Lake Superior was once a lava bed. Or rather, it still is a lava bed, it’s just a billion years old and now covered in some of the deepest, clearest water in the world. Through forces like uplift, compression, and collapse, the lava bed curled up at the edges and created a peninsula on one side and an archipelago on the other (similar to lying on a slightly deflated air mattress — when compressed in the middle the mattress edges will rise up). Fast forward through deep time to our present day, where the archipelago once scraped and depressed by the mass of glaciers, is now on the rebound, rising roughly one foot per century — that the land can still be feeling the release from a weight lifted 10,000 years ago is profoundly beautiful.
Earlier this month I returned from 20 days on the Archipelago, called Isle Royale National Park. I was visiting the park as an artist-in-residence, researching the complex entanglement of humans/non-humans, biotic/abiotic elements, and how these play out over time. My project was to create an atlas for the park: a series of maps that explore these stories, but beyond that I was free to draw/walk/read as I pleased. I grew up wandering the deciduous woods of New England and a walk in a forest gives me the feeling of finding a phantom limb. It’s a feeling that I don’t realize is missing in my everyday life, but once I recognize it, it seems essential to being. There is much talk and research these days recognizing the importance of our relationship with the natural world, including forest Bathing, doctor’s prescribing the outdoors, and our chemical reaction to being in a forest; all of which deeply interest me. We (oxygen consumers) are involved in a grand symbiotic relationship with plants, which in turn are involved in a grand symbiotic relationship with fungi, and on and on. But breaking the relationship into parts undermines the expansive quality of a forest. Perhaps Herman Hesse said it best:
For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers…They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.