On Writing, on Nature, and Walking a Dog

It has become a truism for those who care about such things that “we are a part of nature, not apart from nature.” Yet it is hard to remember this, or, at least, to feel it in your bones while living in the clutter and clatter of urban reality.

I’m currently house- and dog-sitting for some friends back in northern Minnesota where we lived for 25 years. A little home carved out of the woods, surrounded by lakes, bird song, whispering pines, and the comforting breathing of my little buddy, Sevi the dog, the “scourge of Turtle River.” All very romantic on the surface. But also the world of septic systems, wells and pumps, “corduroy” gravel roads, guns, pickup trucks, and mosquitoes.

I remember once coming back from a trip to the east coast and, while driving home in the dark from our little local airport, seeing a man on the side of the road cutting the head off a road-kill deer with a chain saw to get the rack of antlers to hang on his wall. It was not a romantic image. Life here is what you make it.

But if you calm down and let the rhythms overtake you, the sheer space around you becomes space around your thoughts and emotions, and the nature from which you’ve been separated in the city moves in on you and claims you. Without knowing it, you become part of her and she of you.

I often marvel at how I was able to carve out a career while living here 100 miles from the nearest freeway, where the only hint of culture was an earnest little town that was slowly being choked to death by a soulless strip of low-end franchises and dollar store drek.

Now, being here, out in the woods, I remember.

The silence surrounds me, the singularity of everything is set in stark relief — the visits with friends, the susurrating pines, the convenience stores — all of it. Life becomes a series of encounters, and each has a wholeness to it that doesn’t happen when you are making your way through the non-stop assault of urban reality.

Being here is a reminder that this is all nature, both what we have received and what we have done with it. It is at once a celebration and an indictment of the choices we as humans have made.

I’m glad to have been able to document this in some way in my writing.  And it is not merely in the subject matter I’ve addressed. It is in the mindset, born of this land, that made me cast everything in high relief and move slowly and reflectively across the landscape of my observations, honoring the gifts of the senses more than the complexity of my thoughts. I have tried to give this to you, my readers, as my small way of paying my rent for my time on earth.

And so I tip my hat to this land where I have returned.  This land of mosquitoes, shimmering lakes, convenience stores, septic systems, whispering pines, beheaded deer, and Sevi the dog, who is about to get his morning walk.

I am part of it and it is part of me.

It made me who I am as a writer, and I am grateful for that.

And I miss it.

6 thoughts on “On Writing, on Nature, and Walking a Dog”

  1. Four years ago my husband and I retired from the ever expanding Front Range of Colorado to “ the world of septic systems, wells and pumps, “corduroy” gravel roads, guns, pickup trucks, and mosquitoes” in Northwestern New Mexico near the Navajo Nation. While I sometimes miss the conveniences that living in the city can bring, I appreciate the peace and quiet of nature and the skies and views that go on forever. It was during our process of moving that I discovered your writings. Thank you for sharing your perspective and paying your “rent” for your time on earth.

  2. I am so Happy you can experience this and Thankful that you share this & your writings with us. It totally appreciated 💞

  3. This is a great observation: “Life becomes a series of encounters, and each has a wholeness to it that doesn’t happen when you are making your way through the non-stop assault of urban reality.”
    The richness of life up there – every bit of it – stunned me. Humbled me. Entertained me. I also needed the respite of urban life, where I could de-center, avoiding the totality of every experience, choosing the events that would matter most, living on the edges of that urban assault.

  4. Joyce Whitney

    In 2007 we visited Custer, SD, as tourists and fell in love with The Black Hills, land of Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. In 2009 we purchased a small house; in 2017 we became year round residents here. Other than those “pesky” tourists in summertime, 😉😊, we are still in love with the sacred land, the beauty of the rocky peaks, the soughing of the pines, the wildlife whose home we live in, the quiet lifestyle and hometown friendliness. We’ve had eagles 🦅 fly directly over us and right in front of our car at times. Neighbors speak of the mountain lions that occasionally are sighted on a doorbell camera or in a yard just up the street from us, the predators following the deer that are seen in these same neighborhoods daily. You can’t get much closer to nature than that. And we love it too! Thank you for your writings, they are a breath of fresh air!

  5. William R Feltes

    Sad to say that the new white buffalo calf hasn’t been seen since early June.

  6. Steven Reynolds

    “Did you have a fun Fourth of July?” I’ve been asked. And I answer, “Yep, I mowed the yard.” Which, in here in the land of the Ojibwe and Dakota, among others, isn’t what many probably would say ranks up there with pow wows, fireworks, fishing, picnicking, taking in flea markets, etc, etc.
    We watched the 46th Red Cliff Pow Wow on Youtube, almost just as happily as if we had been there as we had most of the past fourteen years; times change. Some changes are choices, some are physical limitations.
    We live on a quarter of Roseau County land, which I purchased at 20 years of age and owned since 1971; land subsequent to the Old Crossing Treaty of 1862 in which the Red Lake and Pembina bands of Ojibwe ceded 11,000,000 acres to the United States, and I’m well aware of it. Seldom a day passes that I don’t think about our good fortune, especially as we have Ojibwe relatives and their culture has become a part of our culture even though I know it’s from the periphery.
    When my now-fourteen year old grandson was little (Yes, the same one who won a ton of money playing the moccassin game at the pow wow yesterday) used to run across the arena in his regalia to give me a big hug, I felt wholly accepted. Over these many years nods of recognition, smiles, friendly banter, a wave from a loaded car in Bayfield drives home the feeling that my wife and I are a small part of a bigger something; an intimate something privy to but a few.
    My stepson John Helms recently made a Youtube video about harvesting the bark of Wiigobaatig (Basswood) with which he cuts into long strips to tie the framework of his sweat lodge together, and doesn’t kill the tree in the process as harvesters may do. With his method he was taught, instead of girdling the tree and killing it for later use, he peels a strip from the ground up, high into the tree, leaving a strip of bark still attached to the tree. He shows the viewer, a tree he harvested the bark from last year, that was still living, the bark side having healed itself from bottom to top the whole way, teaching others that we are a part of the whole of nature. What he didn’t show in the video was his gesture of respect toward the tree; his offering of tobacco as acknowledgement of the tree’s spirit and the spirits surrounding it, and appreciation of its gift.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top