Ye Old Menogyn Guides
Menogyn Stories by Arm Paulson  Camp Director (1963-67)
(1) "Fight to Establish the BWCA Wilderness "

The battle to preserve the wilderness of Northeastern Minnesota ratcheted up in the mid 1960’s and it came at great cost. When battling and confronting power structures, people and events can get very ugly. And they did especially because these structures had been used to having it their way for close to 100 years. In the early days leading up to the landmark legislation creating the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, intense pressure was applied on every person and organization seeking to preserve and protect this wilderness. A “fear factor” strategy was implemented in rural northern Minnesota communities whose labor force and economies were dependent on the timber and mining industries.

For these people, survival and life as they knew it depended on keeping everything the same and keeping these industries in their communities. It was all about jobs and a plethora of fears – real or imagined. Thus there was the fear of change and the fear of losing jobs and the fear that every business would be forced out of business. Any outside force to change anything was anathema for the fiercely independent residents. They did not accept that this beautiful wilderness was a national treasure of our country and not only for their use in making a living. This fear of economic catastrophe ran rampant and escalated dramatically during the 60’ and 70’s. It was fed regularly by corporate interests with half truths and mistruths. And it worked.

James Oberstar, congressman from northeastern Minnesota in the House of Representatives in Washington DC, stirred this pot of fear for many years. It created a climate of fear, anxiety, confusion, anger, ruthlessness and nastiness. These forces were finally proven wrong because the economy in northeastern Minnesota later changed and boomed once the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was established in the mid 70’s. Businesses thrived as the lifeblood of the economy changed to tourism, wilderness outfitting and resort vacationing. Because of the uniqueness of the BWCAW as a pristine wilderness area, thousands of people from the Twin Cities and throughout the country and world flocked to the area annually for unique wilderness and outdoor experiences. And they spent money.

The area became a wilderness vacation destination. Grand Marais, Ely, Duluth, Two Harbors, the entire North Shore and the Gunflint and Sawbill Trails began to thrive economically. The old economy, based upon lumbering, mining etc., would have gone from bad to worse. People would have become poorer and more desperate. Change was (and is) inevitable and thus it was very necessary to improve the lives of the people in the area.

This “climate of fear” prevailed throughout the 60’s and 70’s. However, Northeastern Minnesota had begun its economic downturn in the late 1940’s due to the demise of the lumber and iron ore industries. Environmentalists were blamed for this downturn and thus became the favorite “whipping boys” for the area’s fear and anger during these years. It was convenient way for vested business interests to place the blame.

Sigurd Olson was hung in effigy in Ely. People marched in Grand Marais and Ely. Don Frazier lost his seat in the US Congress because he led the fight in Washington in the 1970’s to introduce legislation to create the BWCA. He shepherded this bill through Congress despite intense opposition. It cost him considerable political capital and finally his job in Congress. Most of northeastern Minnesota voted against him. He still took his stand and skillfully stood up to all the power forces that went after him. He paid the cost but he rebounded beautifully to become the mayor of Minneapolis.

He is a hero for his courageous and ethical stand. We would not have the BWCA now without Don Frazier’s leadership. Future generations owe him their thanks and gratitude. He should not be forgotten. It’s an historic story of courage and values worthy of being written. It’s Don Frazier’s legacy to the people of Minnesota and to future generations of canoeists and wilderness enthusiasts.

Miron “Bud” Heinzelmann, Director of Research for the Great Lakes Research Center of the Minnesota Forest Service, was another significant leader. He came within a “hare’s breath” of being fired because he publicly supported the need for the BWCA legislation and the need to manage the wilderness in such a way as to preserve and not ruin it for all time. This was contrary to the Minnesota Forest Service policy at the time of “multiple use” for the area. We all knew that “multiple use” was a euphemism for eventually allowing lumbering, roads, mining and unfettered development of this beautiful wilderness. Powerful economic forces would ensure that. And if that door had opened completely we would not have passed the legislation necessary to create the BWCA and to preserve the pristine wilderness we have today.

Bud was also hung in effigy in Ely alongside Sig. I saw the effect of the immense pressure on Bud at meetings. He was tired, white and wan and generally very stressed. He was “persona non grata” in the Forest Service bureaucracy. We all tried to help him with moral support. He never faltered. I admired “Bud” for his resolve and courage and I always will. He put everything on the line to get the BWCA legislation passed and thus change the Forest Service’s management policies. He did not believe ethically that “the main job of the Forest Service was to continue to assist the timber industry” as it had done for the past 100+ years. He was a real giant because he was one of the research gurus of the Forest Service. I believe that his national reputation helped to protect him. His impeccable research gave substance to our cause and efforts. The Forest Service didn’t like that.

Sig Olson had the power to influence the Forest Service because of his national regard, reputation and influence. And because of his efforts, “Bud’s job was saved. Without Bud’s resolve, courage, leadership and research data, we would not have been able to pass the legislation necessary. I came close to losing my job as pressure was leveraged and applied.

Menogyn was involved from the very begiining. Within one week two Menogyn guides, John Thoren and Fred Ahlquist, each reported to me that a lumbering company had recently built a logging road across a little lake in the Finn and Banadad area. It was another cavalier act of disregard for this wilderness and for law because doing it was against the law; however, this road was so far off the beaten path, the lumber company thought that no one would ever know it. Exception: the Menogyn staff. During the winter of 1965, I had been contacted by Dr. Clayton Rudd, a prominent Minneapolis physician, to join a group that he chaired called “Conservation Affiliates.” After hearing about its mission statement, I accepted with real interest. He said later that he had contacted me on the recommendation of Sigurd Olson whom I had first met and talked with at length at a National American Camping Association conference.

I was surprised to find that the members of this group were the executive power structure of several environmental organizations. Members were Sig Olson, national environmental leader and spokesperson, visionary and author; Ernest Oberholzer, early national environmental leader and activist; Paul Clement, former chairman of the National Board of the Izaak Walton League; “Bud” Heinzelmann, of the Forest Service; the Sierra Club and the executives from four other major environmental organizations plus Dr. Rudd. There were 12 of us.

