Those who read this blog regularly know there is a humble, rustic cabin in the woods of Northern Minnesota that is very special to me. Though it doesn’t belong to me, but to my parents, I consider it my own personal Walden.
Now, due to a legal disagreement over the separation of the property with a spiteful neighbor, it appears highly likely this land will no longer be in our family. The situation is complicated, and frankly, not much of it is my business at all. But I am deeply saddened.
Some might say it’s “just land.” But land is more than rocks and sand, title or deed; it is the community that grows upon it. It is the sweetness that is shared there, the tears that water its soil. It is the culmination of whatever unscripted dramas, comedies, tragedies, ceremonies and love stories play upon it.
Land is more than mere dirt. As long as mankind has tread upon her, he has been willing to give all in protection of it, and in claiming it. It is honored, revered, worshipped, healed through medicine circles, fenced, surveyed, segmented, tilled, watered, planted, harvested, landscaped and allowed to grow wild.
And at times, it is stolen.
To say that this plot of property – about six humble acres – is just land, is to diminish the memories we’ve made there. It erases the impressions of the bare feet of grandchildren upon the grass. It vaporizes the long hours spent together around the fire pit, upon the brick patio that my mother built with her own hands. It dismisses the month I spent there, trying to write and failing miserably, but learning so much. It invalidates the improvement work my mother and I did to the point of exhaustion last fall. It eradicates the days and nights we spent clearing brush, knee deep in snow, when the property was new to us.
The land is in us, and we are in it.
Over the years, we have celebrated in this beautiful space among the birch and pine and oak trees, as a family…in arguably the most precious connections in recent decades with my brothers and sisters. I went there when I was broken, and somehow the cries of the loons at night gave my sadness song. Two of my mother’s beloved pets are buried in this sacred earth, and my own dear aged beagle spent her last day there this spring.
In late April just as the winter weather broke, my nieces built a castle of snow, the sun melting its turrets, everyone strangely comfortable in flip-flops and t-shirts.
I know several people who’ve had a bit too much to drink there, and others who’ve had good, healing, restful slumber and hikes in big nature that seem to reset everything. I’ve picked raspberries, fresh and ripe from the wild, for breakfast. We’ve played Jenga and have submitted to tick checks and waged epic battles with thirsty skeeters and summer storms. A nephew and I once practiced shooting with his BB gun, aiming at leftover nachos from nearby Zorbaz in Crosslake. While we watched, a brave chipmunk ran up the severed tree trunk and seized a nacho for its breakfast.
Last fall, a mysterious animal burrow appeared in the low ground, just under the treehouse. Now, baby fox peer tentatively from that same hole.
Down the road about half a mile is the public access to pristine Eagle Lake. There’s a splintery, rickety dock and a slippery landing flanked by lily pads and cattails, perfect for sitting on and lazily draping ones toes into the water. When then cabin had no water, we bathed there. When the days were bright, we sunned ourselves on the dock. My nephew and I have fished there, and after catching sunnies, he cleaned them back at the cabin, and we cooked them over open flame. We’ve filled Dad’s boat/Mom’s convertible to capacity with swimsuit-clad kids, color-splashed towels, and life jackets. And on August afternoons, we’ve launched from the dock, dropped anchor at 12 feet deep and jumped from the side of the boat into the dark, still water. We had dive contests. Good laughs. Long days as they are meant to be. The worst of our problems were a fussy motor and an ill-fated bottle of Apple Pucker tossed to me while swimming, which slipped from my grasp and sank deep into the muck, never to be found.
It is a simple place, and infinitely wondrous. It is pure and beautiful and unspoiled.
While sitting on the log swing, I once watched a gnat attack a centipede on a hot, red brick. The battle lasted an hour. It seemed a totally reasonable way to spend an afternoon.
There are bald eagles and hawks and white-tailed deer among us at the land. Lichens decorate the tree trunks, moss grows thick between the bricks, and ants work fervently to build, build, build…claiming the land as their own, without dispute.
We once sat around the campfire and at the important bidding of a niece, each one of us wished on a star. I don’t doubt that every single one of those wishes came true.
At night, it is possible to shrink even the largest of earthly problems as you gaze past the pine tree tops into the vast milky way, unencumbered by light pollution.
Land is more than earth. It tells a story if you will listen. It feeds you. It heals you, if you let it. It sings to you and laughs with you, grows with you and becomes as much a part of your history as you are of its. And in the end, when we pass from this land to the next, it is the land itself that we become. It is the land that welcomes us home, dust to dust.
How sad the crime of jeopardizing this love for anyone, pulling that tender blade of grass that ties us to something that we hold so dear…something so temporary to others, and so meaningful to us. It is unconscionable.
It is a small comfort that this neighbor will have the opportunity to redeem himself, as we all do, when we are given back to the land ourselves. It is only then we are lucky enough to take on her many gifts, to become one with the great teacher who shared with us so much.
In the meantime…to me at least…he is nothing but dirt.
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Charish Badzinski is an explorer, food-lover and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to individuals and organizations.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb