Barry Johnson believes that a place is known by the stories it inspires.

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness — long and better known simply as the BWCA — is such a place.

The inspiration could be a spectacular sunset that practically brings you to tears, or a night spent thrashing against clouds of no-see-ums, which also prompts weeping.

Johnson, of Apple Valley, has canoed the BWCA for 24 years. Tuscarora Lake is a favorite, “although it takes two hellacious portages to get there.”

How hellacious are they? That’s all the nudging it takes for the stories to begin.

Now Johnson wants to collect campers’ experiences and observations in a new publication, the BWCA Reader.

“I’ve picked up a bunch of these stories that I find really interesting, or funny, or incredible,” he said. “I like the stories that raise an eyebrow, that make you say, ‘No way could that have happened,’ even though you know it could have.”

Johnson, communications director for Best Buy, said his website has been getting a lot of views, but few entries as yet — perhaps not unlike how canoeists study routes for weeks before committing. “And I suspect that if many of the viewers are writers like me, procrastination is a trait we’re all familiar with,” he added.

Essays should be fewer than 2,000 words and must be submitted online. Deadline is March 15. For guidelines, visit

The essay judged best overall will earn a $250 cash prize. The BWCA Reader will be published in 2014. □