Iraq in the Minnesota
Grand Marais, MN, Sept. 3
-- On the shores of Emerald Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area,
60 miles north of Grand Marais along the Gunflint Trail, I sat around
a campfire with my two best buddies of four decades, eating batter-fried
walleye and sipping grape Gatorade.
We talked about the war in
It was strange to be imagining
that hot, dusty, and wounded Arab land, still so shrouded in violence
and grief, while we sat safely in the quiet depths of pristine Minnesota
The call of loons filled the
air with mournful echoes.
Was the war in Iraq a good
idea or bad idea? We all agreed that things aren't going especially
well in post-war Iraq, but on balance, did we think it a good thing
the United States had ousted Saddam from power?
My friend Chris, a neurologist
at the University of Minnesota, said Americans don't have enough information
about what's going on in Iraq to make a good decision about leaving
The media just isn't giving
us enough information, he said, and the reports they do offer often
aren't the truth, only sensationalism packaged to sell like entertainment.
Still, Chris said, it's clear
enough that we've gotten ourselves into a quagmire in Iraq, so pulling
out is by far the most sensible thing.
The sun slowly fell and the
western sky burned a deep, glowing pink at the horizon. A black crow
flapped and cawed. Mosquitoes buzzed.
My friend Rick, a Rochester
lawyer, fired back.
"Chris, you are expecting
the media to give you all the information you need to make a decision.
But we'll never have all the information we want. We need to make decisions
"I find myself looking
inward and asking 'How would I feel if I were an average Iraqi person?
In that case, how would I feel? What would I want?'"
The bottom line for Rick is
that Iraqis now have a freedom to make their own future that they didn't
have before. They no longer fear execution of their entire families
on the basis of mere rumors that they didn't like Saddam.
"If I were an Iraqi,
I'd be overjoyed that Saddam was gone," Rick said. "I'd feel
that as bad as things might be now, I had new opportunities."
A fish jumped in the lake,
making a loud "plop!" and leaving only ripples by the time
we looked. The sweet scent of fried fish mixed with sharp piney smells
in the air.
As for myself, I believe in
Rick's simple formula, to "look within." We can't learn every
language in the world, and each one of us, realistically, can't travel
to many places to search out the truth. Surely the Boundary Waters
wilderness teaches the wisdom of Rick's path.
Loons and bald eagles, not
Fox and CNN, are the authorities in our wilderness. Our imaginations
must do the distant travel.
The three of us joked throughout
the trip about "being in the now."
"Chris, are you paddling
in the present?"
"Rick, are you eating
your oatmeal mindfully?"
For six days our eyes saw
calm wilderness lakes, rugged rocks and perfect nature, while inside
we saw Baghdad. We heard and saw the fireworks of shock and awe. We
saw children lying in hospital beds.
What I want to ask is what
lessons the treasure of our northern wilderness, a treasure of the
entire world, might hold for the peace of the entire world?
What responsibility, if any,
do we have to seek and to share those lessons?
"Harmony of knowledge,
will, and feeling toward the earth is wisdom, for it has to do with
living at peace with other forms of life," wrote the Minnesota
conservationist and writer, Sigurd F. Olson, after one wilderness trip. "Since
the beginning of civilization, harmony with nature has been almost
disregarded, though it has been recognized by a few great minds as
the only solution to the problem of finding peace and contentment."
On the first day of our trip,
a giant snapping turtle, floating like an astronaut in two feet of
crystalline water, poked his nose above the waterline to peer a few
moments at the three of us.
A wise old soul, we decided.
The persistence of our violent
inner visions of war shocked us.
All through the trip the loons
cried their strange rising whoops and declining sighs, their calls
that pierce the heart so directly and so hauntingly, their laughing
shrieks and grieving cries of perfect nature.