Bringing It Home

Ohio Chapter of Illuman

Bringing It Home
Reflections from the Boundary Waters

by Joseph Sparough

The water was cool as I stepped from the shore to the shallows, carrying the front of a canoe with one hand and a paddle with the other. The canoe slid into the water with a muffled splash and rocked gently with the pushing current. I held it steady for a few seconds and then lifted one leg and let the water drain from my boot before placing my foot inside the canoe. Steadying myself, I lifted my other foot and watched as the water cascaded down, breaking the still surface of the river. I sat down before I could lose my balance and fall like a stone into the ripples. I gazed out onto the starlit water and the distant shore of the far bank while the canoe rocked back and forth as my dad got into the canoe behind me. Not quite as graceful as I was, but he did his best.

We pushed off and gently glided into the middle of the little alcove that we were staying in that night. Looking up, the stars were the brightest and most intense I had ever seen. The Milky Way, which had always been somewhat of a mystery to me, was proudly on display like a shawl stretched out over the sky with specks of jewels caught in it. Some of the same birds we had heard during the day were still calling, but now a little softer, a little more solemn as if they were aware how awe-inspiring this experience was for us.

This is why we had come to the Boundary Waters; this is what I was looking for. On the car drive up, I had told my dad and cousin that seeing the stars without the light pollution of the city was the number one thing that I was looking forward to, and here I was doing it. While the others had gone to bed, my dad and I decided to take the canoe out to get a better look, and we were rewarded for it.

There is something about being out in nature, away from everyday life that always seems to motivate me to do more than I might normally do. There is the knowledge that if I don’t do something I want to do right then and there, the opportunity will pass me, and I will be left thinking about what could have been when I am sitting back at home, unmotivated to even go outside. If I could bottle that motivation and take it home with me, I would never struggle with finishing a project or following my passions. Although that hasn’t happened yet, I have found that remembering that sense of urgency, and the delight that usually follows the follow through, has helped me take more action in my daily life.

I am glad that we stayed up that night and ventured into the unknown.


At our Ohio Illuman Men Writing for Change Retreat in January 2019, Jes shared his story about participating in a youth rites of passage with his father and uncles many years ago at the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada. He recently revisited this area and was invited to offer another perspective about the place where he experienced his rites, this time as an adult. Jes lives in Cincinnati and has participated in several Ohio Illuman events and council circles.