Taking a humorous trip down memory lane
Waukesha author pens book about his experiences at the majestic Boundary Waters

By TOM JOZWIK - Special to TimeOut

January 1, 2015


WAUKESHA - According to Jim Landwehr, writer and Waukesha resident of about 30 years, “a solid sense of humor is essential to the whole camping experience.”

Especially, it would seem, when that experience involves a destination like (in Landwehr’s words) “the rugged wilderness known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.”

Gifted with a sense of humor himself, Landwehr, 53, a land information systems analyst for Waukesha County’s Parks and Land Use Department, is the author of “Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir.”

What Landwehr remembers in his well-crafted first book are trips he’s taken - from his native St. Paul, Minn., at first, but eventually from Waukesha - to an enchanting sort of place that reaches “from northern Minnesota to the Canadian border and consists of more than a thousand lakes strung together by crystal-clear rivers and man-made portages cut through the dense forest.”

One must negotiate this Boundary Waters region (“a million-plus acres of relatively untouched wilderness”) by canoe or on foot - no cars allowed here.

Landwehr’s original Boundary Waters trip 35 years ago involved four friends, all of them just out of high school. That trip illustrated for the author “how unforgiving the water and woods were to ungainly equipment and poor planning.” Unspoiled nature may be downright lovely; as the adolescents discovered, however, “things all tend to look the same” to persons enveloped by “trees and water, with no signs of buildings or roads.”

“Dirty Shirt” offers numerous light-hearted nuggets of wisdom:

n “Being in the woods, while good for the soul, is hard on the body.”

n “Being outdoors, your body kicks your metabolism up a notch and you start burning calories furiously.”

n “Long stretches of road have a way of peeling people’s lives open like Clementine oranges.”

n “Some good advice for any camping trip is if you can’t eat it, wear it, sleep in it, or start a fire with it, leave it home.”

Additionally, Landwehr recalls an unnamed comedian who “said when you added up the cost of the boat, gas, equipment, bait, and man-hours, a pound of fish would cost (a fisherman) about a hundred dollars.”

In addition to its humor, “Dirty Shirt’s” pages include eclectic references to Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn and “The African Queen,” Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead,  the National Enquirer, Father Marquette, the movie “Die Hard,” Pilgrim leader William Bradford and (perhaps least surprisingly) Richard Brautigan’s novella “Trout Fishing in America.”

Colorful location names come up as well, like Fishhook Island, Horsetail Rapids and lakes called Skin Dance, This Man, Other Man, and Devil’s Elbow.

Several of the 40-plus chapter titles suggest perils encountered by the author and his fellow travelers (brothers, son and daughter, nieces and nephews, as well as buddies) during one journey or another: “A Rapid Decline,” “Weathering the Storm,” “The Portaging,” “Loonacy,” “Mayflies,” “Dragonflies,” and “White Mosquitoes From Hell.” Despite discomforts, though, the Boundary Waters lured Landwehr and company again and again over a three-decade span.

Landwehr’s book surfaced happy memories of fishing with high school friends and canoeing with college pals in my long-gone youth - even though I spent precious little time on such activities.

Moreover, the author’s line about being, at 18, “more confident than we had any right to be” rang uncannily realistic.

Available in eBook, as well as paperback format, Landwehr’s “Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir” can be purchased through its publisher, eLectio, at

Next on the Landwehr literary agenda: a poetry collection, tentatively targeted for publication in spring. The author’s website is