(water sloshing) (bright music) - [Baratunde] The wild.
There's nothing quite like the feeling of stepping outside.
And breaking free from the modern world.
(gentle music) I'm in Northern Minnesota, on the edge of a lake that resembles an ocean.
(gentle music) In places like this, it's easy to see nature as something so powerful, so vast, we can never leave a real mark on it.
But our footsteps are almost everywhere these days.
And while knowing that can weigh you down, it can also lift us up and inspire us to change.
(gentle music) (gentle music) My name is Baratunde Thurston.
I'm a writer, activist, sometimes comedian.
(Baratunde laughing) And I'm all about exploring the issues that shape us as Americans.
(Baratunde clapping) - [Baratunde] This country is wild, and it's natural landscapes are as diverse as its people.
(people cheering) - [Man] There it is, there it is.
- [Baratunde] How does our relationship with the outdoors define us as individuals and as a nation?
(upbeat music) - [Announcer] "America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston"c) was made possible in part by a grant from Anne Ray Foundation, a Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropy.
This program was also made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
When you think of wild spaces in America, where does your mind go?
There's Alaska, of course.
And national parks like Yellowstone.
But when I dream of getting away from it all, I often imagine traveling somewhere else, to the Midwest.
And in particular, to Northern Minnesota.
Ancient glaciers here left behind a stunningly beautiful natural landscape.
And gave the state its nickname, "The Land of 10,000 Lakes."
Actually, there are almost 12,000.
But the same glaciers also scrape bare much of the fertile soil up north.
Which means living here require a certain kind of fortitude and a willingness to brave the tough environment.
For me, that raises some questions about the role of truly wild spaces in our lives.
(gentle guitar music) What makes us care about the wild so deeply and fight so hard to preserve it?
Who are the people waging that fight and what keeps them going against some pretty tough odds?
(chickens clucking) Where I'm headed, I'm hoping to find answers.
First, from a couple who chose to build a life out here.
In a corner of Minnesota that many would consider inhospitable.
Their names are David and Lise Abazs.
The founders of Round River Farm.
(chickens clucking) What is the Round River Farm?
- It's an experiment in trying to develop a sustainable way of farming and living.
Our kind of motto was live simply, so others may simply live, and-- - I like that.
- Yeah, and-- - We didn't come up with it.
- We didn't come up with it.
It's a quicker hymnal type thing.
It basically means, how can we live in a way that everyone on the planet can live.
And what we've realized this life isn't simple at all.
It's actually quite complex.
- But it is elemental.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] In the mid 1980s, David and Lise were a world away from here.
They got married while traveling in Sri Lanka and had dreams of founding a sustainable farm in the state of Maine.
- It was kind of already a really strong farm movement there, a small farm movement.
A lot of horse farming and things and so we had worked on some farms and made connections.
- [Baratunde] Lise had grown up in Minnesota though.
And one day, she told David, she was feeling a little homesick.
- So she says, "I don't wanna live in Maine.
I wanna live in Minnesota."
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] David read up on places where the couple could build the type of farm they'd envisioned.
And while there is fertile land south of here, he found himself drawn to a place that was a lot more challenging.
- So I'm looking at tree type, snowfall, temperatures.
And I come back to Lise and I come back and I say, "Okay, we can move to Minnesota, but we have to live in Finland, Minnesota."
- And She says, "What?"
- And I said, "I don't think there's any farms in Finland, Minnesota."
Definitely didn't know of it as a farming place and it's not.
There's good reason why it's not.
There's not much soil.
It's pretty wicked climate.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] And when they got here, what they found made them wonder if they'd made a big mistake.
- Imagine brush and grasses and roots.
- Is a mess- - And rocks.
- Just rocks, all sorts of stuff and then we've spent a lot of time renewing that.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] David and Lise enlisted the help of volunteers to clear the land.
And while the soil here still isn't particularly fertile, they actually welcomed the challenge.
- We wanted to have a lifestyle that really was a part of the seasons, a part of the environment around us and acknowledge the limitations of that as well, which we have a lot of limitations here.
- If we can figure out how to live a good life with very few resources, then that might create models or opportunities as things start to change in our country.
(gentle music) - I'm not exactly sure what type of change the Abazs' are preparing for.
Oh, this is very well organized.
But if their greenhouse is any indication, they're pretty well prepared for it.
They have everything from tomatoes.
- [Lise] Some red tomatoes down here.
- To cucumbers.
(cucumber crunching) It's crispy.
It's very watery.
So how does one pick carrots?
- Push down on the top and then pull it back out.
- All right, I'm gonna try that with this little guy here.
- [David] Push down and pull up.
There we go.
- I've never pulled a carrot before.
- There we go.
It builds carrocter.
(Lise giggling) Dave.
(gentle music) I can already see how living a sustainable life like this takes a lot of expertise.
And also, a lot of time.
How much time are you spending growing vegetables like carrots versus other things?
- Well, we used to spend a whole summer with up to seven people working, but now we've really cut back on the amount of vegetables and we're reshifting to seeds and to tree growing.
- Tree growing?
- That's a little bigger than a carrot.
- A little bigger, but not much.
(both giggling) At least at the size we grow.
What's the goal of growing these trees?
- The goal is to maintain a forest canopy in Northeast, Minnesota, by trying to grow the future forest as the climate changes.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] That's a pretty big ambition for a small family farm.
- So these are the trees, welcome.
- These are the tiniest trees I've ever seen.
(David giggling) And while the seedlings may not reach above your knee, the couple has big plans for them.
- One of our goals is to be a wild tree nursery.
And that will take the 24 species of trees that are identified to be in this area, either currently or will be, and plant and get them to grow here.
So this land will become a seed sanctuary for the climate-forward seeds.
- Climate-forward seeds.
It sounds a bit complex.
But it turns out, the concept is fairly simple.
Climate change could soon kill off many trees in these forests.
Disrupting countless ecosystems, as well as the local economy, unless folks like Lise and David can plant new trees that can thrive in the climates of the future.
This is a really fascinating approach to climate change.
'Cause I'm used to, first, denial.
But we're getting past that.
We are largely past it in the US, honestly.
And then we try to stop it.
- And so there're efforts to try to...
But we have enough baked in in terms of the atmosphere and carbon but more is gonna happen.
- People are moving.
You see new migration patterns for people, plants are gonna move to.
- [David] Yep.
- And what you're doing is accelerating that a little bit 'cause we move on a scale that these plants were never evolved to do.
Is that about right?
- And yeah, and trees have evolved over hundreds and thousands of years, Not 50.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] 50 years.
In the lifetime of most trees, that's a blink of an eye.
But David and Lise and many scientists too, believe this landscape will look entirely different in just that brief period of time.
- So we've already started cutting trees out.
These are all different trees that have died.
- [Baratunde] Climate change is already being felt here.
And as a result, the type of tree this region is famous for might not be around for much longer.
- [David] If you look around, 80% of these evergreens will be gone.
- It'll be a very different forest.
- I feel like I'm in a memorial site or something.
- Kind of.
In a way.
- It's hard to imagine this landscape without the iconic evergreens that have long defined it.
But the seedlings in our hands, aren't about the past.
They're about the future.
I kinda wanna raise a toast to trees with these.
(all giggling) - To trees.
- To trees!
- Let's plant these.
- Yeah, we should do that.
- That's the real toast.
- [David] Yep.
- [Baratunde] The seedlings we are planting today, oak, yellow birch and river birch, will likely be much better adapted to the warmer climates ahead.
- There we go.
Here we go.
(gentle music) - Excellent.
- [Baratunde] I just planted my first tree.
- I just planted my first tree.
- Way to go.
- Thank you.
(gentle music) For David and Lise, what started as the dream of a sustainable farm, turned into something much bigger.
Why are you listening to trees and trying to interact with them at this pace?
- Because we believe in a future.
We need to make this a better world.
And this is our slice of the pie.
There's lots of other slices of pie for people to work in.
This is just where we find home.
(gentle music) - Driving in here this morning, I didn't think a place this wild could also feel so homey.
