Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters–Quetico Wilderness
By Greg Breining and Layne Kennedy
Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press
2010, 138 pages, $29.95 hardcover
Reviewed by Michael Kelberer
Paddle North is a collection of essays by Greg Breining on the essence of the Up North wilderness experience, essays whose meaning is beautifully portrayed in images by photographer Layne Kennedy. It’s well worth reading, and a worthy gift.
If there’s a theme that ties the various sections together, it might be that the Boundary Waters-Quetico “wilderness” shouldn’t be idealized as some pre-human Eden that should remain untouched by human hands. Humans have touched, and have been touched by, this land since its creation after the last Ice Age.
Each essay explores a facet of that wilderness, from the grandeur of the land (its geology, wildlife and climate), to the means of its enjoyment (canoe types, the art of portaging, and the region’s memorable people).
Breining’s writing is elegant and very readable, and his subject matter is always not just informative, but interesting. Befitting the theme, he approaches his material at the scale of human interaction: What does it look like? How does it feel?
Similarly, Kennedy’s photographs, beautiful as always, continue the theme of humans as “a part of,” not “apart from,” the wilderness. Along with the picturesque panoramas you’d expect in a book like this, it’s a rare image that doesn’t have a person in it somewhere.
Through this books words and images, you can easily imagine that you are that person, and you just might find yourself putting the book down and dreaming of an early spring.