My family returned to the Boundary Waters this year, this time to Isabella Lake and environs. Here are some photos:
Last week, my family went canoeing and camping in the Boundary Waters. It was my fifth trip there and the ten-year anniversary of my first time in the Boundary Waters. The Boundary Waters are a network of lakes that straddle the U.S.-Canada border in northern Minnesota and southern Ontario. It’s a wilderness area where you camp, canoe, and portage between lakes. It is one of my favorite places in the world.
We drove up from the Twin Cities on Monday afternoon, passing through Duluth and driving up the North Shore. At Grand Marais, we turned inland and drove another hour and a half up the Gunflint Trail to Seagull Outfitters on Seagull Lake. We spent the night in the bunkhouse and embarked in two Kevlar canoes on a gray and misty Tuesday morning.
Armed with a map, I navigated us into the Boundary Waters proper and around the northern end of Three Mile Island. Seagull Lake is very large by Boundary Waters standards and apparently has over one hundred islands, which can make it tricky to navigate. We investigated two campsites on Three Mile Island and one on another, much smaller island, which was unfortunately taken, so in the end we went with the first campsite we looked at.
We camped for three nights. During the day, we explored different parts of Seagull Lake: the palisades, some rapids, various islands.
We had a campfire each night. We did not move campsites or do any portaging (even though we had light Kevlar canoes–portaging one of them sure beats carrying an 80-pound Grumman). We saw lots of birds: bald eagles, loons, common mergansers, gulls (it was Seagull Lake, after all), a woodpecker, gray jays. Our campsite was also home to at least one very territorial red squirrel who chittered constantly at us. We saw crayfish and minnows in the water and a bright green caterpillar on land, and my brother spotted a large turtle sunning itself on a rock.
One of the best parts of going to the Boundary Waters is getting away from everything: enriching one’s MA thesis, revising one’s manuscript, remembering the day of the week. There is just water, sun, sky, rock, and trees. It’s peaceful and quiet and empty and wild.
The morning we left, we took a side trip to see a landmark labeled Falls on our map. It was at the north end of the lake, outside the Boundary Waters and near the U.S. Forest Service’s Trail’s End Campground. There was a small waterfall and rapids beyond, and we walked the 38-rod portage to see them and the lake at the other end. Then we paddled back to our outfitters and hot showers.
I spent the first half of last week at Camp Kiya, a traditional music camp in Tehachapi, CA. My friend Chase, a fellow student in my department, had heard about the camp, decided to go, and invited me to come too.
We left on a Sunday morning in a rental car with one cello, one fiddle, one hammered dulcimer, a collection of Irish whistles, and camping gear and drove north across scrubby desert, through a forest of windmills in the mountains, and past a Norbertine monastery to Tehachapi Mountain Park. The park itself was not scrubby but wooded, with tall pines and live oaks full of mistletoe. We pitched our tent at a campsite on the other side of the hill from the cabins of the main camp, near some other campers’ RV.
The three and a half days of camp were filled with classes in fiddle, cello, bass, guitar, harp, mandolin, accordion, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, harmonica, Irish whistle, ukulele, and bodhran, not to mention hula, Irish, and Cape Breton dancing. Styles and genres ranged from blues to classical, old-time to Scandinavian. There were lots of opportunities to pick up a brand new instrument, but I stuck to Intermediate/Advanced Cello and Celtic and Welsh fiddle. In each class, we’d learn a tune or two by ear, plus ornamentation or, in cello class, chords. There were certain tunes that recurred across classes. For instance, both the cellos and the Welsh fiddles learned a tune called Erddigan y Pybydd Coch (Lament of the Red Piper), and the cellos, mountain dulcimers, and accordions all learned the tune Crested Hens (Les Poules Huppées).
Part of what I hoped to do at camp was get better at accompanying on cello, because a folk cellist isn’t really expected to play melody much of the time. Well, I’m still pretty bad at chopping, but I did learn some stuff. I was also pleasantly surprised to find I could hold my own in a fiddle class despite having no formal training. The Scottish Fiddlers of LA tried to recruit me (although they may have been trying to recruit everybody…).
One of the cool things about camp was that it was totally normal to be a multi-instrumentalist. In classical music circles, this is less common; you have your instrument, and that’s it (or maybe you also play the piano). At Camp Kiya, most people played two or more instruments: guitar and harmonica; bouzouki, whistle, and bodhran; harp and accordion; cello and mountain dulcimer. Another cool thing was how intergenerational camp was. There were cellists of all ages in my class. My Celtic fiddle teacher was in his eighties. There were young children doing fiddle and cello from scratch while their parents attended other classes. There aren’t that many settings in which unrelated people of all ages mix like this.
The camp’s name comes from the Nuwa (Kawaiisu) word kiya, meaning ‘laughter’ or ‘play’. Nuwa is the language spoken by the indigenous people of Tehachapi; it belongs to the Numic branch of the Uto-Aztecan family. I learned about Nuwa from Jon Hammond, a camp instructor who owns a ranch in Tehachapi and is one of three fluent speakers of the language. We all heard him introduce his seven-year-old daughter, Kiya, in Nuwa on the first night of camp and also give a blessing in Nuwa at the ceilidh.
The ceilidh was not a dance party but a camper talent show. It was held on Tuesday night at the fire circle. People sang and played and told stories and jokes. Chase and I sang a two-voiced version of Okro Mch’edelo, which, like all Georgian songs, is actually in three-part harmony. After the ceilidh, we joined the Celtic jam session in Cabin 1, wedging ourselves with cello and Irish whistle in a lower bunk in the corner.