David and Lise make it clear, that takes a lot of work.
And, it will only require more work given what we're facing in the years ahead.
We're gonna lose a lot of life.
We're gonna lose forests.
If I sit with that, it makes me really sad.
And I should be sad.
We should mourn such a loss.
But we could also breathe new life into all this death.
We can plant new trees.
We can build new forests.
We can create something that hopefully gives our descendants a better chance at living with and learning from all of this.
(gentle music) For folks like Lise and David, this is a place to incubate ideas that could help wild places around the planet.
For others, it's just as important to document what's special about nature right here and now.
(water sloshing) Minnesota's North Shore is defined by Lake Superior, the largest fresh water lake by surface area in the world.
On days like this, it's vastness can be hard to picture.
But when it comes to nature, some people specialize in seeing what others miss.
Nice to meet you.
- Nice to meet you.
- This makes me wanna set sail for anywhere.
- Yeah, it's pretty stunning.
This is Anna Orbovich.
An artist whose expertise is in capturing what we see and experience in the outdoors.
What do you see in here?
- There's always so much color up here on the North Shore.
So many blues and reds and just a lot of life and- - Yeah.
- It's always very humbling being up here.
- You feel a little small?
- [Anna] Little small sometimes up here, yeah.
- [Baratunde] Anna might feel humble out here, but to my mind, there's plenty for her to be proud of.
Recently, she completed a project funded by the state of Minnesota, in which he documented in her own unique way, over 270 miles of a nearby hiking trail.
- I've always been extremely inspired by the outdoors and putting my body through physical challenges.
And, I used hiking as kind of a medium of sorts to bring my studio practice as an artist outdoors.
- [Baratunde] Anna's artworks, honestly, they're like nothing I've ever seen.
On first glance, they resemble simple maps.
But it turns out their cyanotypes.
Sun-sensitive photo sheets colored by the shadows of objects that Anna finds in the outdoors.
- Cyanotypes are kind of a way to, let nature do its thing and kind of facilitate it a little bit.
- [Baratunde] It's a natural art.
- [Baratunde] It's a captivating concept.
Preserving experience of an outdoor space through art made with materials found within it.
So I'm curious.
Why did Anna choose this path?
The Superior Hiking Trail as her muse.
All right, so tell me more about this trail.
What makes the Superior Hiking Trail special?
- The trail roughly follows the shoreline of Lake Superior.
It's a beautiful stretch.
Probably one of my favorites.
I just learned a lot about hiking your own hike and trying to just kind of focus on what you're hoping to get out of the hike.
(gentle upbeat music) - Of course, Anna's way more practiced than I am at finding and seeing the wonders in this wild space.
- Yeah, it's pretty stunning.
It's- - [Baratunde] And often, she hones in on something small.
A detail that tells the bigger story.
So what do you look for here in terms of your art process?
- Really anything but I try to only grab things that are already fallen.
- So you don't go ripping leaves off of trees.
- No, yeah.
Just kind of things that will kind of stay in their place for the most part.
And are easy to put back.
- Shall we go foraging?
Let's do it.
(gentle upbeat music) - With that, Anna and I split up.
Looking for objects that seem to define this place.
Not everything we find makes the cut.
Oh, that's poop.
But ultimately we come up with a pretty cool collection.
- All right, what'd you find?
- Those look great.
- Funky, cool stuff.
Ooh, I love that rock.
- Yeah, that one was a little bit underwater.
- [Baratunde] Yeah.
- Yeah, I've never quite seen a rock- - It's like a sculpture.
- Like this.
And it's almost like a fraction of a rock.
- So, excited to see what happens.
- Nice haul.
(both giggling) - [Baratunde] The next step is arranging our objects on photo paper.
And then, exposing them to sunlight or so we hope.
(thunder rumbling) Is that thunder?
Yap, nature can have a dark sense of humor.
But for Anna, twists of fate like this are ex exactly what her art is all about.
- You kinda have to be ready for the unexpected.
Like the fact that the light right now is really muted.
- And rain.
- And rainy and thunder.