I became deeply involved over the next months, meeting sometimes twice a week, to plan strategies to preserve the wilderness of northeastern Minnesota. It was a very competent, powerful and effective group. All of them had spent years working to protect the wilderness. And they all had scars. They finally had come together in an umbrella organization in order to be more effective. However, we all knew that we needed a “lead issue” to capture the attention of the people of Minnesota and Washington so as to clarify the larger challenge – the preservation of this marvelous wilderness. What would this “lead issue” be? \

When I heard about the new logging road from my guides, I immediately called Dr. Rudd. I explained what we had found and then said to him, “This may be just what we need.” He agreed and we made our plans. Three days later, he arrived at Menogyn with a photographer from the major Minneapolis newspaper, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. Dr Rudd was “connected.” We canoed out to the logging road and took pictures. I thought to myself that this could be huge because the Star and Tribune was doing investigative reporting. I informed my Menogyn Board chairperson, Larry Zetzman and Program Committee chairperson, Dr. Phil Worrell... They were supportive.

Then I asked John Thoren and Jim Arnold, both Menogyn guides, to present additional pictures of the logging road to the “Conservation Affiliates” Committee. Jim had discovered the logging road in 1963 just south of Poplar Lake, but the logging company had not yet cut a road across a wilderness lake… until now. John and Jim traveled to Minneapolis to present the pictures to the Conservation Affiliates Committee for review. They decided that we had “the issue” that we needed and planned the next steps in our strategy to save the wilderness. We needed public support to succeed.

The following week, the pictures and a written article appeared on the front page of one of the major sections of the Minneapolis newspaper. Other newspapers throughout the state also carried the story and pictures. We had our “lead issue.” The hornet’s nest had been stirred. I drove to Minneapolis for a meeting of Conservation Affiliates and we began to strategize our next steps. Because of the pictures and the article, the people of Minneapolis and much of the state were alerted and very upset with the egregious actions of the lumber industry in this wilderness forest and national treasure. In the wake of the meeting of Conservation Affiliates, members went to work to implement the strategies that were developed.

Most of the members began to work at a national level through their organizations by contacting congressmen and government administration officials (Vice President Hubert Humphrey, a former Senator from Minnesota, Don Frazier, Orv Freeman and others). The two exceptions, which were affirmed by everyone, were “Bud” Heinzelmann and myself. I had a camp operation to manage and we were in the middle of a very busy summer. “Bud” was in too much hot water at the Forest Service at the time and his public input would be more important later. We did not want to get him fired by publicly putting him “on line” too soon. We needed him inside the Forest Service.

The results of our strategy were successful. We got Washington’s attention. After major environmental organizations with considerable political clout began breathing down the necks of congressmen, Secretary of the Interior, Orville Freeman, a former governor of Minnesota, appointed a commission to investigate the situation and uproar in Minnesota. It’s not a “stretch of the imagination” to see the hands of Sigurd Olson and other Conservation Affiliates members, operating behind the scenes, influencing this decision by Orv Freeman. Also involved were Don Frazier, Congressman from Minnesota and Maurice “Mo” Udall, chair of the House Interior Committee, dedicated environmentalist and the brother of Stewart Udall, President John F. Kennedy's Secretary of the Interior.

It was called the “Selke Commission” after the name of the appointed chairperson. They scheduled hearings in Grand Marais, Ely, Duluth, Orr and St. Paul. I attended two of them to testify. I would not be alone. Others would also be there to testify for our case. I walked into the meeting room at the high school in Grand Marais. The place was packed with people. I recognized most of them. They came from Grand Marais and all along the Gunflint Trail and Sawbill Trail. They all knew me. It was the hearing for Cook County and the Arrowhead Region of northeastern Minnesota. “This is going to be interesting,” I thought to myself. I recognized the two other persons there representing the Sierra Club and the Izaak Walton League. As per our strategy, I was not alone but certainly outnumbered. I would be the focus because the other two would be perceived as “outsiders” and “trouble makers” and thus would be dismissed; however the Selke Commission members would hear the representatives of these politically strong organizations.

I was prepared but recognized the “pre game butterflies” that I remembered from my athletic days. They were a good omen because they always had meant that I would play well when the game started. I spoke near the end of the hearing. The other two had spoken earlier and been booed. We had planned that I would speak last because I was not an outsider and “city slicker” in Grand Marais. I wore my boots and “woodsy” flannel shirt. As I approached the podium, it was as quiet as a morgue. Everyone wanted to hear where I stood. I spoke for about five minutes. Enough to state our case. The Selke Commission of six or seven members listened. When I finished there was a stunned silence but no one booed; however, there was an exclamation or two that were not kind.

I had heard those four letter expletives before. I received many hostile stares during the remainder of the meeting and on the way out the door. The next 15 minutes were fascinating. The first person to confront me was the representative from the Northwest Paper Company. “You’re in real trouble” he uttered in his deepest and most menacing voice. “We will get you for this.” “Really,” I retorted in my most sarcastic and “I could care less” voice. {some content edited here and below to remove personal, sensitive information about certain individuals}

Charlie Boostrom, area pioneer, logger, trapper, lodge owner, friend and builder of Menogyn, resident on Clearwater Lake since the early 1900’s and a man of few words said to me, “You’re right. We must do all we can to take care of this wilderness for future generations. Some of these ………will never get it or care enough to do anything.” I never forgot these words of support from this strong, silent Swede who had understood and loved this wilderness for over 60 years.  

 The next week after the Selke hearing in Grand Marais, I received a phone call via the underwater phone line from the public landing. My boss, Harper Glezen, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Minneapolis YMCA, had called and wanted to talk with me. As I drove down the lake in our fastest boat, I thought to myself, “Well, the fat is really in the fire now. The timber companies really acted quickly” However, the timber companies were more ruthless than that as I soon found out. In using their leverage, they intended to be hurtful and destructive. I knew that the issue could cost me my job and as a father, husband and career professional, I did not want that to happen.

