Silence settles on the woods today. Only a suggestion of snowflakes fall aimlessly onto the existing snow cover, as if the day had not quite decided to snow or not. Those flakes drift aimlessly by me to my right and left, and even drift upward a bit as a capricious breeze plays with them, before finally settling onto a nearby snowbank. Nothing could be a better description of an aimless human being than to call him or her a “drifter.”
Wildlife appears only casually today. Two whitetail deer confronted me half an hour ago, gazed at me a few moments, and then disappeared into the woods. A flock of 26 turkeys passed by at a distance.
The history of a place in the woods. A few weeks ago this place by the Red River of the north set me to thinking about its history.
Oh, I don’t mean the history of people passing through this place, but rather its history if no man or woman ever set foot in this spot. When one returns to such a spot as this again and again, one is inclined to feel it has a kind of eternal quality.
The place does not move about, as a crowd of people would. I can feel confident that those six great trees I can see scattered in front of me, an elm, a hackberry, two maples, an oak and a green ash, will greet me when I return in a week or two.
However, what about 100 years from now? If we think of history, it seems to me we have to think of a century, and not a week or two.
If I were to return then, I expect that elm and oak and maple would greet me, if I could identify them among other growth that had arisen around them. Distant descendants of the deer and turkeys might greet me, if predators had not taken over the area.
If the flora of the place had changed, I might see new songbirds that I had not seen before. The eternal beaver would still be coming up from the river and chewing off the saplings for food or his house building.
It is the great trees that would give me a sense of the eternal quality of this place in the woods a century from now, if I would have marked them in some way to identify them. Over the century they would have looked down in lordly grandeur upon the thousands upon thousands of changes that would have marched by under their feet, living things of nature that would have died and left their remains to add to the soil that feeds these great trees.
The snowflakes have decided to come to complete rest for the evening. Winter darkness settles gradually upon this place and submits all living things to rest for the coming night.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.