After 17 hours of driving from Canada I finally arrived in Ely, (pronounced Elee) Minnesota, a town filled with canoe enthusiasts, canoe outfitters, outdoor enthusiasts, fishermen and hunters all taking advantage of the nearby Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. My first impression of this little town reminded me of mountain towns in Alberta and British Columbia, Canada, although instead of seeing mountain bikes on the car roof rack you would usually see canoes. Our journey into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness would involve a 4 day trip with fellow artist Anaya Cullen, Forest Service ecologist Jack Greenlee and biological technician and wilderness ranger Becca Orf. Jack and Becca are working in the Boundary Waters to monitor and mitigate invasive plants. The work that they undertake involves paddling out to the many camp sites along the network of lakes within the Boundary Waters to check the progress of invasive plants, map the locations with GPS and pull the plants. The plants that they target are not native to the area, and were usually introduced during European settlement. Many of these plants overtake an area and are hard to remove due to large interconnecting root systems. Plants like Canada thistle can shade out native plants and knapweed releases a toxin in their roots that affects most native plants, hence the name invasive. Some of these plants include Canada Thistle, Common Tansy, Hawkweed, Knapweed, Ox Eye Daisy, Leafy Spurge and Purple Loosestrife to name a few.
On this trip we were looking at an area that had burned in the Pagami Fire. The area had a unique beauty to it as the bright red and orange bind weed that covered the forest floor was creeping up the black charred pines. Many of the new growth included a large number of Jack Pine whose seeds stay dormant until the heat of a fire burst the seeds open. Jack took notes of the new vegetation occupying the burned area.
On our trip we would travel through more than 5 lakes and portage canoe and gear more than 8 times, some portages as long as half a kilometer. We camped and paddled in pouring rain and while trying to wait the rain out sat under a tarp, shared chocolate and played cribbage on a homemade crib board with Forest Rangers Chris and Terry who were working at our site. It turned out to be a great rain day!
Paddling through the area was a delight; some of the exposed rock in the Boundary Waters, part of the Canadian Shield, is some of the oldest rock on the planet. We often saw common loons, ducks, Canada geese, bald eagles, squirrels, and a variety of interesting mushrooms and vegetation.
The work that Jack and Becka do made me consider what is the relation of my art to the environment, and how can I utilize invasive plants in my work to build on an awareness of these plants and perhaps even mitigate these populations. Part of mitigating invasive weeds involves pulling them so I intend to immerse myself in areas with invasive plants to collect them for my work. I am interested in my art playing a role in mitigating invasive plants and the aesthetics of creating something visually interesting from them.