The narrow trail, bordered on both sides by lowbush blueberries, Labrador tea, leather leaf, snowberry, and peat moss, rambled through an area leveled by fire seventeen years ago. The lush green of the shrubs underscored by white fluffy lichen and red and green peat moss covering the ground provided the perfect contrast that so symbolizes this land. A land that can be 95 degrees in the summer and 50 below zero in the winter. A land that that can hold the majestic beauty of lakes, boreal forest, and wildlife and the remnants of massive forest fire destruction. And a land that seems so peaceful yet the raw and savage reality of survival rests in the genes of every plant and animal that inhabits it.
It was also a land where balsam fir, tamarack, black spruce, and pitch pine had already grown to heights of six feet and more; a sure symbol that this area would become, once again, a dense boreal forest resembling the millions of acres of taiga that surrounded this oasis. The journey along this narrow trail to an old moose stand is the only human made path in the vicinity of the camp that we were staying at on this wilderness lake and after hours and hours of fishing in a small boat with an outboard motor even a short hike was just what the doctor ordered.
Maureen, on her second adventure to the far north, led the way. Earlier in the day she had wandered up here by herself to pick some of the wild blueberries; a treat appreciated by all at the camp. My sister, who also joined us in our journey to this wilderness with her husband, wondered if Maureen was at risk by competing for blueberries with the black bear population. Black bears are common where we live so Maureen held no real fear of these large foragers of the forest. As it turned out the only black bear we would see was from the boat on another day while it wandered along a sandy beach not too far from our cabin.
The fireweed, brilliantly pink, was in full bloom and grew in large clusters where there was no shade to be found amongst the recovering conifers of the boreal forest. As Mo and I hiked along we both were silent; taking in the beauty that these wild lands have to offer. Off to the north we could see Lac Wetetnagami, the fourteen mile lake that would be our home for the week. Wide open skies that held white flat topped clouds went on forever and ever. There was no human noise. We could only hear the wind and the songs of a multitude of birds. The distant forest seemed limitless and went on for as far as we could see. Looking east I knew this forest went all the way to the tip of the Gaspe Peninsula more than 250 miles away. Millions and millions of acres of forest, and area larger than all of New England, mostly devoid of humans, could be found to the north and east. And to the west and north more of the same except that area is larger the area of the entire area of the United States east of the Mississippi River.
Maureen and I live in a very rural region. Our back yard is something like 20,000 acres of woods. It was too rugged to be settled and now is owned by many different owners; only a thousand of which is state owned land. But we can drive to a store in a half an hour and we can get to a hospital in about the same amount of time. And although we have chosen to live a simple life, devoid of some of the modern conveniences like air conditioning and a clothes dryer, we are still very connected to the modern world. Some might think we have the best of two worlds, a place that holds bears, eastern coyotes, fisher, and red tail hawks in a region that also holds farms, villages, and human companionship. I have written before about urban, suburban, rural, and wilderness. And what I have said is that there is as much difference between wilderness and rural areas as there is between urban and rural areas. Of all these environments only wilderness areas are pure. They hold pure water, pure air, pure wildlife, pure ecosystems, and a savage pure survival of the fittest scheme that only true nature lovers find beautiful.
Maureen and I reached our destination. We looked to the north towards Wetetnagami, and to the northeast towards a giant wetland and stream that is one of many stream that feeds the lake. A bald eagle sailed along the edge of the lake looking for fish. A loon could be heard calling; that crazy, cry laugh that only loons can do. The sky is big and blue. The sun shines down on this piece of the far north wilderness and keeps the cold at bay. The world seems clean, awesome in the truest sense of the word, and pure. Maureen and I held each other. And we both realized that this is what the world is supposed to be like. We looked at each other and I put that thought into words. Then we look out back at this beautiful planet and nod our heads.
A strong wind blew from the northwest and we knew it was time to head back to the cabin. As we rambled back along this winding path I thought about the cycles of earth’s geology and life. Our planet is four and a half billion years old. It evolved from a gaseous ball to a place that held water, land, and atmosphere. Several hundred million years ago the planet was dominated by giant allies; ferns and horsetails the size of trees and other plants that reproduced with spores instead of flowers. As these plants perished they formed they large coal and oil deposits that we use today for fuel. The Carboniferous Age was warm at the beginning and cooled rapidly to a glacial period at the end. It was also when the first marine invertebrates evolved, the beginning to much of the fauna on our planet. Before the end of the Carboniferous Age freshwater invertebrates, land invertebrates, fish, and tetrapods had arrived. This long geologic period also held major continental collisions and the formation of our major mountain chains. It was a violent era that knew no end to destruction and rebuilding. This geologic time was followed by the Permian and eventually the Triassic periods. The world captured and held onto life for good. From that point on it survived mass extinctions thought to be caused by possible multiple collisions with gigantic meteorites. Ninety to ninety five percent of all of the living organisms perished and yet only 30 million years later the earth was populated once again with the foundation of our modern plant and animal ecosystems.
As all these strange thoughts passed through my mind the earth’s present set of circumstances acts as a back drop in my thought processes. Humans seem to be mostly responsible for our present global warming. We may be at the beginning of dramatic biologic change. I wouldn’t mind so much if we were just eliminating ourselves. I wouldn’t mind so much if we were simply removing the evidence of our existence; even that which we hold dear-our music, our art, our beautiful architecture. But the idea that we could impact what stood before me, the untouched beauty of what this world was meant to be, is simply devastating. I wondered. If everyone could see what I saw would it change our behavior? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
A turbulent storm is forming in the northwest. The skies are dark. The wind takes on a savage attitude. The black clouds bury the sunshine as the storm approaches.
Maureen and I stood watching the weather blow in. We felt helpless and incapable of thwarting this storm. We retreated to the cover of the cabin and watched to see what would happen next.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in July of 2012.