A Chance at Remembering and Recovery in the Boreal Forest

By: Dale Klubertanz

At the End of the Day

Once, when our tribal natures were young, the earth surrounded us with a wild intimacy pervading our essence as wilderness creatures. We knew the dark, encompassing, star-filled nights boundlessly. As cousins within the same extended family, we blessed the overland sun, gifting days of promise and intention inside a seamless kinship, green chlorophyll, and cell-borne mitochondria. Human and animal-kind shared, without measure, a feeling of indivisibility and relativeness.

Now, after years of forgetting, there is an expression of an immutable wilderness, be it the air we breathe, the wind, snowfall, rain, or a renewed sense of reconnection in a living, recovering native forest. Its ever-enduring presence still beckons an abiding part of our being, long-founded in these ancient forces, to reach out from and within our most authentic experience.

Today, in winter, with a walk in the boreal forest, there is a soulfulness. There is a spiritual longing in the sound of the wind, the artistry of a snowfall, and the cool, familiar frostiness against our checks. An unnamable God lives in the invisible, life-sustaining breath of air. An unknowable mystery accepts our surrender. We fall into a sense of knowing and being known in some essential way by this sleepy wooded landscape.

Sometimes, I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home, a long way from home.

Traditional Folk Song

With only the vibrational rhythm of wind-blown, snow-covered surfaces sounding in the silence, the visitor has come to share this stillness of winter. The quiet fills the spaces among all present, asleep and otherwise. The ruffle of fabric and crunching of boots break the natural articulation of the day throughout the forest.

From the fringes of Brickyard Creek’s forest and over the grey, gradient sky, the busy hum of human communities spills over onto the soft, muted sensibilities of this recovering native plant community. The far too close treading of rubber on asphalt along nearby roadways rise and fall from beyond the seemingly secluded tree-scape. There is an occasional roar of a throttled engine somewhere in the distance, the bark of a captive dog. 

Bridge to Winter

These present-day sounds fade into each other like dissonant notes in a restless wind. They come to us composed at opposite sides of millennia. Even the babbling melody of the meandering creek imparts its age-old, true-natured song to mixed avail.

Winter Contemplation

Thus, in the course of modern-day experience, successive generations have learned to accept a changing, diminished sense of environment as normal, healthy, and as being the presumable “nature of things” within a shifting baseline. This collective perception includes the very basis of what nature and wilderness are itself as a part of a “generational amnesia.” 

With this “Shifting Baseline Syndrome” comes the loss of deep knowledge and connection to our most elemental natures as belonging to the native motherland.

Still, there is an invitation to listen and remember in quieter “listening points”(1) of this creekside woodland as places to hear a more untrammeled dialogue with the remnant voices of wilderness. This awareness of a forgotten but still accessible wildness can help distill from this boreal forestland a conversation filled with metaphor, reflection, and knowledge found in the ancient, lingering language of our wilderness selves.

(1) Olson, S. F. (1958). Listening point. Knopf.