Launching and Learning

..the elements teach, and we have the opportunity to learn.. remembering we are not separate, but intimately interconnected..


*paul navigates a tricky stretch of shallow rapids near the headwaters of the Namekagon*

The sunsets on Day 4 of the Three Rivers Expedition with thunderheads looming and blistering hands hardening. It is safe to say we have officially launched:

63.8 miles of windy and rock strewn Namekagon River navigated; 53.4lbs of litter and other often curious items removed from the water; and our minds opening to the interconnected nature of this place.

For us, we choose the wilderness classroom as our platform for growth, and our teachers – the water, air, earth, and fire – have been delivering Ivy League level lectures on the daily.

The ‘cliff notes’ below are merely appetizers but their meanings hold flavor of 5 star dining and universal truths applicable beyond folks whom choose to be daily feasts for mosquitos. We hope you find value:


*moving in style with these vessels of light. The Wilderness Traveler by Urban Boatbuilders*

Air – the wind carries messages and it speaks in sounds, sights, and feelings. At times, it’s messages are intense and demand to be heard. As the wind moves across the waters surface, it’s speech transforms still waters into choppy dark patterns. If you see this approaching, it is a great time to line your bow, brace, and keep moving through impact.

*In life, change is a constant, and sometimes these changes can be seen before they reach you. When the winds of change arrive, it can be best to keep your direction, find your resolve, and trust it will blow through.*

Earth – rocks are immovable objects in the river and they have been generally indifferent to us journeying through. The first 22 miles of the Namekagon river have been lined with this element and the result is a plethora of shallow rock rapids. This type of rapid must be given maximum respect (especially when solo canoeing 17′ ultra lightweight vessels constructed of thin pine stringers and ballistic nylon). By day 4 the river is growing and thankfully our boats are still floating 🙂

*The rocks have taught us many lessons but the one I feel compelled to share here is about the grounded and immovable nature of this element. As the waters of life flow by, may you always fall back on the foundational rocks that support you, never forgetting your strength and virtues.*

Water – as it turns out, water is a critical element and prerequisite for any river trip! As imaginable, the lessons from this element have been numerous, but one teaching stands out and it speaks to the process and cycles of life.

*This source for the Namekagon river is a lake (birth) – as it begins, it is small, unsure of its direction, and winds all over the place (infancy). As it progresses, stream tributaries (experiences) come in and maturation occurs (teenager). Growing in strength and confidence it will eventually enter into the St. Croix where near its mouth full blown yachts can easily navigate its waters (adult). This water will join the Mississippi where it becomes a unyielding  force and supports immense life (elder). Eventually the water which started as a tiny and unruly stream will reach the sea (death). The process is far from complete here as the water will eventually rise to the sky and fall as rain – the cycle continues…*

Fire – well, to be honest we have only had one camp fire at night as we have been paddling 10+ hour days and usually by the setting sun we are ready for sleep! But the ultimate expression of this element has been the sun. This lesson has been pretty simple – when the sun is out, get outside and keep moving!  


*likely in search of its mother who jumped into the woods upon our arrival, this young fawn began calling and swimming after us as we passed by. we paddled away quickly to avoid further confusion*

The last element I would add here is the spirit of life. We have been fortunate at every turn with countless expressions of this – from coniferous forests, to a snake swimming across the river, to many mammals like deer and raccoons drinking at the rivers edge. This element also lives within us and dances through in forms of positivity, meaningful conversation, and action-based stewardship. We are out here to contribute as environmental stewards while deepening our sense of place and sharing stories. The canoeing part has been pretty alright too.

– Michael


*this metal camping plate was the first item I was able to remove from the Namekagon river. at first glance, we thought it was a mussel shell but after 15 minutes of holding against the current, we were able to use our trash grabbers and free it from the river bottoms*


If you would like to watch some wild videos clips of items we pull from the river or learn more about the area’s flora and fauna, consider following us on Facebook (Adventure Stewardship Alliance) and Instagram (@AdventureStewardship)


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