Tuesday, September 11, 2007

5. An Ancient Forest in My Backyard

Strong gales began to blow while Peanut and I were at Nerstrand. I finished what I could of an etching, and we returned to Minneapolis a day early, aborting our cycling plans. The spot where I made my etching was a forty-five minute walk from our campsite, at the south end of the park along Prairie Creek. All the hiking trails at Nerstrand were terribly muddy. Very strange for a State Park, where the trails are either paved or gravelled. Take heed if you are planning a trip there, although the agriculturally scented waterfall is visually and aurally stunning. Nerstrand is Minnesota's largest remnant of the "Big Woods," the deciduous forest, one of the three major ecosystems of North America, the very northwest edge of which cut across our state diagonally before the European conquest. This area includes the Twin Cities.

The next day, I still had the rental car, and I used it to drive to Wood-Rill Scientific & Natural Area in Orono. I had never been there before, and it was amazing. I enjoyed it more than Nerstrand; the trails weren't muddy, and the energy was much more positive. The place is a true old-growth Big Woods remnant, with stages of forest succession that are easily viewable, as there is no undergrowth due to the dense canopy. Wood-Rill is like a forest museum: all stages of succession, and all ages of snags and blow-downs. Go there to see what Minneapolis used to look like.

When I want to make an etching of a place, the first thing I do is explore. My goal is to find The Spot. For this project, I wanted to find spots where I was glimpsing the genuine past. No trails in view, no power lines, no buckthorn. Was I seeing Minnesota how it was in its natural state? Part of finding the spot is gut feeling, mostly it is compositional.

I returned to Wood-Rill by bicycle the next day, and then one more day after that. The bike ride takes an hour and a half from Minneapolis, and is absolutely lovely. Take Glenwood to Harold, right on Winnetka to Plymouth Avenue, and take that to Hwy 169, where you pick up the Soo Line bike trail. This takes you right to Wood-Rill.

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