We’re a generally rooted species – at least our contingent; the ones for whom place might be analogized to a limb that the body would not function properly without. It’s easy to project this rootedness on to the wild animals that populate our place. When the phoebes return to the porch we welcome them home. Same, too, the does and fawns that disappear for the winter and then show up again when the snow retreats. There’s some scientific basis for this anthropomorphism – way back in 1804, John James Audubon tied a silver thread to a phoebe’s leg and documented that the same bird did in fact return to the same nest site the following spring; doe groups have a matrilineal association and a small home range, so we probably are seeing mothers and daughters year in and year out. And yet, of course, we usually don’t really know if they’re the same birds, or the same deer. Our voluntary suspension of skepticism in these regards is an adult version of the ruse we learned to accept as children, when our one amazingly long-lived goldfish was in fact six different goldfish.
The deep woods don’t seem quite as familial as the back 40, but we still play out versions of this same thing with ourselves and with the wild animals we share the place with. I spent a day this past week bushwhacking into a remote place that interests me because it’s a large, flat island of spruce in a sea of steep, unbroken hardwood forest. I make the around 10-mile roundtrip hike maybe a half-dozen times a year with the goal of learning how animals use the place. I’ve mentally catalogued plants and fungus and a lot of tracks, and yet I’m realizing I could spend a lifetime and still not fully understand it. I’m drawn here for the novelty of the forest type – it feels more like northern Quebec then a forest watershed that drains to Massachusetts – also the odd geology and the relative remoteness. Part of what draws me, too, is a sacred feeling that’s hard to quantify. The whole west edge of the area is marked by springs that arise in hardwoods, tumble past old growth yellow birch, and then debouche into the dark spruce and fir where they meander across land that for no good reason is Kansas flat. Once under the conifers the water runs nearly black and curls around bone white boulders, each finger framed with vibrant green. I want to come here; and I guess I’m projecting this into my research on what animals use this as a core area. Why wouldn’t they want to come here, too? In my searching I came across an old camp site next to one of the springs last fall, the old casting from a woodstove and some horseshoes half-buried near the faintest trace of a foundation. My somewhat educated guess dates the detritus to the late 1800s. There’s also a large pile of stones on a slab of hillside nearby; this an area that never saw a farmers plow. The stone pile feels manmade but much older – some glimpse into an ancient past I can’t even begin to speculate about.