Boundary Waters, Part 1: Inception

by Sara Aranda

06.28.17 – Driven by Ghosts

Sonya rests her feet on the dashboard, her elbows resting into her hips as she rummages through emails and media. There are several hours already hummed into our soft bodies, the long expanses of grasslands, the Souix Reservation, among others, flat roads tapered over the curvature of the earth.

South Dakota Badlands:

I want to crawl into her wrinkles.
Knife play at the edge,
unmeddled clay fortresses
lumpy, unfiltered, precipices
of thighs and rounding spines
colored with red desert pastorals

but she rests
announced by a brooding sky
the yellowing flowers
the bison laying
the bighorn edged on her brittle contours

I want to touch her.

But she should not be touched.
I should not crawl into her
for the sake of finding myself there
no matter how strong the sensation
of wild wind pressing me
wide across her maze
or the erosion
or the romantic plains
despite the lightning
despite the desecration of clouds

these lands belong to the thunderbird
to the radio hour
to the native tongue blessing life into story,
stories of this land, its people
their thunderous words raining like dust
into our throats

never swallowed.
Mute to the masses.

“When I think of the word reservation
I think of confinement, a silencing,
a withholding of something
or someone,” Sonya says
and that is exactly what has been done.


It’s almost midnight and we still have 3 hours until Minneapolis. Sonya and I trade seats at a gas station with no time and place, cracked curbs and chatty locals. She throws the blanket over herself and I press on. And despite being exhausted I just want to get it over with. I decide that I am the only one who is willing to push the boundaries of deprivation. I take it as a challenge. A mental exercise. What will-power do I have over my mind to not fall asleep?

It sounds crazy. It sounds stupid to many. Beyond control? No. I never swerved nor found myself gasping for sight after unexplainable dimness.

It was a piercing tunnel vision. My eyes fixated on the road, high beams, gripped hands. My body, ghost after ghost. I willed myself there, with numbing fervor, and it came, as all things eventually do.

06.29.17 – Minnesota Talk

Anne is brimming. A bike mechanic, an artist, a dear friend of Sonya. I slept in the sewing room, where the orange cat snuggled for a short while, purring into my ribs before wandering off across the wood floor, noisy for us humans, silent for its thoughtful paws.

Egg sandwiches are made. French-pressed coffee. We drive around town to run last-minute errands. The thrift store is astounding, but I hold my pennies this time. Anne takes us to a restaurant called Holy Land – Mediterranean fast food. It’s amazing. Minneapolis is the most diverse metropolis I’ve ever been to.  Muslim women, Black Lives Matter, embroidered neighborhoods, rainbow flags. I can totally see myself living here, Sonya daydreams.

We drive North to White Bear Lake to meet with Hatie at her mom’s current residence. Hatie is the founder of Whoa Mag and our unofficial trip leader. We pack our things into Ziplocs and dry bags, talk about costumes, giggle ourselves silly to the taste of red cherries and eager, restless heads. Hatie’s mom speaks and it sounds like singing, the long o’s, the jovial Minnesota talk.

06.30.17 – Landing

I wander between birch and pine, the moss, the slithering roots, the waning sun cut by thin trunks into beams of allurement – like a magpie enticed by gilded trifles. Somewhere back here, past our tent, is the loo, or as Hatie calls it, the biffy, which in the Boundary Waters means a wall-less plastic seat over a hole. It’s somewhere – 150 feet from the lake. I find a narrow trail laden with mosquitoes. Yet something in my chest starts drumming, a soft palpation that quickly hastens and radiates into my throat as it flutters into purring rage and stops. I stop. I place my hand over my heart, bewildered, anxious.

“Did you hear that?” Sonya calls from the fire ring, standing up. “Rather, did you feel it? It’s a male grouse calling for a mate.” It’s a sensation I could have never imagined. Thrumming its wings against a log in the woods, a Ruffed Grouse, echoes territorial love songs directly into the rib cages of all who happen to be nearby. And every few minutes, that thick, bloody beat is reverberated into my chest, louder by way of touch than sound.


Today we paddled through still water, the sky, the clouds stirred by clumsy strokes. Groves of reeds or long, flat grass drew lines and patterns into the glass. This is a place that didn’t exist before my coming here, as in, I couldn’t fathom the gravity of these waters, the bald eagles, the muddy portages, the mosquitoes, the sloshing boots.

And to find ourselves looking east, dreaming of grapefruit as the sun sets, slicing avocado, smelling summer sausage, tracing the growing welts from bug bites with our fingers – the birds singing like quintets of flutes, the frogs, aspen, red pine, fur, and all the needle-nosed trees – Sonya has started the fire and the light against the lake fools you into believing that if you follow the stone steps down to the water’s edge, you’ll fall away, airborne. Yet as romantic as it all may be, the mosquitoes are what keep you sane and seated, layered in clothing and swatting, occasionally smearing blood that is hopefully yours.

But it is the loon that now captivates me the most. Its hollow croons, melting, winnowing angst into the fading dusk. Ghostly howl. Blue water, purple to the touch. Fire flies begin to appear. Sonya attempts to make tea with pine needles, but hates it and the moon hides behind grey cloud. We are expecting rain tonight so we settle in the tent, 3 writers, scribbling on paper with pens. It’s almost hilarious and we undoubtedly become self-conscious. But we continue to journal in silence, scuffing palms into our words.

Hatie suddenly bursts into laughter. “I just imagined the pans crashing and Charmin the bear coming around to our tent, ‘Got some T.P. yo?’…Yeah, that’s what my brain just did.”

My own brain does something bizarre. In the distance it sounds like radio banter, distorted voices, monotone and matter-of-fact conversation. “Do you two hear that?” I ask, pressing my ear into the mesh of the tent. “I hear voices.” They don’t. My brain believes it to be human, maybe more than, as it grows creepily by way of it being so alien to me, and for a moment, I’m utterly perplexed.

“You mean the bullfrogs?” Sonya laughs, mimicking their low warbles. The underwater jabber, crackling bad radio waves – yes. I’m amazed that having never heard of such a sound my brain tried to make it human. And I was the only one who heard it that way.

Continue to Part 2


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