Static images, no matter how impressive, can never recreate the experience of actually being in this forest. In addition to visual elements that are constantly changing, there are sounds, silence, smells, and the feeling of a breeze, or the equally impressive absence of any breeze. Nor can a single visit fill one's sensual memory bank and allow the visitor to go home with "the experience of the forest".
I have learned much by being here for these years, and have infinitely more to learn. I have just begun to appreciate the complexity of life forms that exist here... from hidden mycelia under the forest litter, waiting a warm moist summer to sprout forth in an abundance of mushrooms... to the rare grape fern or white violet that had some of their precious habitat destroyed by SaskPower in the summer of 2002... to a sudden awareness that I am being watched on a dark winter night, and the next day seeing the tracks of a wolf or lynx just a dozen feet from where I had been standing.
I have learned that my purest intentions of living in the forest and making no lasting footprint did not live up to the test of actually living here. I have had to temper the ideals with the reality that I have become one of the forest residents and that I will have an impact. I just need to learn how to make that impact as forest friendly as possible. I have learned that when I take a tree for firewood in the winter, I am removing next summer's nesting site for a hairy or downy woodpecker... or even the food for a large pileated woodpecker that lives here.
I have learned things in my heart that my head could never have learned from many years of study and teaching, or even from the summer outings in a canoe in the northern forest. I have learned that knowledge does not equal respect, and that it is ultimately a profound respect for the earth and the special qualities of this part of the earth, that will lead me to make the proper decisions on a day to day basis and over the longer term.
I have learned, more deeply than I had ever known it before, that people protect what they value, and they value what they have come to know, and that the starting point has to be coming to know the special things that have been entrusted to us by our Creator.
I know that I am a very short term resident here, and that my life span is very short compared to the life of some of the old growth trees that live here, and that the life of such a tree is a short span in the life of the forest, and that this forest ecosystem is a relatively recent and modern development on this part of the earth.
These things do not make me feel insignificant. Quite the contrary, they impress on me the importance of the gift that I have been given in being able to share this place. These things impress on me the responsibility I have to pass it on intact to those that follow. These things impress on me the truth that gifts given to me are given to be shared.
Let me tell you a story from one of my canoe trips before I found Friendly Forest:
I was on a trip on the Fond du Lac River in northern Saskatchewan, getting closer to Black Lake, when our party stopped for a day of rest and fishing and sight-seeing. The area had a lot of shale and sandstone that left the perfect pieces for cairn building. Previous travelers had built a few cairns on prominent points along the way, and since I was not fishing, I decided to build a small cairn of my own.
That night I had a troubled sleep. Why had I built that cairn? What purpose could it have other than some feeble ego boost... some feeble mark that I had made on this beautiful land. The next morning I climbed back up to the place where I had placed those stones atop each other to make the cairn, and as best I could, placed the stones back where they had rested before I had come along to disturb them. I even tried to place a bit of ground vegetation over the rocks that had been partly buried before I lifted them from the earth.
As I came back to camp I knew that today I had partly corrected a wrong that I had done to the land the day before. I had no right to leave a mark on this land, to leave a scar that would last for many years and even centuries. The best kind of mark I could leave would be to leave no mark at all. I was embarrassed by my actions of the previous day, but I had learned a lesson that has remained with me ever since.
View across the pond. Photo credit Larry Easton