And so, trying as best you can to actually listen to the landscape, I think, and not push the art on the landscape but really try to work with it.
- Why is that important to you?
- I think we live in such a fast-paced world right now that finding time to just enjoy and be grateful for the earth under our feet is important.
- I love this idea that your collaborator in this art process is earth itself.
And so, like these raindrops are literally embedded into the art.
These leaves, these rocks and as the earth's conditions change, so does the art that you make.
It's really beautiful.
- [Anna] Thank you.
- [Baratunde] Capturing and sharing the unique beauty of this place is what keeps drawing Anna back into the outdoors.
But all over Northern Minnesota, each person you meet seems to be seeking something different in the wild.
And if you ask them, they've been able to find it.
- We are new here to Minnesota and this such a wonderful place that we found here.
- You get up here and it's just open and airy and natural and everything's right, you know?
- There's really a whole lot going on here in Northern Minnesota.
- Fishing, hiking.
- Hunting, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking.
- Definitely swimming in the very cold lake.
- So many activities.
(dog barking) Quiet.
(man giggles) - [Baratunde] That's right.
Everybody out here seems to love the idea of disconnecting from our world and reconnecting with the world of nature.
- This is more my kind of TV to watch right here.
- It's horrendously addicting.
- You're drinking in everything with your eyesight.
You're hearing the waves.
- You will be rewarded over and over and over.
- And you can take it in, you feel it.
It's all good.
I love it.
- [Baratunde] When it comes outdoors, there really is a whole lot to love out here.
Aside from Minnesota's almost 12,000 lakes, there are also nearly 100,000 miles of rivers and streams.
But despite all that abundance, each person you meet seems to have one thing they love the most.
- My favorite thing to do outside is, look for toads.
- What brings me here is him.
And, yeah, I think that's it.
- All my life, I wanted to go on camping and sleep in the tent.
And my dream come true.
This is my first time sleep in a tent in outdoor.
It's lovely and I love it.
- Oh, congratulations.
- [Man] Amazing.
(indistinct) I wasn't expecting that.
- For sure, there's always something new to try up here.
(gentle music) But the man I've arranged to meet next has pursued the same outdoor passion for about 30 years.
What keeps bringing him back?
- Baratunde, nice to meet you, man.
- Dudley, nice to meet you.
- Excellent, excellent.
Thanks for coming out to Northern Minnesota.
Definitely one of my favorite places to hang out.
- [Baratunde] This is Dudley Edmondson, a renowned photographer, author and public speaker.
For three decades, Dudley's been capturing the natural beauty of this place.
In particular, it's birds.
- We are on the Mississippi flyway.
There is a central flyway for birds.
- These are like major routes that birds take?
- [Dudley] Yeah, major routes that birds take.
- Like bird highways.
Basically what happens is the birds are coming out of the Northwest.
They come to the edge of Lake Superior.
Birds will not fly out over the lake because there's no thermals, so make a hard right and fly down the shore.
And that's what happens.
Birds kind of pile up here in their effort to not fly out over the lake and drown.
- They have a sense of survival, self-preservation.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
- Dudley's love of the outdoors is rooted in his own sense of self-preservation, going back many years ago.
Were you an outdoors type person?
Did you enjoy just being in nature like this?
- I did.
Part of it comes from my childhood.
You know, some issues in the family home with parents that had some issues with alcohol and I found that getting into nature and getting into the out of doors was really, sort of a respite place for me to escape all of that.
- It was your hideout.
- Yeah, it was my hideout.
For Dudley, the outdoors was a place of refuge at first, but it became something more after a high school teacher introduced him to bird watching.
What hooked you about that experience?
Why were you like, "I need more of this."
- It was his ability to identify birds that he didn't even see.
Maybe they were a quarter-mile away.
That is amazing!
I want those skills.
(birds chirping) So there are birds calling.
We're not seeing a lot.
- But we're hearing birds.
There's things like black-capped chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch.
(Baratunde giggling) (gentle music) - Even I can tell that Dudley has mastered some pretty advanced techniques.
Skills that extend far beyond bird watching into a way of life known simply as birding.
