three of us haven't been on a camping trip in ten years.

Celebrating my 60th birthday, the guys decided to TAKE Dad to the Boundary Waters just like the Good Old Days.

On our way up north, we made our traditional stops at restaurants, pie shops and sporting goods stores. We never miss a bathroom stop and short hike at Gooseberry Falls State Park. A stop at Joynes' Ben Franklin in Grand Marais was a must with a new twist for espresso at the Java Moose.

Tradition! Tradition!

All was going well until we had clash of traditions at the Gunflint Lodge bunk house. We were committed to our traditional one pass portages. This meant repacking five and a half packs of gear down to three packs.

The first pack was a large food pack untraditionally packed with pre-packed meals. My sons were in charge, and they weren't about to eat the traditional lean and mean way I eat in the Wilderness.

They had a Superior pack made up with steaks, ham, bacon, smoked sausage, eggs, pasta dinners and very untraditional desserts. I rolled my eyes but really appreciated the great meals they made up. They have certainly become far better cooks than me.

My youngest, Mike, had been camping at a bluegrass festival the week before so his pack was ready to go with little room left.

My oldest son, Eric, and I had more gear than we had room. This meant we each had giving up something. My trusted hammock of many journeys had to stay behind because of his new age hammock with a bug screen and rain fly.

Tradition! Tradition!

I have a traditional Duluth pack covered with 42 patches from places around the world. But number one son has his traditional backpacking pack he carried along the Superior Hiking Trail during the torrential rains of the blow down in 1999. He has also carried it in the Rockies, South America, New Zealand and the Pyrenees Mountains of Spain.

"Dad, that old bag of yours is outdated and bad for your back. I can pack as much in my Kelty as you can in old Patches," said the wise one.

To my quiet delight, the Kelty failed the test, and I was able to take my trusted Patches on one more canoe trip.

Tradition! Tradition!

I've been a firm believer in "Leave No Trace." It did my heart good to see the guys picking up other people's twist ties and cigarette butts.

Because of a fire ban, we didn't have our traditional campfire. Instead we sat on a granite rock watching the moonlight shimmer across the lake. Number one son rigged up a flashlight to play solitaire near the fire pit.

As we broke camp I couldn't help but feel like Tevye packing up to leave Anatevka for America. Traditions give foundation, honoring what is good in our lives. But they are fragile in the wake of new traditions.

As we paddled across Little Long Lake, I could hear the fiddler playing deep in the pine trees.

Or was that a loon?

Tradition! Tradition!



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