Friday, May 8, 2009

I Came Here for the Waters (and the Wolves)

I had a good novel (which later became the site for these notes) with me on my latest selling trip but my eyes were drawn to the window and the woods beyond, the quickly disappearing, wanting to see that black bear, that wandering wolf, one more eagle, that now almost leaf-hidden rookery, before they're gone, before I'm gone. Riding, projecting myself out into those woods, my comfort. When my almost 19-year-old cat died in 2003, I visited a friend in the UP and wanted to be as far and as deep and as dark into the balsam-spruce forest as I could get. The thought of losing these comforts is difficult, to go and to leave them behind, to trade the daily wild for familiar well-trodden trails, the tamed Walden, and an occasional pilgrimage to the ocean and the whales.

I came here for the waters in 2001, the spring waterfalls of rocky creeks and
the white pathways of winter creeks, the storm-tossed Lake, the arctic ice-covered Lake, the sunrise Lake, the hail of a few days ago, the snow, the fog (and the foghorn killed during my time). I came here for the nearby wolves, the wolves coming nearer, coming into town (perhaps that really was a wolf track across the alley a couple months ago since they've now been sighted 20 blocks away) as I leave, the wolves soon to be shot. It's a good time to leave, perhaps.

It's probably impossible to have a category to oneself in a country with over 306 million people but I don't think I have much company in the
non-driving wilderness-loving population. I'm using the word wilderness casually; I actually don't think modern humans belong in the wilderness. But I'm a Thoreauvian; it's the borders and intersections of the wild and society which interest me, and for my own limited category, there's been no better place to explore them. This urban wilderness, this home to bear and eagle and falcon and fisher and beaver, along with the somewhat more typical urban residents such as coyote and fox, and now the returning wolf and cougar. That's why I came here. Can there ever be a good time to leave?

I didn't like the people much, but that's generally true wherever I am. In Duluth, everyone I deliberately saw and almost everyone I was glad to run into occasionally was originally from somewhere else. Fellow immigrants, we weren't here by accident of birth but because we'd chosen to live here, drawn by the same strengths. For my taste, too many of the locals are haters and destroyers, revving their engines and shooting their guns, quoting their bibles and cursing the outside world. Angry old men and women offended that their good old days are gone, young and violent meth heads with no future. People with no appreciation of what a rarity they have here. Inbreeding, addiction, narrow-mindedness and bigotry--an ugly town in a stunning location. I made a deliberate choice to not read the comments on the article about the wolf in town, not that I believe the best and brightest post there anyway.

After my window gazing and with wild thoughts in mind, I looked through the field guides on top of one of my bags and decided I wasn't ready to sell them just yet. They may be all I have left. It wasn't until I returned home that I realized I accidentally sold one anyway--now I'll have to decide if I want to rebuy it next week.

I walked around what the city folk call a lake, and just after I'd passed, witnessed an impressive goose flight just above the ground and over the water. A snoozing mallard woke and looked around in surprise, then headed after his departed mate in a rapid waddle. Red-winged and other blackbirds entertained.

Returning with the bright orange sun sinking on the left, and the near full moon looking down from the right, shaved just a hair too closely on his right cheek, I wanted to be out there among those trees. I wanted to suck every passing wetland into me, to make it a permanent part of me. Knowing myself as a sad product of the 20th century, lingering on in this 21st, completely unqualified to live as a wild human, did nothing to relieve the aching yearning to be far away from electricity, to be alert in the moonlight, to be alive, to be part of a whole. There I was, stuck in the middle with me.

Greentangle will end when I leave Duluth, almost exactly two years after it began. Like Henry, I have other lives to live, and a greentangle-related blog title reserved if the next one should turn out to be interesting. I'll pass that on when the final post comes along.


Northland said...

I will be sad knowing that you won't be out and about at the head of the Lake. Your posts put life and topography to an area that I pass through on my way to the Boundary Waters or back to the Keweenaw. It has been nice to read your blog and recall surveying the same snowstorms and weather patterns that you write about.
The issues that you blog about are what we should all be confronting in our own lives. That you have kept up your life-trail of treading lightly in the face of a materialistic, wasteful society is a presage of what is to come for all in due time.
I look forward to reading about your life and thoughts from a different place and hope that you will continue blogging from wherever you are.

Anonymous said...

This is a beautifully written post. I look forward to your next chapter.

greentangle said...

Thank you both for the kind words. I'm still hoping for a lottery win, and investigating jobs, and even considered renewing my lease knowing that I'd only be able to pay for 2 or 3 months, but I doubt any of that will come to pass and instead I'll leave at the end of June. I hope there will be some good hikes to write about in the next few weeks. It's been a good run, I'm glad to have spent time here, and maybe I'll be back some day.

Andrea said...

Moving is a big deal. I live near the beach and love the lifestyle. But I also like the idea of living somewhere else (this is my hometown). Whilst I have left for shortish periods of time, to uproot myself now would/will be hard. To stay means a commitment to installations such as solar heating. To stay in the middle is to sit on the fence. So good luck with moving and I really hope you keep writing as you have a knack for it. And must start reading Thoreau about whom I know almost nothing.

