“The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.” – Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
We make it to our first cabin at Mirror Lake, three miles from the trailhead where we left the car, and after retrieving our water for the night from the stream down the way I sit and write:
…Great stone wall rises up behind the cabin. Trees cling to its stony face. Rustling in the underbrush. Birdsong in the distance. What are you? The names of things have become lost to us, and so it becomes “some bird.” A fowl out on the water. The names of things have been lost to us, and we have lost ourselves in the namelessness. And there are those of us who wish to remember, who say, “This, yes this, in some way is valuable. Not just to me, but in terms of something greater than me. In terms of something we’ve left behind, forgotten,or failed to discover.”
The cycle of centuries rolls on, there is nothing new under the sun, yet we stand mute and dumb. The world is as it is, and it is as we name it, both and the same concurrently. In the being of this world as it’s named, there is both a shutting off and a bringing near – a shutting off of possibility of the one thing in being some other, but also a bringing closer in that the thing, once named, connects to some other – a tree, a habitat, a flower, a leaf – and these threads can be followed, like breadcrumbs, towards deeper mysteries.
Ringed by cliffs and mountains, dense with forest, the call of a loon rings out lonely in the early evening across the water of Mirror Lake. It wasn’t until later that we were able to identify the sound. At the time, we were so mistaken as to think that this was a coyote, maybe even a wolf… But now, the call is placed with that solitary bird out on the water, or the mother we saw days later later at dusk, paddling with her 3 young along the turbulent and rocky Lake Superior shore, riding a wave into a cove, reappearing moments later, alone.
This past November, closer to home, I sat on a log in Salt Creek Woods and listened to a bird squawking in the distance. I wished it would come closer, but no such luck. Later, I saw a red headed woodpecker, and as I watched I heard him make the same call I’d been listening to earlier, and the connection was made.
We gain and we fail in the connections we make, and in the words we use to make them. The connections illuminate our lives, make them fuller, deeper; and while language does this for us, the names can also shut us off from wonder, from possibility. Maybe in this the forgetting is not such a bad thing, perhaps even necessary, and the successive excursions we make back into the world serve to rejuvenate us to the possibilities that reside there.
On the morning of our second day in the Porkies, we get up and take a rowboat out onto Mirror Lake. We row into a cove where we sit in silence and watch as the wind blows across the water and the ripples bend along the edges of water lilies. A Common Loon dives and resurfaces, sits for a moment or two, and dives once again. The forest reaches down to the shore, where there are reeds and grasses. There is deadfall interspersed, and tall conifers living out their final years towering above the canopy. There are no human voices. No sounds other than the wind and the water lapping against the side of our boat.