 I drove to Clearwater Lodge and called Harper.  Harper asked me “what is going on up there?” I explained the situation and what I had done, why and with whom (Conservation Affiliates, Sig Olson etc.) I apprised him that the Menogyn Board had been consulted and had approved my efforts. He told me that he had received several phone calls from the executives of major YMCA’s throughout the country concerning my activity. These executives had each been called by several of their major donors and told that they would stop supporting the local Y unless “this guy Paulson was muzzled or fired.”

I told Harper of the threats from the timber companies and that they had leveraged their power in this way. I was to be a designated casualty as a warning. Harper said that he’d check into all of it and get back to me. I still had a job, but I knew that if keeping my job required backing off and allowing the muzzle to be place on my mouth, I would resign. I thanked God on my trip back across West Bearskin Lake to Menogyn and I told no one except Clayton Rudd. I chose to wait to see what would happen.

I was in Grand Marais four days later and noticed the headlines and lead article on the front page of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. I bought the paper and went Mabel’s coffee shop for a cup and sat down to read. It was unbelievable!! The headline screamed, “DAYTONS’ SELL WEYERHAEUSER STOCK.” Weyerhaeuser was the largest timber company in the country!! Clayton (Rudd) and Sig (Olson) had done their jobs. They had contacted Don and Doug Dayton, owners of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation and very influential members of the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis having both been chairpersons of the Metropolitan Board.  This corporation was one of the most powerful in Minneapolis along with General Mills, Pillsbury, Control Data and 3 M. In later years they spawned the Target Stores. Both Doug and Don were strong supporters of Menogyn and had indicated their support several times to me and to Jim Gilbert.

The article described at length the whole wilderness controversy and why the Dayton’s had sold their stock in a major timber company. It was a message to the timber industry, other vested interests and the people of Minnesota that the Y was not going to be blackmailed and that I was not going to be fired. I was vindicated and supported for my stand and the YMCA was proud to lead in this effort to save the wilderness. I went out to the shore of Lake Superior and said another prayer of thanks not only for myself but also for the environmental movement and the courageous people that I was working with.

Later that day Harper called me back and told me how supportive the Dayton’s had been and that I was to continue on. Thank you Don and Doug! I went to call them personally. I spent many hours that day at Clearwater Lodge on the phone. I also testified at the Selke Commission hearing in St. Paul later in the fall. I had a fascinating conversation before the meeting with a lumber executive. He told me that he could just look at a tree and tell how many board feet were in it and thus how much that tree was worth. I asked if he ever saw a tree in a different way such as a work of art and beauty, evidence of God’s work or as a source of inspiration and spiritual nurture. He was dumbfounded and speechless. He didn’t know what I was talking about.

I junked my prepared presentation and concentrated on a theme emphasizing the need to understand an “aesthetic ethic” when considering the worth of the wilderness rather than just an “economic ethic” that evaluated everything by its worth in money. I also emphasized that future generations of people, living increasingly in urban settings, would need places of wildness and beauty to strengthen their lives and to reconnect them with the ecology of their existence and an awareness of God’s love. I don’t know if it was effective with the Selke Commission, but it felt right. Sig felt that I’d hit it “square on” with a crucial message.

The Selke Commission eventually made its report. It was supportive and recommended that strong regulations and policies be developed for the management of the wilderness of the Superior National Forest. This resulted in the eventual writing of the legislation, in the 70’s establishing the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) and the regulations necessary to manage it. It took several years to get the details worked out and the political support lined up in Minnesota and Washington.

 I remember at a strategy meeting in 1975 when I spoke to Don Frazier, Congressman from Minnesota. He had been taking heat for almost ten years over the BWCA controversy and impending legislation. I said, “Don, your leadership has been priceless and crucial to gaining support in Washington and in our state; however, this issue could cost you your seat in Congress.”  To his everlasting credit he responded to me, “Arm, there are times when one just has to do the right thing regardless of the cost personally. This is one of those times.” This was a profile in courage and a lesson in personal ethics.

Unfortunately, he did lose his seat in Congress. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter finally signed the BWCAW legislation into law. It had taken 10 years of political hard work. The land area designated to be within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was to remain a pristine wilderness with no planes, no lumbering or mining, no roads, no snowmobiles and no outboard motors. All logging was to be stopped by 1979. Thus, it would be a blessing for future generations.. The legislation also called for a policy of “leave no trace” for wilderness campers. Thus all signage, docks etc on portages and campsites were dismantled.

The forest service was to only maintain and clean campsites, monitor the sites for wear and do minor clearing on portage paths. It was to be a wilderness again. With this momentum beginning in the early 1960’s. the floodgates for legislation to protect and preserve wilderness areas were opened dramatically. Justice William Douglas led the fight to establish the Wilderness Bill of Rights. This was followed by the Wilderness Act, the Wild and Scenic River Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act and the National Seashore Act. And also with this momentum, the Voyageurs National Park was established in later years along the northern border of Minnesota west of the Superior National forest.

New environmental organizations were later formed to continue the battle to preserve and protect our beloved wilderness. They replaced Conservation Affiliates. They were: “The Friends of the Boundary Waters,”…. the “Wilderness Society” and others. They represented a new generation of wilderness preservationists that Sigurd Olson and so many others had led and mentored so that their generations would continue the work begun so many years ago. Sig was always focused on educating young people on the issues and ethics surrounding the preservation of the wilderness and that they would need to lead in the future. Many listened and learned and lead today. Sig had spent his life seeking to preserve the wilderness for future generations.

Many in the Menogyn “family” - past campers and staff, board members and parents - have since been involved in the effort to preserve this wonderful wilderness. It needs to be said that when times of crisis confront the life of an organization and its leadership, they must remember and cleave to their principles and core values. If they do not act accordingly, their soul and mission will begin to suffer. They lose their identify. It’s all about servant leadership, integrity and the courage of convictions even in the face of adversity. The rest is history; however the challenges continue.