How does one bird?
- Well, there's a lot of ways to bird.
You can bird by ear.
You can do visuals.
But I've learned that you just simply need to have access to the out of doors wherever you are.
- Dudley agrees to give me a tutorial on how to spot the most striking birds.
That's not always possible with the naked eye.
I just, I have not looked through a set of binoculars- - [Dudley] Yeah.
- I think since I was a kid.
- [Dudley] Okay.
- These are very good.
I feel like I'm inside a video game.
- Yeah, yeah.
- Very 3D.
- It's like the best VR I've ever.
(both laughing) - I hate that I just said that, but, that's how I feel.
- Yeah, yeah.
- [Baratunde] Glimpsing elusive birds, that's one thing.
Well, that's another.
- When you're birding by ear you really have to focus and concentrate 'cause you gotta be able to separate.
Sometimes the bird, the cacophony of song is, it's so dense that you have to pull birds out and isolate them.
Chickadees have a... (Dudley mimicking a chickadee call) That call from a black-capped chickadee tells every other bird, "Something about to go down.
You got to get yourself together 'cause- - They coming.
- 'Cause they coming, exactly.
(gentle music) (birds chirping) - What I'm picking up on is that you're listening and you're understanding, so it's not just a visual thing.
Even hearing the bird, isn't merely about identifying the bird, it's also about understanding what the bird is trying to communicate.
Listening to nature and learning from it seems to give Dudley the safe space he's always wanted.
A place where he can feel he belongs.
- The more you can identify things, then the fear subsides, the uncertainty of what is that!
And, it's like, okay.
I can identify that butterfly.
I know that species of plant.
I know what bird that is.
So all of this stuff is super familiar to me so I'm very comfortable in this space.
(gentle music) - Today, Dudley lives right by this reserve.
So he has access to it whenever he feels he needs it.
But sometimes access can be a complicated thing.
So I'm gonna ask you a very direct question Dudley.
- [Dudley] Yes sir.
- Black people, where are they?
- Yeah, they're not here.
Yeah, so-- - How did you adjust to that when you came here?
- Yeah, you know, for me, I've always been a person who my connection to nature is so strong that that's priority.
(gentle music) - [Baratunde] A few years ago, Dudley wrote a book about outdoor enthusiast titled "The Black and Brown Faces in America's Wild Places".
It featured inspiring people of color who like Dudley, have found solace and meaning in the outdoors.
- I think that as people of color we have been, I'm gonna use the word relegated to urban spaces.
But I have found that in outdoor spaces, white people, for whatever reason, feel threatened.
I know two African-American males this year who were fishing and were shot at several times in their boat.
Someone shot at them as they were fishing multiple times.
- So that's an extreme example.
- It's an extreme example.
I mean myself in this community, I have not had those kinds of things happen.
I have had them happen on camping trips where I've had people calling me the N-word.
What I get in that green space is so helpful to me, I'm willing to take ownership for that space and I might also be willing to challenge people who challenge me.
Because that space is so important to me, to my mental health.
(gentle music) (water sloshing) - [Baratunde] Do me a favor, close your eyes.
- [Dudley] Okay.
- Listen, tell me everything you hear.
- First thing I hear is insects.
Some kind of cricket or locust.
I hear water dropping on leaves and in the creek.
- What do you feel?
- I feel calm, very relaxed, very much at home.
Which is typically the way I feel in the outer doors.
I feel more at home standing here than I would even standing in front of my house.
I feel like when I'm in the manmade world, you have to perform, act a certain way, think a certain way, engage people in a way that makes them know that you're a safe black person to be around.
But when I'm in this space, I don't have to do any of that stuff.
(gentle music) 'Cause the birds and the crickets and the minnows in the creek don't care.
They just don't.
To me, that's the de-stress that you can only experience in the outdoors.
And if you've never put yourself in a position to where you can let that happen, you have no idea how therapeutic it can be.
(gentle music) - I think you just described freedom.
It is very much freedom.
(gentle music) - There are so many people seek in wild spaces.
But I never realized how many of them depend on feeling free.
