Spring in Minnesota — a Mother’s Day reflection

May has come to Minnesota, and, surprisingly, it has taken me by surprise.

The symphonic grandeur of spring in the Pacific Northwest had caused me to completely forget the quiet crescendo of spring here in the Midwest.

There, spring was celebratory and explosive — all bright colors, flowers bursting forth in rich profusion, pink cherry blossoms blanketing the streets like the chapel train of a wedding gown.

Here, spring is less celebration and more resurrection — a Lazarus season, with the world quietly blinking its eyes as it peers forth from the slumbering, moribund earth.  The bone grey fingers of the trees slowly cover with green buds, the animals come out tentatively, the brown grasses start to show whispers of green, and the silent sky day by day fills with a growing chorus of birdsong.  It does not burst upon you; it builds slowly, just as night turns slowly into day.

Perhaps most surprising is the way the trees here gradually fill out and become a protective canopy over our lives. In the Pacific Northwest — and, in its own way in northern Minnesota where we used to live — the pines stand self-contained and solitary, pointing skyward with an almost palpable indifference to the human.  Even where they join together to form tunnels and pathways, their focus is upward, and any human or animal activity that takes place beneath them does so on its own terms, with no feeling that the trees care for them or have any concern for the lives taking place beneath their branches.

But here the elms and maples and oaks and all the others spread their branches almost maternally over the streets and boulevards.  They seem to look down on you rather than asking you to look upward.  They make you feel cared for and protected.

I’ve always loved trees in an unreflective way.  I had favorite trees as a child, special trees as meeting places, trees I loved to climb and branches where I loved to sit.  I knew nothing of their various species or place in the ecological order.  They were just my companions, sometimes recognized, sometimes taken for granted — and, like so much else in life, never truly appreciated until, for some reason, they were gone.

As I got older, I wrote about them, I sculpted them, I got to know them in ways both intimate and abstract.  But always I felt their presence in my life.  Now we are back here where I was born and raised and I am feeling their presence strongly once again.

There is no doubt that I miss our Oregon home.  The abundance and profusion of the Pacific Northwest makes you feel like you are living in a garden.   But here, where the landscape is subtler and the vegetation more nuanced, the trees rustling in the breeze and the dawn chorus of birdsong outside the window make their own special music.  It may not be symphonic, but it builds and crescendoes in a song of gratitude that has you waking with a smile on your face and thinking, “Damn, it’s good to be alive!”

And who could ever ask for more than that?

11 thoughts on “Spring in Minnesota — a Mother’s Day reflection”

  1. D Sandersfeld

    Wise words, thank you for sharing your gift. May your wisdom live on in the pages of days long ago.

  2. it’s lovely to recall the spring rebirthing of minnesota, it’s been over 40 years since i enjoyed one. Thanks for the memory.

  3. Fifty years ago this month, with the help of a friend, I started hand-planting trees in a fifteen acre poplar woods in Roseau County bordered on the west by Mikinaak Creek (the Ojibwe spelling for snapping turtle and not what is written in English on the maps), and a neighbor’s fenced quarter section on its east, where just the summer before, the farmer had bulldozed all the trees and windrowed their debris like a hay field prior to baling. I was thunderstruck by their destruction for the dense woodland had lent the creek bottom and my quaint homestead the beauty and privacy I desired, having lived in a city all my life to that point. Its horrific loss underscored to me that I could do nothing about what my neighbors did on their land, and if I wanted such an environment I would have to plant it myself.
    And so I have; it becoming the best decision I have ever made concerning the farm, and continues into the future, hopefully. Slowly transitioning 160-acres of sandy loam farmland back into trees and wetland, as it was before somewhat, took all of the years between. Thanks to CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) and my own driven initiative with the help of friends and family, I tried to recreate the woodland my mother used to walk through, in the early 1900s, on her way to Palmville District 44 West, one-room school (which still stands) on the SW corner of our land, from her family’s homestead a half mile north, (which doesn’t).
    Every morning our family gaze across the creek at the beautiful towering white spruce that we planted, in 1974 and the large poplar trees among them and where the eagles sometimes sit in the ancient bur oak overlooking the creek; the Great Blue Herons silently swing past, as do skeins of ducks and flocks of geese. The offspring of the trees too, almost block the view of the neighbor’s scrubby woodland that grew up eventually. I can see the still-evident windrows. Sadly the parent trees were never used; just left to rot.
    Since 1974, we’ve planted roughly 100,000 trees of 17 species; and very few in straight lines, preferring to echo land contours and create islands; or leaving openings and meadows; their hundred of thousands wild seedlings cast by winds or passed on by animals. My mother loved her wild home place, this township. There isn’t a day, I don’t think of her here. She’d love the trees, as I do.
    Recently, through a Minnesota Sustainable Forest Incentive Act covenant attached to the farm, I secured the farm’s forested future for another fifty years. Happy Mothers Day, Mom.