The forces that would have destroyed this wilderness for economic gain remain active and powerful. In subsequent years, since those days, strong efforts to revoke or weaken the intentions, rules and regulations governing the Boundary Waters have continued. We had disasters during the Reagan administration. James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, was as blatantly anti environmental as any Interior Secretary in the history of our nation. He cut funds for environmental protection, under funded our parks and forests and encouraged going “under the radar” to ignore the regulations and rulings established in the past. He finally went to jail for graft and corruption while in office. Such was the character of the man; however, he did great damage.

Each future generation will need to be vigilant and strong. It is their task to honor the legacy given them by the sweat, blood and tears of so many and thus to strengthen this legacy for future generations. I am reminded of the words in the novel The Brothers Karamazov: “Love all the earth, every ray of God’s light, every grain of sand or blade of grass, every living thing. If you love the earth enough, you will connect to the divine mystery.” And I recall the words of the psalmist: “I look unto the hills (the living created order) from whence comes my help and strength. My help comes from God, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalms 121) This strength, inherent in all of God’s creation, is available to every human being as a blessing for their lives. It is another of God’s gifts of abundance coming to us from the created order. Thus it is worthy of our every effort to protect and preserve it. It is our responsibility.

Again Sigurd Olson, “ In wilderness people can find their SILENCE and the SOLITITUDE that can connect them one again to their HERITAGE and can give them a sense of the SACREDNESS of all creation.” And then Thoreau – “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” IT’S REALLY A SPIRITUAL MATTER. Sig would agree and so would Menogyn’s founder, “Dad” Tripp

 2) "The Surreptitious Trip to Rose Lake"

It was very quiet. I was curious as I sat on the ground at my "listening point" just below DC looking out toward the lake. I could barely see it from up here. It was a black night with no moon but the twinkling stars did their magic and lit the lake slightly. I was waiting for the sounds that I knew would come. I reflected on the day. It had ended strangely.

First John Skaggs, one of my finest guides, came to me and announced that probably no one would be coming to DC tonight. Just about every night of the week, most staff guys in camp at the time, would come up to DC for coffee, stories, writing letters, table games, conversation and good natured chiding ...typical male bonding stuff and the stuff that makes for "family." This is where guys would debrief their last canoe trip. It gave me a real "feel" for what was happening out there. Sometimes we laughed until we cried. Sometimes guys told stories on themselves that they shouldn't have because it took them a long time to live them down - --Steve Goggin burning fruit soup which was impossible except for Steve. Robin Lindfors losing his group. Fred Nordeen being locked in the squirrel cage for hours. Staff turning over in the bay with a boat (the "Rotten Tomato") filled with garbage for the dump, and many more)

We had a long board hanging horizontally by two chains from the ceiling with cup hooks and coffee cups. Each cup had guy's name painted on it. That was their cup to take care of for the summer. The cups were always in a state varied grunge. It was "the good, the bad and the ugly" but it worked. I refused to touch some of the cups. We would usually have food, "hootch", munchies etc. All of it was so inhaled, there were no crumbs for the mice.

Then two other guys, I think Jim Arnold and Fred Nordeen, at separate times came to me with the same message that no one would be coming up to DC that night. "Something is up," I concluded. But what? I trusted my guys implicitly. What could they be up to? Then I reminded myself that "Buzz" Sawyer had a girls group that was due back in camp the next day. I checked "Buzz's" Trail Plan that showed his trip route and intended campsites. Yup, I had it! Buzz was due to spend his last night at the upper campsite on Rose Lake. These guys were going there to visit the sweet young things and their guide Buzz! This had been planned last week!

I sat on the pine needle covered earth and waited and smiled. It wasn't too many years ago that I would have done the same thing. Then I heard the splash of a paddle and someone being quietly admonished to be silent. I saw the phantom canoes pass by in the darkness. Four canoes of three guys each. I laughed again silently. These were great guys. The next day, Buzz and his gang came in. They were radiant and exuberant. They'd had a great time, (especially last night with the rapt attention of thirteen male guides). The guys checked me out the next day to see if I knew. I gave no sign. They thought that they had pulled it off. I laughed to myself. "Not this time guys, but good try."

 POSTSCRIPT: Forty years later John Skaggs, now a psychotherapist in Louisville Ky., told me the story of the trip under the auspices of "things that you didn't know about". I

3) "The Whispers of Yahweh"

I walked into the dining hall/lodge in mid afternoon on a beautiful sunlit day in the Northwoods. Menogyn was at its finest. I had left my pile of administrative gobbelygook on my desk at DC. I was tired of it and needed a break. And, besides it was my habit to walk around the site every afternoon just to get a sense of what was going on and to visit with in-camp staff. "It's time to give yourself a break, Paulson," I told myself as I left DC.

It was a down time in camp because three trail groups and their guides had paddled out of camp that morning after breakfast. Down times like this didn't happen very often especially during a summer when I knew we would break attendance records. The pressure was off in camp. All of the guides were "on trail" and the remaining in-camp staff were scattered around the site catching naps, sunbathing on the sauna dock, writing letters to those sweet young things back home, or patching their britches. It was a well deserved break after getting nine groups packed out and on the trail during the past few days. "Tomorrow we'll all need to make a town run for supplies and supper and then a malt at Papa Leng's" I mused. I wrote it on my ever present "punch list" clip board under the "FUN" category.Lunch had just a handful of guys and we finished eating quickly so we could enjoy the afternoon on this beautiful day. We knew that we would all gather late in the afternoon for a life saving rehab sauna and swim followed by a great dinner and hot rolls cooked and baked by "Ma" Brown, our camp cook. Little did I know that my afternoon was going to be a profound and life changing experience.