On Wednesday afternoon, after my cello class and Chase’s hammered dulcimer rehearsal, we sat in a nook on the footbridge between the mess hall and the fire circle and went through Chase’s Datvebis Gundi folder, singing more Georgian songs. As we sang, a fire crew tromped through camp, inspecting a dead pine and who knows what else. When we’d exhausted our Georgian repertoire, we also sang the tenor and alto parts of a few Sacred Harp tunes: Wondrous Love, Idumea, New Britain.
Wednesday evening was the campers’ concert. Chase performed Ode to Joy in a hammered dulcimer trio and also played with the fiddle from scratch class. I played a set with the Welsh fiddlers (with my cello class backing up), then switched to cello for our two tunes, a bourrée and the amazing Raivlin Reel. We also backed up the Scandinavian/Nordic fiddlers on the Danish (?) tune Kingo P. Here is a video (by fellow camper Alan) of me with the Welsh fiddlers. The set is Erddigan y Pybydd Coch (Lament of the Red Piper) – Tri a Chwech (Three and Six) – Ymdaith Gwyr Dyfnaint (March of the Men of Devon) – Y Lili (The Lily). I’m not sure you can hear me, which is probably a good thing, but hey, my bow seems to be moving in the right direction most of the time!
At the end of spring break, I went to the 46th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL) at the University of Oregon with most of my Field Methods class. We were all presenting papers on Maragoli, a Luyia Bantu language of western Kenya also known as Logoori, among other names. (In fact, between our six talks, we managed to use four different names for the language, even though we had all gotten our data from the same speaker.) It was my first time presenting at a linguistics conference.
I flew from Los Angeles to Eugene on a little plane. To reach our gate at LAX, passengers on my flight had to take a shuttle to what felt like an outpost of the airport. The shuttle drove on the same thoroughfares as gigantic airplanes, which was both weird and interesting. During the flight, I saw an isolated mountain liberally heaped with snow that I think was Mt. Shasta.
I arrived in Eugene and made my way to the campus of the University of Oregon, which was picturesque and wonderfully green. It felt like it was properly spring there, what with the daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinth, and hellebores. I made some notes on my talk handout and met up with one of my classmates. After registering for the conference at the Linguistics Department, we explored Eugene on foot. It seems like a really nice town.
That evening, I met up with our Field Methods professor, who had driven down from Portland with a Nigerian scholar she’d picked up at the airport. I met the Nigerian linguist, who was going to be in the same session as me, and then my professor and I went off to borrow camping equipment. In the spirit of spring break, we were making a camping trip out of ACAL.
That night, we camped by Hult Reservoir on Bureau of Land Management land. We drove there in the dark, and just looking up through the window of the car I saw more stars in one night’s sky than I’ve seen in the entire time I’ve lived in LA. We heard frogs croaking by the side of the road, and sometimes we drove through fog. Once at the campground, we set up our tents near the reservoir and went to bed.
In the morning, I went down to the reservoir. It was in a bowl formed by steep hills, and the bowl was filled with thick fog, so that I could only see a little ways out across the water. I spoke briefly to a fisherman on the shore and then crouched at the edge of the water and dipped my hands in. The water was clear and cold. I saw what I thought were newts swimming in the shallow water. (Indeed, later research suggested these were rough-skinned newts, which are highly toxic, but only if you eat them. An Oregon man once swallowed a 20-cm long (!) specimen on a dare and died. Another Oregon man once ate five of these newts and survived, though not without medical treatment. I think the moral of the story is clear.)
We broke camp and headed back to Eugene for the first day of the conference. I spent a good deal of the day in the Luyia tone workshop, trying to absorb reams of tonal pattern data. I also attended two of my classmates’ talks and met various linguists, including Famous Linguist #1, who was cited a couple of times in my talk, and Famous Linguist #2, several of whose Bantu problem sets I shepherded my Phonology I students through last fall. We also got to meet other linguists working on Luyia languages like Maragoli.
I’d hoped to make it to the Eugene Sacred Harp singers’ singing, which was fortuitously the Thursday I was in town, but alas, it was not to be. Instead, my professor, another classmate, and I headed to our next campground, Hobo Camp, which is along Brice Creek in the Umpqua National Forest. Our professor made hot chocolate and oatmeal on the camp stove, and then we retired, falling asleep to the sound of the creek rushing in its bed.
The morning drives back to campus were the most beautiful parts of the trip. We’d follow somewhat winding roads through forested hills and past little houses with smoke coming out of their chimneys. We saw old covered bridges and handfuls of sheep, horses, cows, goats, and even an alpaca. Wisps of cloud would be hanging so low you felt like you could reach up and snatch them down.
Friday was the day of my talk. I went to the phonology session in the morning and then skipped out on the next to make final preparations. My session was after lunch and was chaired by someone who just graduated from UCLA last year. Unfortunately, it was also concurrent with the session that my professor and two other classmates were presenting in. Famous Linguist #2 had asked me earlier why the organizers had scheduled two Maragoli talks simultaneously and then told me he was coming to mine. He was indeed there, though Famous Linguist #1, somewhat to my relief, was not. The talk went well, attendees asked me questions, but not aggressive ones, and then I was done!
The conference banquet was that evening. By then, our consultant, to whom we owed all our research, had arrived from LA. The meal was supposed to be African-themed, and there was this spicy peanut stew with chicken that I thought was pretty tasty, but by the time my table was called up to take food, they had run out of rice. Tragedy! (Eventually there was more rice.) This being Oregon, there was marionberry crisp for dessert. There was also post-dinner entertainment by a marimba ensemble playing Zimbabwean music. My tastes in music have a distinct tendency to run towards doom and gloom, but this was infectiously happy music, and I really liked some of the pieces. Some people got up and danced.
The following day, my classmate and fellow camper, our Field Methods consultant, and I flew out of Eugene on the same flight. I saw Mt. Shasta from the air again, and then it was back to LA and school.