(gentle upbeat music) Free to escape the biases and barriers that so many of us face each day.
Free to make the most of our time in a place like this.
(gentle music) Being here has got me thinking about connections and belonging.
And I spend a decent amount of time in parts of the outdoors.
But I realize I don't know a lot at times.
And when I don't know, I'm afraid or I generalize.
Could that eat me?
Could that bite me?
Could that hurt me?
'Cause I don't know.
When I start to know, there's a feeling of comfort and familiarity.
Oh, that's a warbler for example.
That's that kind of bug.
And that knowledge breeds a level of closeness.
I'm no longer afraid of, I'm a part of.
I'm starting to think it's that sense of belonging that makes people feel so strongly about being in wild spaces.
And fighting to preserve them.
Of course, some people have called these wild spaces home for much longer than anyone else.
And for them, caring for the natural world, can't be separated from caring for ourselves.
(gentle upbeat music) Meet Michaa Aubid and Veronica Skinaway.
They're both Anishinaabe which means the original people.
What's in the giant black cauldron?
- We call it manoomin.
- It's wild rice.
(gentle upbeat music) - [Baratunde] Manoomin is native to Northern Minnesota's glacier-carved lakes and rivers.
And according to oral tradition, it's at actually why the Anishinaabe first decided to settle here.
- We've been here a very long time.
This is a tradition that survived for hundreds, thousands of years.
And so it's really unique and there isn't anything like this food in the world.
It's the best food for your body.
The best food for your heart, your soul, everything.
- [Baratunde] It's said that the Anishinaabe once lived far away on the Atlantic Ocean until one day, they received a vision of a food that grows on water.
They found it along the edges of Lake Superior.
And manoomin's been sacred to them ever since.
- [Veronica] This is what saved the Anishinaabe people.
So it is very, very important to us.
- [Baratunde] I'm curious to see how manoomin is gathered.
Especially since Minnesota is in the midst of a drought.
(gentle music) Water levels are low right now, which makes Michaa's job as a poler a major challenge.
- So what the poler tries to do is, you know, cut through the bed like that, creating as minimal of disturbance as we can.
And getting it to where that manoomin hangs just over the boat, just right for the picker to be able to not have to work too hard to tip it in.
- All right, so your job as the picker or the knocker, how does it work?
- I kind of take that manoomin.
Then I gently tap down on it twice.
Like a heartbeat.
So, boom, boom!
(twigs crunching) - Ricing is 90% perspiration and 10% nutrition.
(both giggling) So that's about what you're doing out here is you're exerting yourself to the max.
But it's for a good cause and it's a labor of love.
- Gentle tapping.
And then you see the ripen manoomin going into your canoe?
(twigs snapping) - [Baratunde] Michaa and Veronica invite me to participate in the process as a picker.
And while it's hard at first to find my rhythm, it doesn't take long for me to understand why they love this so much.
- [Michaa] Love to add your name to the ricing list.
- [Veronica] Yeah.
- One or two days and you'll have enough food for your family for the year.
(gentle music) - [Baratunde] This tradition of gathering manoomin has gone on for millennia.
Yet Michaa and Veronica, worry it might not be around for much longer.
So what are the threats to manoomin?
- Well, the primary threat that we're always concerned about, there's a lot of 'em, but is the changing climate.
These are delicate ecosystems here and even the slightest change can alter it.
(gentle music) - [Baratunde] Michaa and Veronica are also concerned about a new oil pipeline.
Its supporters say it will bring jobs to the region, but it would also run right through native lands.
- So that's a great concern to us.
It travels right through our ceded territories, where we reserve the wild rice here.
- Indigenous groups and climate activists have joined forces, claiming the pipeline would impinge on the rights of wild rice itself.
It's a fascinating idea.
And out here, it does feel like the rice has a life of its own.
So how are you doing Baratunde?
- I feel like I'm emerging from like another realm or something.
Pulling the veil up, it's like crisper.
And there are a few moments where I hit a little rhythm.
So it was kind of like grab, tap, tap, grab, tap, tap, grab, tap, tap.