"Ma" was a great lady and a superb cook. Her story was one of courage and resolve. She was a full blooded Ojibwa Native American with four grown children. The Superior-Quetico region was the ancestral land of countless generations of Ojibwas so the woods of the North Country were her natural home. Years before "Ma" had taken herself and her young children off the awful reservation created for the Ojibwas in Northern Minnesota. It was filled with poverty, hunger, abuse, alcoholism and other manifestations of the racist degradation and dehumanization imposed on reservations. She had told me that she had left because there was no hope for her children in that environment. She moved to St. Paul and restarted her life and theirs with hard work and hope. It was a hard task in a world so racist and prejudiced about "Indians". She persevered and her children's lives thrived. And "Ma" went on to work in Y camps because she loved kids. And she loved Menogyn.

"Hi Ma" I said as I walked into the kitchen. Are you going to take a nap?" No, I'm going out to the chapel and sit," she replied. From somewhere within me came an awareness of the importance of going with her (divine guidance, I think) "May I go with you?" "Yes" she said with her typical kindness and directness. We walked to chapel point and sat down. We said nothing for the next hour. It was a profound experience with the rhythms of the earth. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds. The wind whispered in the magnificent, tall pines. The lake was moving with waves and the sun glinted like silver on the water. I heard the mystic calls of the loons. I heard the splash of a moose across the bay. I could smell and almost taste the pines and the moist earth. The cross glimmered in the sunlight. There was no human sound. There was a shift in me as I saw, heard and felt this interconnected naturalorder. All my senses were filled with the rhythms of creation. The words of a theologian and naturalist flitted into my mind, "Pick a flower and disturb a star." Ah yes, I really understand that much better now," I said to myself.


I looked at "Ma". She sat quietly listening, sensing and seeing all at one time. It was a communion and connection with the gifts of the universe (God's gifts). It was a holy moment to be in the presence of Yahweh (God, Manitou, Jehovah). I understood then but in a new way that everything in creation is connected and that I am part of this natural order and have been created to belong in it. Everything that was going on around me was a crucial connection to the activity, presence and strength of God. "Be still and know that I am God" came to my mind. Yet, I knew that this was not the time for mind chatter, words and linear, scientific thinking. God defies and is not limited to logic. God comes to us most powerfully through intuition and the silences. It was time for me to be quiet and absorb the wonder of God's activity and presence and to feel the power of it all. It speaks for itself and doesn't need my pontificating. I continued to let God seep in and, through the power of creation, gift me with God's healing and restoring power. I became aware of the profound gift that I had been given. I was as one with the created order. I had never really been here before.


We got up to go back. I remember thinking that we must do all that we can to preserve and protect this incredible wilderness and gift from God because it is a source for renewal and spiritual growth for human beings. As such it is a critical center for human existence and spiritual health as we seek meaning for our lives. Henry David Thoreau's words
entered my consciousness, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." "Yes!" I said.  We walked back to the Lodge not saying a word. We both had been profoundly moved by God's presence. Now I understood more deeply how truly spiritual Native American cultures are. Their connection with the Creator through the wonders of the created order was profoundly deep because it had been shaped over countless centuries. I looked into her eyes and she into mine. It was as if I looked into the depths of knowledge of the universe.


I knew that she knew where I had been this past hour and that I was forever changed. My eyes had said it all. So did hers. We thanked each other with our eyes and a wordless hug.  I walked slowly back to DC being very aware of the essences of creation around me and its effect on my very being and existence. I didn't have to do anything or utter a word or even think profound thoughts. I just let it sink in to my marrow. It's God alive and active all around me as a gift and as a revelation of God's nature and love for humankind. When I got back to DC I took out my Bible and opened it to Psalms 121 and read it again with new eyes and a new heart. "I look unto the Hills (all of living creation) from whence comes my help and strength. My help comes from (the living) God, the maker of Heaven
and earth." (And all that is, seen, unseen and felt).

Then from my memory bank these words of Sig Olson came up. "In wilderness people can find their SILENCE and the SOLITITUDE that can connect them once again to their HERITAGE and give them a sense of the SACREDNESS of all of creation. I knew then that the pretty sunset and magnificent view of the casual observer would never again be just "pretty" to me. I knew that I'm deeply connected to something bigger.

4) "A Sauna, Soap, and a Canoe"

I had just soaped down in the dressing room of the sauna. I had been in the sauna for a long time and my naked body was cascading with sweat. The sauna was really hot thisafternoon. In fact, the stove was so hot that the stove pipe was red hot half way to the ceiling. Every time someone threw water on the hot rocks the heat wave would chase you off the top tier and even drop you to the floor. You just couldn't take it very long. With all the guides "on the trail" there were only six of us remaining in camp.

I finally got out of the sauna. I'd had enough. Besides, I remembered the time last summer, after a strenuous week, that I'd taken a sauna alone and fallen asleep. I woke up and crawled out of the sauna exhausted. I'm not sure how I got to DC but when I did, I drank a quart of water and got into bed and slept. I wasn't going to do that again. As I left the sauna room, all the guys hooted at the director who couldn't take it. I smiled broadly at their chiding. They were great guys and we trusted each other.

The soap felt good on my heated, red skin. As I prepared myself for the run down the dock and a dive into the cold waters of West Bearskin Lake, I thought of how good the water would feel. In fact I knew that it would take my breath away. As I opened the sauna door to run, I was aware of the soap in my eyes so I just barely opened them as I began my run. About half way down the dock, I became aware of another presence. There it was at the end of the dock! It was a canoe with three people in it! By now I was almost at the end of my run and ready to dive. If I stopped now and turned around, it would take some time to get back to the privacy of the sauna. It was too good a view for too long a time of a skaggy backside. I decided instantly to keep going and launched a beautiful dive over the canoe and into West Bearskin Lake. I cleared the canoe by almost two feet. "At least I didn't take out the canoe, three people and myself," I thought.

