Magical Moments

Trumpeter Swans, Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW
Trumpeter Swans, Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW


I’ve been fortunate to experience many wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime magical moments in my life. Many of those have been musical. But most of them happened in a natural setting. Probably the number one place I’ve experienced magical moments is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). I’ve been going up there almost yearly for the past fifteen years (sometimes twice per year) and have taken some 40 canoe trips in my life. About half of those have been solo trips—just me, a canoe, and my gear.

Those trips are twice as tough as trips with a partner because I shoulder the entire workload. They can be more dangerous because you won’t have a partner to rescue you, administer first aid, or help with difficult tasks like portaging. My latest solo trip, a six-day jaunt, ended last week. The wind was a non-issue (yesss!), but the weather was cooler and rainier than had been forecasted, and the portages were one of the toughest sets of trails I can remember traversing. It seemed like every step was on a rock, a root, in a mud puddle, or a steep up- or downhill. Exhausting! Plus, I only caught one measly smallmouth bass thanks to the wind being mostly from the east. (That’s when “fish bite the least” according to the old fisherman’s adage.)

So on my last day, this old body was drained of energy, aching, weary, and dejected. I seriously doubted my sanity and ability to do these trips in the future. Why do them when they’re not fun anymore? Plus, the injury risk rises every year because old people like me (age 67) don’t have nearly the good balance we used to have, and we gradually lose strength every year. I had a sinking feeling that my last canoe trip might be a disappointment, to say the least.

Chris Norbury BWCAW selfie
A selfie at the midpoint of the trip. Imagine what I looked like to the swans on my last day! 🙂

However, as I was paddling my last lake of the trip, Bower Trout, before the final walk (the only easy portage out of the eight I traveled a total of six times each (out and back on the same route, three trips per portage because I need two trips to portage all my gear), I spotted two trumpeter swans in the middle of the lake, calmly floating as if they were resting or just hanging out after their morning meal.

To learn about these amazing birds, check out this Wikipedia Link.

I first saw trumpeter swans in the BWCAW in 2013, when a pair did a low-altitude flyover not ten feet above my head when I was at a campsite. It was kind of a “Welcome to our lake” flight just after I’d set up my campsite for the night. Since then, I usually one or more on my canoe trips. But I’ve never been as close to them as I got on this trip. That was my magical moment.

Trumpeter Swans, Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW
Trumpeter Swans, Bower Trout Lake, BWCAW

As I approached these two on my final paddle of the trip, I eased south of them so I could get a good picture “in case” I got lucky enough to get close. I’d never been able to get within 50 yards of a trumpeter in all my previous encounters with them while paddling. This time, it felt as if they were expecting me and wanted to say “Hi.” Or maybe just hangout. So I silently glided closer, snapping photos as I approached. I finally pulled up about 20 feet away, thinking that was close enough to not spook them—or have them attack me if they decided I was a predator! But it was hard to resist the temptation to get even closer. I could see individual feathers on their tails. And those feathers are about the whitest white you’ll ever see in nature.

We sat that way for a full five minutes before I moved on and finished my trip. Wild animals rarely accept humans into their personal space for more than a minute in my experience. That’s why the great wild animal photos are so special. It’s nearly impossible to get closeups that are in perfect focus. A few times, I thought they were posing for me. I was blown away that they seemed so comfortable around me.

The combination of my exhaustion from the trip, the perfect morning weather, the absolute quiet, and the magnificence of those birds put me over the edge and I broke down and cried! I still choke up thinking about the experience. The memory will stick with me for the rest of my life.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I do this crazy thing called solo wilderness canoeing year after year after year, despite all the difficulties. And by the way, the lakes I paddled across were almost within sight of Eagle Mountain! I can’t guarantee it, but if you ever make the hike to the summit and back, stop at Whale Lake and keep your eyes peeled for one of Mother Nature’s truly remarkable birds. They are now my second favorite bird of all time. Number one? The Minnesota state bird, the common loon, which is anything but common. I don’t think it’ll ever get displaced on my list. But that’s a story for another post.


The Little Mountain, Big Trouble book launch tour is chugging along into fall with an event on the autumnal equinox, Saturday, Sept. 23. From 9 to 1, come to downtown Northfield, MN, for the excellent Riverwalk Market Fair in and around Bridge Square.

After that, I’ll have a break until the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato. Be sure to put that on your calendar, because best-selling Minnesota author WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER will be there along with over 30 other quality Minnesota authors (including yours truly). He’ll be there signing books during the festival, then deliver the keynote address: “What Books Mean to Us All.”

I’ve also added several fall events that will give you more chances to pick up some great signed books from your favorite local author and give them as gifts to your favorite people, including yourself if you haven’t read them all.

  • SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. Riverwalk Market Fair Summer Market, Bridge Square, Division & 4th St., Northfield, MN.
  • SATURDAY, OCTOBER 7, 10:00 am- 4:00 pm. Deep Valley Book Festival, Mankato, MN 
  • SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. Riverwalk Market Fair Summer Market, Bridge Square, Division & 4th St., Northfield, MN.
  • SATURDAY, OCTOBER 14, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Twin Cities Book Festival. Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St. Paul MN—with my cohorts from Midwest Mystery Works. All our members’ books will be available. I’ll be manning our table from 2:00 pm until 5:00 pm. But you can buy my books all day long.
  • SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm. Riverwalk Market Fair Winter Market, Northfield News Building, 115 5th St W., Northfield, MN. (tentative)


Keep ’em comin’. Thirteen to go to reach 200 total reviews and ratings for my three Matt Lanier thrillers. Forty-three to go to get to fifty total for Little Mountain, Big Trouble. Because I’ve sold almost two hundred copies of LMBT in three months, that means almost all of those readers haven’t posted an online review. It only takes a few minutes, folks. Even less for just giving the book a rating. And remember, I don’t mind if you didn’t like the book. Just let the world know your opinion.

Here’s the link to my page, where I prefer you to post. But,, and are also acceptable alternatives. Thanks.


I’m pleased to announce that Little Mountain, Big Trouble has made the long list in the Gertrude Warner Awards for Middle Grade Fiction, sponsored by Chanticleer International Book Awards.

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