There's a little beat in my head running.
And it was just very soothing, very soothing.
And I got some rice I think.
- Oh wow, you did good.
You are a natural - I didn't wanna be dead weight out here.
- Yeah, you're a natural.
- I gotta work for it.
It might not be the most impressive haul that Veronica has ever seen, but for me, it's a first, This is the first time in my life that I have touched rice in the wild.
I've only ever gotten rice out of a bag or a bin.
- That's it.
I hold one of these.
And then I look out and there's billions easily.
It feels infinite.
It might feel that way in the moment, but just like Minnesota's other abundant natural resources, these sprawling rice beds are fragile and limited.
And learning from those who have lived in balance with them for so long, in my view, is crucial to our future.
With all the changes that happen in the world there is this constant of the rice harvest.
And, why does that constant in the midst of so many other changes, why does that matter to you?
- It matters to me because this is something generational.
This is something that's been here for hundreds and thousands of years.
And this is something that you can't learn in a classroom.
This is something real special.
Having some things taken away over time it makes us appreciate even more.
Makes us fight harder for it.
- [Baratunde] Fighting hard for nature.
And for the ways of life it can sustain.
It's something I've seen over and over across Northern Minnesota.
From the forest and farms of Finland, to the hiking trails along Lake Superior.
(gentle music) But there's one place in this region that people have fought to protect despite the fact that almost no one lives there at all.
A place where cars must be left behind.
And one of the only ways to get around, is by canoe.
(gentle music) I'm on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the most visited wilderness area in all of America.
(gentle music) What's opening up before me now is over a million acres of wild lands and fresh water that extends from Northern Minnesota, all the way into Canada.
(gentle music) I've come here in one sense to experience nature in its purest state possible.
But I'm not planning to do that alone.
Today, I'm meeting up with a couple who've devoted almost a decade to exploring this place and pushing to keep it protected.
Their names are Dave and Amy Freeman.
How's your paddle?
- It was nice.
This is, it's an epically beautiful spot.
- Yeah, well, thanks for joining us.
This is White Iron Lake.
It's part of the Kawishiwi River and we're right on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, which is the largest wilderness area east of the Rockies and north of the Everglades, just full of lake like this.
It's our favorite place in the world.
Really special place.
- I can see why.
I honestly can.
The landscape surrounding us is one of the most stunning wild places I've ever visited.
And it's been kept that way, thanks to its designation as an official wilderness area.
(gentle music) How does that differ from a national park or a national river?
There's so many different kind of codes and words to describe protected outdoor space.
- Right, good question.
Well, it's federally designated as a wilderness area.
That's the highest level of protection.
- Oh, congratulations.
(all giggling) - So there are no buildings.
There are no roads.
There are no signs.
There's generally no motorized or mechanized vehicles.
We have realized that some places like the Boundary Waters are just so special that we need to protect them in their most natural state.
- [Baratunde] It's this very idea that some places are so special to us we want to protect and preserve them as they are, that first drew me to Northern Minnesota.
- All right.
Ready to go?
Yes I am.
(gentle music) But as we venture out into lake, with no sign of civilization in sight, I can't help but think the Boundary Waters seems pretty well protected as is.
What are you protecting it from?
- Well, the latest threat to this area is copper mining.
So, a large multinational company wants to mine for a copper, just outside the wilderness area.
- You know, there's demand, we need copper.
We need these things.
But there are some places like this amazing water rich wilderness that are just too precious to risk.
- [Baratunde] Some locals do support the mine because it could bring year-round jobs to the region.
And copper itself, is used for making everything from solar panels to electric cars, technology designed to help the planet.
But mining upstream, even if the mine is built just outside the protected area comes with the risk of polluting this wilderness.
And for some, that possibility is unthinkable.
So when you're out here, how do you feel?
- [Amy] Incredibly calm and happy.
- Yeah, I mean, all you can hear is the wind and the birds and the water, you can just drink the water right outta the lake.
- All right, I'm gonna test that.
This feels like the spot.
To the Boundary Waters.
- And all this fresh water.
Oh, that's good.