As I went into the water, I wondered who in heaven's name was in the canoe and why were they here so deep into the wilderness? We were so isolated that we always took our saunas naked since we were an all male staff. "Oh no, could there have been female types in the canoe" I wondered.? I surfaced and looked. Sure enough, I had done it up real well. In the stern of the canoe was a father. He was grinning from ear to ear. In the middle was his wife. Her face was tight lipped, waxen and grim. After all, my dive trajectory had gone right over her within one foot of her face. In the bow was a young 11-12 year old girl with her mouth and eyes wide open with amazement, some awe and an awareness that she had never seen anything like that before.

The guys in the sauna didn't come out. I heard their snickers. I started to laugh, but not visibly. That must have been some sight. A large, naked man charging down the dock at them and then diving over their canoe with everything hanging out. I waved and smiled but said nothing. They quickly paddled off with their never-to-be forgotten memory. I wondered if I had scarred the young girl for life, but I doubted it. I'm not sure if the mother had a heart attack later, but she might have enrolledher daughter in sex education classes. The father, I hunched, was grinning all the way back to Minneapolis. I did NOT introduce myself as the Camp Director of YMCA Camp Menogyn.

5) "Queen Bear and Wet Pants"

There were six of us sitting around in DC one evening. They were friends and colleagues. We were all youth directors for the YMCA of Minneapolis and five of them had come to Menogyn with their high school aged HI Y guys. They were Doug Boler, Bob Goldberg, Dick Silverness, Dale Leverson and Dale Reiman. It was the practice in the 50's and 60's for Y youth workers to promote Menogyn in their HI Y programs and in the high schools. Then they would accompany their guys on a canoe trip(s). It was a terrific way to guide and influence young men. It was Menogyn's basic source of campers and also a key to a strong HI Y program.

We had been sitting in DC talking, drinking coffee and laughing. It was my practice to have all adult advisors, who came to camp with groups, to come to DC both before and after their canoe trips. The first was to orient them, talk about their leadership roles on the trail, discuss opportunities for "teachable moments" and Christian education and to determine what their objectives were with their group(s). The second time, after their trip, was to de-brief with them their trail experience and promote for next summer.

I asked them if they'd seen any bear on their way to the cabin. They hadn't. We'd had a few bear in camp all summer long. Usually they stayed on the other side of the bay where the garbage pit was located. (Now the site of the Dining Hall/Lodge) but they often strayed into camp to look for food. We had one bear that seemed to like coming up to DC. She would just prowl around the cabin and outhouse and then get up on our back porch and sit to observe her kingdom from on high like a queen. I hadn't seen her for a couple of days.

The night was one of those black nights in the woods when you could not see your hand in front of your face.
Dale Reiman, one of the Y youth directors, got up from his chair and asked where the bathroom was. I said, "Dale, we have nothing indoors, but there is a two holer about twenty yards down the path. But if you only have to take a whiz, just do what I do at night and step out to the porch edge and water God's creation. Be sure to put your hand out so you don't run into the gas driven washing machine that we have out there. It's on the right so go to the left. Do you need a light?" "Naw," he exclaimed.

walked out the door and into the dark night. No more than three seconds later he came crashing back through the door. His eyes were wide with fear. His face was white and his pants were incredibly wet. The stain continued down both legs. He ran into the room exclaiming over and over again, "There's a damn bear out there." Evidently, when he walked out on the porch with his arms out to locate the washing machine, He'd hit hair!!! We all looked at him and started to laugh. It was a sight to behold. Dale was an excitable, flighty type and that made it even funnier. No one was hurt except for Dale's dignity and our queen bear's feelings. We continued to laugh and then laugh some more until we cried. We teased Dale for the rest of the year about how a bear had so excited him. Dale was finally able to laugh at himself and his encounter with the "Menogyn queen."

6)"Bears, Traps, and the Arkansas Boys"

The knock at the back door of DC woke me up. It was very early. Immediately, I surmised that there was an emergency. I jumped out of bed with my early morning stupor being quickly replaced by a rush of adrenaline. It was barely light and a grey cloud cover dimmed the day. I opened the door and there stood Steve Dormady, our high school age kitchen assistant. He was a great young man and hard worker but his face was white, his eyes wide with fear and he was out of breath from running. “Steve, what’s wrong? Come in.” He stammered out the following story. “I was late in getting up to start the pump motor like I do every morning.” (Our gas driven motor pumped water up to the pressure holding tank under the back porch of the dining hall to feed the needs of the cook for hot and cold water for meal preparation). He continued, “I was barely awake as I ran down the hill behind the kitchen to start the pump. Then when I was about half way down the hill, I looked up and almost died. There was a full sized mother bear about ten yards away rearing up on its hind legs and snarling. Two small cubs were behind her. I turned around and ran back to the kitchen and went inside. When I looked around the mother bear was at the bottom of the stairs to the kitchen door. I slammed the inside door and went out the front door and came up here.”

I put my arm around his shaking body and said, “It’s going to be OK Steve. You did the right thing. I’ll help you get the dining hall and kitchen ready for breakfast.”We walked back to the Dining Hall/Lodge together as Steve calmed down. “I wonder what we’ll find out the back door,” I mused to myself. I encouraged Steve to attend to other things in the kitchen while I went to look for mama bear and her children. Thankfully, to my relief and Steve’s, they were gone. I went down and started the pump and then helped Steve to prepare the kitchen so the cook could cook breakfast. By the time we were done, Steve had settled down. Now he had another story to tell his children and grandchildren sometime in the future. I walked down to the boat house. No bears there either. “Good!” I thought and then I sat down on a log bench to problem solve.

Mama bear and her kids had been around camp a lot lately. They had first started to show up across the bay at the garbage dump and had, just recently, increased their range to include our base camp. The prospect of food and the curiosity of the cubs had brought them into camp. They were now a major problem because they had become “bad bears” due to their lack of fear of humans. In addition, there is nothing worse than a mother bear protecting her two cubs. I had a problem that had to be solved immediately. The mother bear was a dangerous accident waiting to happen. And we had a large group of campers coming in that afternoon. They would completely fill our in camp facilities and would think that the cubs were cute. Picture taking would ensue and then a possible attack by an enraged and unpredictable mother bear protecting her young.

