Today I leave the Minnesota woods after a marvelous fiction writing retreat.
During my too-short stay at Pine Needles—it was supposed to be longer but my schedule only allowed twelve days— I made friends with the folks around the cabin: raccoons, red squirrels, eastern grey squirrels, chipmunks, muskrats (I watched a muskrat couple frolic in the water, mate, take baths, and build their dam), bats, and white-tailed deer. Oh, and then there were the abundant water turtles, a large snake, and fresh-water mussels.
While hiking yesterday evening, I spooked a large raccoon out of a feeder stream. Then a mother white-tail leapt by, with her white-dotted bambi in less sure footed toe. I climbed into the canoe and watched a bald eagle glide over (not 10 meters above!), scaring a pair of young mallards I’d been observing into a tree on one of the islands in front of the cabin in the swollen St. Croix.
My gratefulness overflows toward the Dunn family, who so wisely and generously left their 20 acre plot and Pine Needles cabin on the St. Croix as a Land Reserve—thereby giving it to all of mother nature’s creatures, and not the developersand not the developers. The river otters and herons thank the Dunns!
Also, my appreciation to the St. Croix River Research Station for stewarding the property into the next generation through the Artist/Writer at Pine Needles residency program. Dan, Sharon, Todd, Joy, Jill, Erin, and everyone else at the station is doing a marvelous job of understanding and conserving Minnesota’s environment.
I also enjoyed getting to know some of the many Marine on St. Croix residents who came to my talk last Thursday “What’s your Twelve by Twelve?” Thanks and such a blessing to meet you.
At the research station the other day, staff scientists showed me the labs where they study “glassified” algae (it looked so cool under the microscope—thanks Joy) in sedimentation cores from fresh water bodies here in order to help bring them back to their historically natural state. Dan wowed me with a tour of the springs rushing beautifully up out of the earth through the sand, and into streams feeding the St. Croix.
Woodpeckers hammer above right now as I write. A human voice from a distant canoe is muted by birdcalls of all sorts: a chatty red squirrel (they’re my favorites, along with the pudgy and curious woodchucks), the breeze in the trees below a slate grey sky, and a wilderness that overwhelms homo sapien’s mini-presence. During these days I’ve shrunk—to no more than a mammal among mammals, making my tiny nest in cotton sheets each night under vaulting pine trees.
Nature is the best, perhaps the only therapy that handle our 21st century techno-angst. Here, nature has calmed me and made me realize the wisdom of Rule Number Six: Don’t take yourself so damn seriously! (In case you’re wondering, the first five rules are all the same. Each one reads: See Rule Number Six.)
Here on the St. Croix, I haven’t gotten into a car at all. I’ve canoed to the tavern in town for a pint of local Stillwater-brewed ale; biked the state park to the north and every other day to the Eagle nest in Marine; and used Line Two (my feet) to access everything else. Ah, what would a more bio-regional century look like, with Transition Towns and Slow Food Convivums as our anchors? Can We the People pursue the good life instead of the goods life? Can we ratchet the quality of our lives up from excess to the far-greater peak of simplicity?
Finally, the birds. Thanks to the great blue herons who taught me patience here every day and inspired my writing. I spotted the following birds at Pine Needles, among many others: bald eagles and eaglets, mallards, hawks, red-bellied woodpeckers, common yellowthroat, American crow, black-capped chickadee, pileated woodpecker (identified through hammering, not seen), Canada goose, wood ducks, chickadees, swallows, Baltimore orioles, and humming birds. Your songs travel with me. Peace.