A few years ago I wrote a story inspired by John Haines titled “A Walk in the Woods With John Haines”. As his words and thoughts continue to provide guidance over the years, I return to this piece and update the images and feelings to reflect the experiences that have defined me.
I follow the packed trail others before me have taken. Winding through pine, poplar, and birch, it hugs the rocky shoreline. Up and down over boulders and outcroppings, the trial heads deep into the woods before I stop. An abandoned building overlooks the lake. Trees tower over the skewed roof and poke through glassless windows. Floorboards long ago rotted and disappeared, leaving nothing to prevent the forest from overtaking the cabin on the woods.
I continue north along the same trail which dips into a small frozen valley. In warmer months, a creek would fill this space and empty into Lake Superior. Now it is ice beneath 3 feet of snow. Trees bow in half ellipticals from each side and I pass beneath, careful not to break tree limbs, catch my backpack, or otherwise disturb what is here, and continue up the other side.
With empty and open mind I hear the voiceless tree and gently place my hand on its trunk. Eyes closed. When opened I see the light drawn from before this projections and boundaries existed. I see the nothing that gave birth.
Fall is the perfect time of year for building trails through the woods. Most tree leaves have fallen, the intense underbrush of summer, including small trees, weeds, and tall grasses, have wilted. The trail emerges and you can more easily find where you left off the previous fall. Passing by birch, pine, oak, and maple this is nature in all its forms. From the deer runs zig-zagging everywhere, to the seasonal creek that is now dry, to the raven flying so close you can hear the wings flapping, this makes everything else worthwhile.
In preparation for winter and snowshoeing, I spent the past two weekends installing new trail markers, making sure existing can be seen clearly, and cleaning fallen trees and other debris. Now is also the time to scope out where the next spur trail will be installed.
Deep into the northern woods, beneath the blue sky, near full moon, and lush pine trees, balance is finally being restored. After an Alaskan Amber, Joline begins to emerge and I finally continue the story that I have been working on for over 15-years. This current work will provide more of a background story for Joline, and who she is in a more basic, and pure state of mind.
The following poem is written by Robert Bly. He is considered one of the greatest writers of our time, and it was a challenge to select one piece form his 60-plus years of writing. This piece is from the collection “Eating the Honey of Words: New and Selected Poems”, published in 1999 by Perennial.
Solitude Late at Night in the Woods
The body is like a November birch facing the full moon
And reaching into the cold heavens.
In these trees there is no ambition, no sodden body, no leaves,
Nothing but bare trunks climbing like cold fire!
My last walk in the trees has come. At dawn
I must return to the trapped fields,
To the obedient earth.
The trees shall be reaching all the winter.
It is a joy to walk in the bare woods.
The moonlight is not broken by the heavy leaves.
The leaves are down, and touching the soaked earth,
Giving off the odor that partridges love.
An update on the wildlife retreat we have been working on the past 2-years. The first phase is done and we will take the winter off and enjoy the trees and bird songs. Phase two, which will be prairie grass restoration, starts in the spring of next year. Along with the joy of the various animals, birds, trees, sights, and sounds, we have had to deal with the darker side of humanity. Twice, during hunting season, we have had remains of dear left in various states on the retreat. The first time it happened was with snow covering the ground and most of the remains were hidden and not much we could do. This past weekend was a different story. It has been warm for MN this time of year and we have no snow. While I will not go into detail, the site was pretty gruesome. Even the county sheriff and DNR representative I am working with were bothered by the situation.
Where we are there are plenty of predators, including coyote, of which we know there are two packs roaming around in the dark hours. Something we have to be aware of and careful with is our dog. Now there is additional food for them, that will bring them closer to our space. According to the people I have talked with, since this on private property, our only option is to bury or burn the remains. We will be opting for the burn, and as such, will do this as respectfully as we can. I will be writing a poem about the experience and the results of what we will look at as a sacrifice and bring into this symbols of the elements.