I hopped in a boat and drove to the landing and went to Clearwater Lodge to use the phone. I told Jocko and Lee Nelson, friends and owners of the Lodge, about the close call. They had seen the mother bear and cubs near the lodge and were also concerned about these “bad bears” that did not fear humans. I called the Forest Service Center in Grand Marais to talk to the head ranger whom I knew well. I explained our situation and said that we needed to act now to get rid of the mother bear and cubs before someone got hurt. However, I didn’t want to have the bears killed unless absolutely necessary.

He explained that Minnesota and Arkansas had a new program of exchange – Minnesota bears for Arkansas wild turkeys – and that a team of Arkansas wildlife staff had just arrived in Grand Marais yesterday to find bears for Arkansas. I asked if they knew what they were doing and he said that he didn’t have a clue about how they worked. I said, “Send them up and I’ll meet them at the landing on the east end of West Bearskin in one hour.” I watched as the Arkansas team of two drove up to the landing in their truck with Arkansas license plates. I went over to meet them and immediately had a premonition of bad things to come. I was right.

They were arrogant, overconfident and unwilling to listen. They had a real attitude problem. Furthermore, I had to tell them to stop tossing their still burning cigarettes on the wood littered ground. The forest was very dry and we didn’t need a fire. Unwillingly they complied because they sensed that I meant business. I was not taking a vote. I was almost ready to “pull the plug” on this project with these testosterone filled, arrogant men, but I knew that if I did, I’d still have the major problem with the bears. I decided to give them an opportunity to take our bears. Besides, I had a plan ready if they didn’t work out.

They unloaded the trap that they would be using to capture the bears. It consisted of two 50 galloon drums welded together with one open end with a heavy grate welded on it. The other end was also open with a similar grate but the grate connected to a trip wire that would cause it to fall down over the other open end when an animal would eat the bait on the trigger plate inside the barrel trap.  Seeing only one make shift trap, my trust and confidence in their capabilities and judgment plummeted. I said, “Gentlemen, there are three bears not one. You’ll need at least two more traps to get all three. It’s predicable that the cubs will be the first ones in the barrel because they are so curious and uninhibited. You’ll be lucky to get them both in one trap. But what are you going to do about the mother bear who is not in the trap and very dangerous when protecting her cubs?

I was summarily dismissed with smiles, arrogant statements about their knowing what they were doing and that they wouldn’t need any direction from a “Yankee.” Furthermore they wouldn’t need the other trap they’d left in Grand Marais. Again I almost “pulled the plug” but said, “Gentlemen, this is now your project to conduct for the state of Arkansas. You had better get on with it right now and in your own way. Do you both have health insurance?” (I was pretty certain we could avoid anyone getting hurt when I implemented certain precautions.)

We loaded the trap on the pontoon boat and drove down the lake to Menogyn. I docked the pontoon on the north shore of the bay and the Arkansas boys brought their trap up to the garbage pit and baited it. On the way back down the lake I told them to be at the landing the next morning at 9 AM promptly and to bring the other trap. They went off laughing. THE SITUATION GOT DICEY, AS I KNEW IT WOULD.

Our large group of campers arrived late in the afternoon and we proceeded with their training program. There was no sound from the garbage pit. We had our opening supper in a packed dining hall. There were over 50 excited young people from the St. Louis YMCA. I walked out of the dining hall early to listen for the inevitable sounds from the garbage pit. Then I heard the trap grate fall with a clank. It was followed by angry roaring and heavy blows being administered to the 50 gallon drums. Whump, whump, whump, the blows resounded as mama bear tried to beat her way into the drums to save her trapped babies who were crying in fear. Momma was not a “happy camper.” I thought to myself, “I hope that she settles down before all these people leave the dining hall to go to the camp store and play volleyball before opening campfire. I don’t want to have curious campers going over to the garbage pit to investigate the roaring.”

By the time the supper program was completed and people were streaming out to the store and volleyball, the sounds had subsided. I passed the word to staff to not allow campers on the other side of the bay and actually stationed two staff at the end of the bay to cut off any campers who wished to visit the garbage pit and the roaring if it started up again. Thankfully, it didn’t. We heard no more from Momma and the cubs that night. It was quiet the next morning too.

I took the pontoon down to the landing to meet our Arkansas boys. They were there at nine with no cigarettes in their mouths.  On the way down the lake, I explained to them the mess that they had created. They had one or two cubs in the trap and a very angry mother bear on the outside ready to protect her cubs. As arrogant, know-it-all men, they refused to believe me so I asked them what they were going to do. I had a plan in mind, but I decided to let them deal with the mess that they had created. I was pretty sure how it would play out and it did. We reached the north shore of the bay below the garbage pit and docked the pontoon. One of “the boys” jumped out unto the shore to go up and investigate. His bravado was evident. He did not go up quietly. He disappeared into the woods.

Ten seconds later he burst out of the woods running for his life. There was nothing beautiful in his retreat. His arms and legs flapped like a stork trying take off. His face was wild and white with fear and his eyes were filled with panic. And after him came momma bear. Her hackles were bristling but she was not running hard. Then she stopped as I knew she would. She had cleared the enemy away far enough to protect her cubs and she was in charge. Our guy kept running as fast as he could and with a great splash and huge spray of water ran into the waters of West Bearskin Lake. He submerged and came up coughing with water streaming down his face. He was shaking and incoherent. He couldn’t navigate. His legs now failed him. I told his friend to go in and get him before he drowned or died from fright.

They were not a proud sight as they stood on the deck of the pontoon. They looked like drowned rats. They recovered slightly on the trip back down the lake, but they were like beaten dogs with no eye contact and no conversation. However, on the way back down the lake, I conversed. I explained to them, in no uncertain terms, the mess they had created and left to us to solve because they had arrogantly refused to listen. They didn’t know that I had a plan. I told them to be back at the landing the next morning at 9AM sharp. I kept the second trap on the pontoon.