(gentle music) - [Crowd] On to DC!
On to DC!
- [Baratunde] The Freemans have campaigned to stop copper mining near the Boundary Waters area for years.
(people cheering) Starting with the protest that took them clear across America.
- Really our goal of this journey is to tell people all across the country about this amazing place.
The most popular wilderness area in the country.
- In 2014, to demonstrate against several proposed mining projects, they collected signatures on a canoe.
And somehow paddled that canoe all the way from here to Washington DC.
How does one paddle from Minnesota to Washington DC?
There's not like a continuous body of water between here and-- - Right, it's a lot of portaging too.
So carrying the canoe.
- We paddled like through Lake Champlain and down the Hudson River.
Right through New York City, right past the Statue of Liberty.
80 days to get here!
From Baltimore, we portage from Baltimore to DC.
- Just portaging the canoe.
Nine miles to Washington DC!
(gentle music) - [Baratunde] They finally did get there and to make their case, they delivered the canoe to the chief of the US Forest Service.
(gentle music) Today, the debate over nearby mining development is still playing out.
But Amy and Dave continue to advocate for this wilderness and find creative ways to show what makes it special.
After their DC trip, they decided to live in this wilderness for 12 months and documented their adventure so others could follow along.
- [Dave] We didn't cross the road.
We didn't go into a building.
We didn't leave the wilderness for a whole year.
(Dave giggling) (Amy giggling) - When you spend a whole year in the wilderness like that, what changes for you?
- One thing that's kind of amazing is we're still married.
(all giggling) And the other thing that we noticed towards the end of our time in the wilderness was that our senses were heightened.
(gentle music) - All the way through we were smelling things, hearing things, seen things that we had never seen before.
And we have been able to slow down to the point where we felt like there was nothing else for us to do except sit there and observe that.
And then try to help use that as a way we can help people understand how special this place is.
And how special just getting outside is.
(gentle music) (leaves crackling) - It smells so good.
Since their year in the wilderness, the Freemans have focused on inviting others into the Boundary Water.
- Can you hear it?
- Sound of rushing water.
- Makes me thirsty.
To share that feeling of having your senses awakened by the wild.
What a breeze!
- What a view.
- Pretty special.
(air whooshing) This is great.
It's kind of an understatement but it just feels really good.
The air is good.
It smells good.
That water looks good.
I haven't heard a single car horn or airplane or radio.
It's just everything else.
(gentle music) As I take in the scenery around me, I start to see how wilderness isn't just a place.
It's a feeling, a state of mind and an experience.
And sharing that experience can be a powerful way to build support for protecting the wild.
- Well, we've seen the impact of just bringing people into the place.
I think that's the most important thing is, we get people here and it kinda speaks for itself.
- We only protect the things that we love and we only love the things that we know.
And so, we all need to get outside and connect with the natural world.
And I think every once in a while you just gotta come out here and just immerse yourself.
- And unplug.
- And unplug.
- This is the full experience.
(gentle upbeat music) Places like this, they do feel like nature at its most pristine, but this journey reminds me, most of the time, even the wildest places aren't really untouched.
The footsteps we leave on the beach may be washed away by the tide, but the impacts we're having on the planet, they reach even here.
The places we are determined to protect.
All around the country, so many of us seek out wild spaces, looking for solitude, escape and experience, or a sustainable way of life.
(gentle music) But as much as the wild can give us, in my mind, it's time to give back.
Because protecting the wild, isn't just about the planet.
It's also something much more personal.
The wilderness can seem wild and remote, but it's an intimate part of us.
I know because when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed or a little bit broken, I come here.
Not exactly here, the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, this place is amazing.
But when I come any place kind of like here, I feel better.
And I feel more whole.
What we call the outdoors is actually part of us.
These lakes, they feed us, body and soul.
The trees, they breathe for us, holding carbon so that we can breathe.
Now we've so changed the climate that there's no fully stopping the process that's unfolded.
But we can change.
We can adapt.
And we can help nature adapt the same way nature has helped us.
We owe that to the earth, which is exactly the same as saying, we owe that to ourselves.
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