Once On The Water, I Quickly Realized This Was Not A Few Miles Down A Slow-Moving Maryland Creek, But A Few Miles In The Choppy Open Water Of Lake Superior. Phase Two. My Arm Muscles Started Burning About Halfway Across, But I Don’T Think The Others Could Tell. I Wasn’T Sure, But I Imagined Their Arm Muscles Were Burning, Too. At Last We Landed On Sand Island. The Others Wanted To Paddle Around To The Sea Caves (Maybe Their Arms Didn’T Ache After All?), And So Left Me On Shore Alone To Hike To The Old Growth.
Wisconsin Travel Guide 2019 Photo Gallery
It Was Only A Two-Mile Trail, And At First I Was Entertained By The Fragrant Northern Tree Species, But Soon I Grew Worried. The First Mile Went By And I Hadn’T Seen Any Old Growth. The Beautiful Beach At Justice Bay Was Some Consolation, But I Was Almost Incredulous When Another Half A Mile Up The Trail I Still Hadn’T Seen Any Unlogged Forest. I Passed The Lighthouse Volunteers Heading Back To Camp After A Day Of Leading Guided Tours, So I Asked Them.
“Don’T Worry,” They Said, “You Can’T Miss It. Just Keep Going.” Finally, In The Last Quarter Mile, I Came Across A Giant Old-Growth White Pine. Hurray! And Then Another And Another, And Then…The Trail Ended. I Was At The Lighthouse. That’S It?! That’S The Old-Growth Forest I Came All This Way To See?
On My Way Back Down The Trail, I Paid Closer Attention, Counting Every Ancient White Pine I Could See From The Trail. Nine. There Were Nine Of Them. Nine Beautiful, Big, Old Pine Trees.
I Don’T Usually Add Up What These Journeys Cost Me, But I Found Myself Doing Just That On The Way Back. Let’S See, There Was The Drive To The Airport, The Plane Ticket, The Cabin, Etc., Etc. Oh Yes, Don’T Forget That Table For One In Bayfield, And Parking At The Airport. It Came To $124.90 Per Tree. Part Of Me Wanted To Cry, Not Only Because Of The Money, But Because This Is What It Has Come To. These Lovely, Giant Trees, Once Everywhere In The North, Are Now Only Found In Tiny, Isolated Preserves.
I Turned Back To The Last Big White Pine. This Rough-Barked Tree So Wide, So Tall, So Ancient My Outstretched Arms Couldn’T Reach Even Halfway Around It. Its Crown Swayed In The Wind That Was Blowing Across The Large Lake. Its Roots Had Been Anchored In This Same Soil For Centuries. I Spent Some Time Just Being With The Tree. It Felt Like Times I Have Spent With An Extremely Elderly Person. There Was No Need To Talk Or Do Anything; Just The Presence Of One Another Was Enough. Presence Contains Its Own Energy A Healing Energy, A Balm.
Could I Turn My Anger At The Forest Destroyers Into Love And Appreciation For This Tree They Left Behind? Which Attitude Would Make Me A More Effective Champion For The Old-Growth Forests That Remain?
I Wondered What My Philosopher Friends Would Say, How They Would Feel. I Tried To Imagine The Centuries Of Storms And Floods, Droughts, And Fires This Tree Had Survived, And I Honored Its Stamina. Besides Surviving Natural Threats, This Tree Also Had The Remarkable Luck To Survive The Human’S Axe. It Is Difficult To Describe My Feelings Toward This Tree; I Was Not Worshipping The Tree So Much As Witnessing With It. I Felt, As The Philosopher Martin Buber Put It, “Bound Up In Relation To It.”
Here Is His Full, Rich Passage On Trees:
I Consider A Tree.
I Can Look On It As A Picture: Stiff Column In A Shock Of Light, Or Splash Of Green Shot With The Delicate Blue And Silver Of The Background.
I Can Perceive It As Movement: Flowing Veins On Clinging, Pressing Pith, Suck Of The Roots, Breathing Of The Leaves, Ceaseless Commerce With Earth And Air And The Obscure Growth Itself.
I Can Classify It In A Species And Study It As An Expression Of Law Of The Laws In Accordance With Which A Constant Opposition Of Forces Is Continually Adjusted, Or Of Those In Accordance With Which The Component Substances Mingle And Separate.
I Can Dissipate It And Perpetuate It In Number, In Pure Numerical Relation.
In All This The Tree Remains My Object, Occupies Space And Time, And Has Nature And Constitution.
It Can, However, Also Come About If I Have Both Will And Grace, That In Considering The Tree I Become Bound Up In Relation To It. The Tree Is Now No Longer It. I Have Been Seized By The Power Of Exclusiveness.
Buber Is Saying That We Can Consider The Tree From Many Different Viewpoints. We Can Consider How It Looks, What It Does Physiologically, Its Named Identity, And As One From A Population Of Its Kind. But Just As You Or I Would Not Want To Be Thought Of Exclusively In These Terms, Neither Should We Consider A Tree Only In This Way. This Tree Is Not Just Any Tree It Is A Particular Tree. If Regarded With Discernment, It Becomes An Individual Just As You And I Are Individuals. We Have The Same Life Force Within Us, And It Is Within Us Uniquely, In A Way That Cannot Be Replicated. Our Ability To See The Uniqueness In Other Beings Makes Our Lives Richer.
It Was Beginning To Get Dark, So I Parted From The White Pine And Turned Back Toward Camp. I Walked Quickly, Alone In The Woods, And Started Humming To Myself. What Came Out, In Cadence With My Footsteps, Was Joni Mitchell’S Song About Putting The Trees In A Tree Museum.
At A Dollar And A Half To See Them, The People In The Song Got A Bargain, I Thought. But A Tree Museum Is Better Than No Trees At All, At Least Until We Wake Up. This Small Museum Could Be One More Model, One More Bit Of Living Truth, One More Glimpse Of The Planet’S True Face, Until Then.
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