Doug Wallace is eighty-four years old going on fifty-five. He’s up by 5:30 am and if his wife, Peggy Hunter, isn’t up by six, he’s going to wake her because it’s time to get in the canoe. They canoe every day (weather permitting) from ice out in May to closing up the cabin in late September on Lake Vermilion.
Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota is big. In fact, it’s the 5th biggest lake in the state known as the land of 10,000 lakes. It’s 30 miles from one end to the other and has over 360 islands. There are more than 1200 miles of shoreline on this lake and Doug has paddled 2/3 of that shoreline and intends on completing them all. He’s just about to turn 84 years old.
The reason I know and love the woods, lakes, camping, canoeing, boating, loons, bald eagles, the Boundary Waters and everything northern Minnesota can be traced back to my friend and mentor, Doug Wallace. He’s the one who scouted Lake Vermilion for land in 1962. He’s the one who rallied my parents to buy some of that land and build an A-frame in the early 70’s. He’s the one who helped me in countless ways when I built my own cabin and he’s the one who maintains a vigilant watch over this precious lake and greater environment.
Doug’s first trip into the Boundary Waters was in 1943 when he was just six years old and every moment of that experience is still crystal clear for him. That experience shaped his life. Even though it was chilly in late September and they couldn’t leave the lake they were camping on because they were wind bound, he had the time of his life.
When Doug and his wife, Peggy Hunter, wake up early and get in the canoe they regularly see a miraculous and ever-changing shoreline. They routinely have what Doug calls, spiritual experiences. Whether it’s two American Bald Eagles alighting on a White Pine branch and turning to see the sun just as it rises or slipping along quietly on perfectly still lake with the landscape perfectly reflected in the water, they witness the wonder of the boreal forest and all its wild inhabitants on a daily basis. Unless it’s pouring rain.
But Doug doesn’t stop there as a passive observer. He goes to bat every single day for the wild places and animals that he loves and cherishes. Our conversation is a step-by-step lesson in how to organize people for a common cause. He’s the definition of a grass-roots organizer. When logging of old growth timber and proposed logging roads were about to take place nearby, on the doorstep of the BWCAW, Doug and Peggy got busy.
Eventually, Doug and Peggy and their allies were able to use modern conveniences such as email but this campaign was grown through one on one conversations. Through relentless determination and vision, Doug, Peggy and their friends protected this critical and sensitive habitat from needless destruction.
It would seem Doug would need to take a nap but he’s got loons to protect. He, Peggy and their neighbors have been instrumental in creating important speed limits on Lake Vermilion. Loons nest very close to shore and the huge wakes of the ever increasing boat traffic on the lake have been extremely detrimental to loon eggs.
Our wide-ranging conversation covers the birth of a new loon in the area, hiking in the Mission mountains, landscape photography, YMCA leadership programs, climate change and its effects on the boreal forest and much more.
At the core of what Doug talks about, cares about and fights for though is a recognition that spiritual experiences are available to all of us in wild places.
What is a spiritual experience for Doug?
“That you really are in the deepest possible touch with creation and the creator and a piece of that creation. And for a moment or two or longer, there is a connection between you and another species that is very rare. At a deep beyond word, beyond science experience.”