Allan Stellar said...

I do hope you decide to continue to chronicle your thoughts and adventures in your new life. I say so for selfish reasons; I love reading your stuff...

As for Duluth? A lovely city. I'm sure things have changed, as I haven't been there since 1988. The north shore is lovely. I spent a week backpacking the north shore trail. I wonder if the "witch" tree is still there?

Jackijo said...

Please keep writing. First, I like your posts, it is beautiful and poetic. Second, I need a connection (even virtual) to someone who can see beyond the world of people and things made by people into the wild world of nature. Finally, it is good to know that there is someone out there who has a favorite list of trees.

greentangle said...

A local brewery has a beer called Witch Tree Extra Special Bitter and a corresponding t-shirt which a friend of mine had me buy and send her, but I didn't know until now it was a real tree. Don't know if it's still there.

What are your favorite trees, J?

I'm glad you've all enjoyed my words. For the past couple days, I've been leaning to staying here a couple more months but had a conversation this morning which probably made that impossible.

At this point, my most likely future options are either a mostly boring and sterile life (which I feel rather obligated to endure for the sake of elderly relatives not worrying about me) or outright homelessness (which while undoubtedly leading to exciting experiences, I don't think I have the personality to endure for long under 21st century U.S. conditions).

So either little to write about or a lot I probably wouldn't want to write about--and either way I won't have a computer so I don't have high expectations of much future blogging. But there's also some faint hope that things could turn out very well and in a completely different direction so we'll just see what happens.

Northland said...

Allan,the witch tree is still alive and well. It is on land purchased by many individuals in the USA and other countries, then donated to the Grand Portage Anishinabe tribe. There is very limited access by the public to the tree - it is posted no trespassing - due to people tearing off sprigs from it as souvenirs (or so I was told by a tribal member).
The best way to see the tree is by paddling to it like the voyageurs and natives of old did to ask for a blessing.

Jackijo said...

My Favorite Trees:

1. Mesquite (any)
2. Foothill Palo Verde
3. Ironwood
4. Big Tooth Maple
5. Gambel Oak
6. Ponderosa Pine
7. Ash (any)
8. Cottonwood and Aspen
9. Willow (Desert and Goodding)
10. Juniper (any)

Allan Stellar said...


So you are gonna leave us with a cliff hanger? A nail-biter? With the possibility of the sequel never to be made? :)

I hope all works out well for you...and frankly, boring and dull existences are great. Preferable to drama and excitement.

greentangle said...

Thanks for the list of trees, several of whom I've never met.

Yep, Allan, there's definitely a cliffhanger ending planned. But after years off the air, season 8 of Buffy is now underway in comic book form. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"and either way I won't have a computer so I don't have high expectations of much future blogging."

Libraries have computers with free access.

"and a greentangle-related blog title reserved if the next one should turn out to be interesting."

What is the origin of "greentangle"?

greentangle said...

I know about library computers and I'll be using them for other things but they're not very compatible with my creative writing methods and the thought of writing it by hand elsewhere and typing it at a library doesn't appeal to me at all ... along with the other issues affecting my urge to write that I mentioned.

I believe you win the prize for being first to ask about the name. It actually started as my user name on a Bob Dylan site and was an eco-pun on the song title Tangled Up In Blue. Years later, it seemed like a good description for what I wanted to try to do here in looking at a lot of interrelated issues, simple living, pulling on the web of life strands, etc.

greentangle said...

Thanks to whoever submitted this post to Festival of the Trees. I suggested over there that people skip the post and just read all your comments because that's where the most tree talk is.

Sonya said...

Fellow non-driving wilderness lover here. A big, big reason I don't think I could happily live anywhere other than Duluth is because it has so much green space, so many wild-ish city parks, and so many of them close to the bus line. (All the same, I was pretty thrilled to hitch a ride to Jay Cooke and Gooseberry recently. There is some very fine stuff outside of town, too, and I wish it was easier to get there without a car.)

greentangle said...

Sonya, my first thought was jeez I can't even have a group to myself in Duluth, much less the country, but of course it makes sense that all the people like us would be drawn to places like this.

I was lucky to have a friend in the UP so I explored most of that and really like it more than MN. In MN I've made it up to Tettegouche a few times, to Ely (to see the wolves), and Orr (to see the bears), but what I've most regretted not getting to more often over the years is New Scenic Cafe. If you haven't checked out the Superior Hiking Trail group yet, you might try hooking up with people through them as a way out of town.

Enjoy Duluth for me when I'm gone, though some insist I'll never leave. But ya gotta learn to love those bears. ;-)

Sonya said...

Ha! There's me, and then there's (at least) one other non-driving wilderness-lover in Duluth that I know of. We could form a club, except that I think none of us are really club-joining types.

This summer, if there's a day where I'm feeling energetic and don't mind showing up at the restaurant sweaty, I want to try to bike out to New Scenic. I think it should be possible, especially if I bus out to the end of the line in Lakeside first.

I'm less freaked out about the bear now, knowing that there are established bear dens in the city and that my yard bear was (possibly) not just some confused/unwell individual. I'm still not quite to the point of loving them yet...