Why do so many feel at home here, wherever they were born--return to the Northern Highland over whole lifetimes to confirm the growing notion that it seems the place they really came from?
Partly it is a matter of learning how to look at this beguiling scene, with its green glaze and ornament of bright waters, its high dome sloping north to the Superior basin and edge of the world-encircling boreal forest. To see beneath its human past--mushroom rings defining where the shorn stumps of virgin hemlock and pine have finally subsided, lake bottoms strewn with lost logs, the char of native campgrounds or their portages once narrow and unobtrusive as deer trails--and to follow the land's own genealogy.
in deep woods, guided by moss
Everywhere we live on a layered earth whose deep history is read in canyons and roadcuts, mine shafts and the sleeves of wells. Yet here, for a few counties, we walk at once on the surfaces of two lands only--the original and the most recent, present together for a moment in time. Barely out from under the latest pulse of ice, both striated bedrock and the thin till that spills around and over it are gifts of the glaciers--revealing the oldest in its place, while bringing in fresh fragments of a wider world.
This youthful landscape, its rivers clear and marshes full, growing but a few inches of soil in a mere eight-thousand years, lives on sand and minerals and the slight nourishments of its own decay. Here fans of pebbles and boulder trains imported from the Canadian shield have hardly begun to weather in the frost and sun that will release their grains into the northbound streams and toward the sea again. For now, their mica flakes glint in the shadows of trees or along the shores of wind-riffled bays like eyes in a minnow school.
its marly delta turbid
with small lives
To this bedrock province, the low hills and ledges rebounding slowly from the departed ice are the roots of its remnant mountain range--many times uplifted, folded, worn down to a mounded plain, buried in sediment only to be exhumed, raised, and worn down again. Yet the land retains its shape of arch and syncline, the persistent warp of the world--the core of an alpine chain and a rift that sank into the weight of its own lava flows. Clouds on the horizon, swelling as they rise inland from the great lake, often seem to trace the vanished outline of those peaks, mimic the inner turbulence that drove them to such height.
The first life here, at this base of the rock-bound earth, some say was born of iron and water. And it holds that character still in its colors and tenacious forms. With the first iron precipitate and the first sulphurous bacteria, all life and all of us inside it drew from those same stony elements that dissolved, compaced and combined in sea water and air to ignite all chemistries to come.
The aboriginal wisdom was to sense they were a people who had emerged directly from the earth. Placing a hand on the oldest greenstone outcrop, feeling its warmth as it draws the sun, feeling the sun pass through the hand on its axis into the darker rock, is to feel the youth of a world still growing, to feel very close to having come home.
this rock shard carrying
three billion years
From the high escarpment, Lake Superior i indeed an inland sea, an ocean of sweet water as the voyageurs called it, but viewed or imagined from a greater distance it is the widest spot in a river seeking its way, wearing its current route downward while probing still at its former escape to the south. A recent presence in the greater basin, this undrained watershed has begun to leave behind the signs of its diminishing scale--wave-carved shorelines and beaches deserted high above the water, river valleys stranded aloft as crevices in the Precambrian ridge, channels now for snowmelt and wind.
How far we have come with this floating continent that once appeared so stable, but whose vast array of pasts and futures and our origins within now seem as moments in a longer memory--in the earth's own balance of brevities. Perhaps this vista, so undulant and forested to us, will drain and fill and dry away to a desiccated flat--or perhaps will be the stage of another mile-high ice front pushing before it centuries of snow and permafrost to overspread this deep-rock highland, renewing it with drift and boulders for another time.
feeling the pressure of stone
beneath the mulch