As they drove off, I drove to Clearwater Lodge and called the Senior Forest Ranger.  I explained to him what had happened and the mess created by the “Arkansas Boys”.  I asked him to send a Ranger up to us who had and could use a serum rifle so we could shoot the mother bear and then put her in the remaining trap. He said that their expert was in the Ely area but could be at the landing in about three hours. I said “Send him; we have to get this issue solved now.

I went back to camp to be a camp director again for at least a few hours. Our trail groups of campers had gone “on the trail” that morning. I met with the staff and explained \the next steps we would take that afternoon in our little “bear caper”. The guys were ready for it.  I met the Forest Ranger from Ely at the landing. I outlined the situation and shared my plan with him. He agreed. I asked him how many serum needles he had with him. He said only three. Not good. But that’s what we had to live with. I then asked him how far the rifle could shoot the serum needle. “No more than 25 yards,” he answered. Not good again. Then I asked how long a period of time the serum would put the bear out of commission. He said that the maximum amount of serum he could use would give us four minutes before the bear would start to come out of its drug induced coma. Any more serum would kill the bear. Again, not good. The good news was that the serum would knock the bear out in about 20 seconds after impact.

The pressure was on. I felt responsible for the welfare of my staff. Their being mauled by an angry bear was possible, but unlikely and certainly unacceptable. With only four minutes, we would have to move quickly through a very difficult terrain of large rocks, windfall, thick plants and trees. At my request, the Ranger had also brought his 30 06 high powered rifle as a backup. That made me feel better. We docked east of the garbage pit about 50 yards and unloaded the remaining trap. We had three strong guides on the team, John Skaggs, Fred Ahlquist and Jim Leet, plus the Ranger and myself. I also had my binoculars. We were down wind from the bear as we began our slow, quiet approach to the bear at the garbage pit.

We finally reached a little knoll about 25 yards from the bear with a clear view of the trap and the mother bear. Both cubs were in the trap. Momma bear sensed something was wrong and was pacing around angrily. The Ranger loaded the serum rifle as I watched the bear through the binoculars. I needed them to see if the Ranger had actually hit the bear with the serum needle by looking for hair movement on the bear. We didn’t need to charge down on an angry mother bear that had no serum in her. I asked the Ranger to reload another needle right away in case we needed it to put an angry bear down from close range. The 30 06 was the ultimate backup and it was a comfort. He shot. No one saw any hair movement nor any sign from the bear that anything had hit her. He had missed!!! Only two serum needles left!  He reloaded and shot again. Hair moved! He’d hit the bear!

Then the insufferable bear did something that I had not counted on. She ran away from her cubs and into the forest! Unbelievable!! Now we had the larger problem of trying to find a bear that had run into the forest and out of sight. And we had only four minutes!!! “Let’s go” I yelled and we all ran in the direction of the retreating bear carrying a large, clumsy, heavy trap between the four of us. The terrain was difficult for four hard charging men with an unwieldy trap. It was a broken or sprained ankle waiting to happen. But no one fell and we found her just a short distance away and out like a light. Of course she fell in an area filled with rocks, shrubs and trees that would make loading her in the trap difficult.

She was a beauty with shiny black hair and she was big. “This lady goes well over 200 lbs. and is ‘healthy as a horse’,” I uttered out loud, chuckling at my absurd comparison. My staff looked at me like I was crazy and then we all began to laugh as we began our work. We only had three minutes now! We got the open end of the barrel trap behind her hind end and began the process of pushing her backwards into the trap from the front. As John Skaggs and I pushed her 200+ pound body of dead weight into the trap, I looked at her mouth, teeth, huge body and powerful claws. It was not a welcome sight for my sense of safety and mortality. Two of us pushed on the shoulders and head and two others pushed forward on the trap nestled behind her. The Ranger stood with rifle in hand ready to shoot if the bear started to come out of its four minute coma. Slowly we were getting her huge body pushed into the trap.

Only two minutes left to get it done!!! “Every fiber in my body screamed. “HURRY!! Time passed as we grunted, pushed and shoved. Then we finally got her completely in! And just as we put the other grate down in front of her and fastened it, she came out of her stupor and punched at the grate with a roar. Incredibly she actually dented the heavy duty grate with her blow!! She was not a happy bear. We had done it!! And the other trap had the two cubs in it. It was seriously dented. We did our “high fives” and began to laugh with great relief. We went to the dining hall and had supper and took a sauna.

The Ranger stayed over night with us in DC. Later that evening, the entire staff still in camp, gathered as usual in DC. John, Fred, Jim, the Ranger and I told every detail of the encounter. I perceived several “teachable moments” when describing the attitudes and demeanor of the Arkansas boys. We discussed how competent leaders handle testosterone filled men who were know-it-all tough guys prone to be violent, without pushing them into fighting at the “drop of a hat.”  My staff was always teasing me about the “teachable moments” that I pushed them to recognize when working with young men. Discerning them was crucial to values and character development. They would constantly ask me, “Arm, is this one of your teachable moments that just happened?” And then they would grin. I loved their grins. I was just pleased that they “got it”.

The next morning I brought the Ranger to the landing with the two traps full of bears. I thanked him for coming and helping us solve a major problem. He had experienced Menogyn and was impressed by the capabilities and leadership of our staff. Our “Arkansas boys” met us at the landing and we loaded the bears in their truck. The Ranger had some choice words for them as I did. He was angry and I was livid because we had come so close to a disaster due to their cavalier actions and arrogant attitudes. We could have been badly injured. I told them to never come into another job in Minnesota thinking that they knew it all when they didn’t.  I made my points, in no uncertain terms. They knew that the Ranger and I were very angry with their irresponsible attitudes and actions.

“Never do something like this again,” I said as they got in their truck. As they drove off, they didn’t wave goodbye. We did. (To both them and the bears).