Tamarack bark (summer in sunlight), Quaking Bog, Minneapolis, MN.
In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things.
In physical terms, I move through them; yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.
~ John Fowles
Ground: the forest as a whole – flora, fauna, the soil, a small lake, an abandoned sandpit, fences….
Light: my place in the ecology of the forest, my joyful comfort at being there, an insight
Most of my adolescent years were spent living in the forests of northern Minnesota. In the summers especially, I did not have a way to connect with my school friends. We were on a 10 family party line and, therefore, were discouraged from calling each other. And, besides that, anyone could listen in at any time.
So I spent much of my time alone. And I loved it! I would pack a lunch and go exploring in the forest. Well, actually, I knew this forest by heart. I usually followed the deer trails. I knew ‘our’ land. I knew my grandparents’ land about a quarter of a mile away. And I knew the lands in between.
I knew animals’ tracks, their beds, and their poo. I knew where the hornets’ nests were and which snakes to avoid. I knew the trees of that boreal forest. Mostly birch and evergreen conifers with tamaracks (deciduous conifers) in the bog where the wild iris grew in early summer. I knew how the leaves would turn over, showing their backs, to let me know a storm was coming. I knew something was ‘afoot’ when the forest got quiet. Maybe the ‘something afoot’ might have been the sounds I was making…but usually not.
I had a diary and pencil hidden in the base of a tree. I’d sit by a fresh water spring that flowed into the little wild lake hidden on ‘our’ property, eat my lunch, and write in my diary. About many things. But, in those days, a lot was about boys. Art and Bob and Andy especially.
One day I was climbing over a fence from ‘our’ land onto a neighbor’s land. I was about 14. That fence defined what was ‘their’ property and what was ‘ours.’ I began to muse about who owns what here. I tried to write about it. I wondered how we could claim to own earth and forest and lake and spring. These elements were here before we were born and will be here after we are gone. I remember thinking that this place owned me much more than I owned it. It was a profound and life-altering teenage moment. But I didn’t have a word to describe it.
Eventually, I learned that there is a word for the insight I gained that day. Stewardship. I came to understand that I can steward any land. And all land. No ‘ownership’ required. In fact, I grokked that no matter how much I might pay, I will NEVER own the land.
As I frequent natural places in our city parks like Quaking Bog and Theodore Wirth Lake, I continue to notice just how very comforting and precious it is to be aware of how the land is most generously stewarding me. And always has been.
Young tamaracks (autumn reflection), Theo Wirth Lake, Minneapolis, MN.
Tamarack forest (winter before the snow), Quaking Bog, Minneapolis, MN.
Tamarack branch (spring with new needles), Quaking Bog, Minneapolis, MN.
Wild iris (under the tamaracks in early summer), Quaking Bog, Minneapolis, MN.
I steward these places and seldom see other people when I visit them.