  4. First to Steven: What amazing and wonderful work you’re doing! I was born in Roseau County, Minnesota… my mother was born and raised there, my grandparents came to there from Norway in 1910, and I still have cousins that run the family farm. Thank you so much for everything you do… and thank you for writing so beautifully about it.

    And now to Kent: No one in the world writes like you do. I hope and pray you have many, many more years ahead of you, and you’ll keep writing and keep moving your readers so deeply.

  5. Sharyn McCormick

    Kent, I’ve been following you for a long, long time because as another commenter stated, no one in the world writes like you do, and because you are one of the most interesting and fascinating people out there. Sadly I don’t know very many (if any for that matter) interesting people as I find most to be very overly self-absorbed. I know that sounds very cynical, but the truth ain’t always pretty. On another note, I keep hoping you will write a post about your return to a Minnesota and let us know if you can go home again. I have been gone from my native DC now for 20 years and I desperately want to return, but honestly can I?

  6. Thank you for the compliment, Sharyn. As I wrote in Letters to My Son many years ago, I had a teacher in grade school named Frank Rinaldi, who one day pulled me aside and said, “Nerburn, you start every sentence with the word, ‘I'”. That, and my father’s job that had me pulled out of bed at all hours to go with him to witness all manner of human disasters and suffering combined to move me out of the center of my perception and understanding of the world. It has its virtues and its limitations, but it is what it is.

    I like your idea of writing about whether or not you can go home again, because I have been obsessing over that question ever since we returned to Minnesota. Stay tuned. Maybe next post.

  7. Kent thank you for the vivid descriptions of both of these beautiful places. Your words warmed my heart as I lived on the Northern California coast and all of its splendor. Returning to my home state of Minnesota, after twenty four years, the appreciation of this state’s wonders didn’t come to my attention right away. However, now after the past seventeen years I could not see myself anywhere else. Spring has become my favorite season because of the life which presents itself to the world. And the best part is it will happen again next year.

  8. CatherineStenzel

    Going home again? Any place we set foot is “home.” Some places more than others, of course. We are fortunate to live in Beltrami Island Forest in Minnesota, thirty miles from the Manitoba border. I admit that we are extremely fortunate living here in our 800 sq. ft. log cabin amid the expansive Forest. You speak for a moment of the “indifference” of tree(s). I would add another perspective. Trees may not be mobile nor share our language, but they do have their own speech (e.g., the wind in their branches, and the creaking and groaning as earth and wind elicit trees’ unique kind of mobility. Their language is not unlike Dragon Speech which I’ve written about in a long-coming epic poem. Next, a shout-out to Steve Reynolds, who wrote on 12 May. He is our neighbor, as the definition of “neighbor” goes up here. Steve’s love of trees is admirable and to be emulated, whether it be planting trees as he has or to conserve those that already stand around us. We do both in our small way. I write more often about the sentient critters under the canopy – attending to the small (star-nosed mole) to the mighty gray wolf. Thanks, Kent for conjuring my mystical side but then, you almost always do!

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