Last night I had a dream about my favorite childhood place—the home where my grandpa (Pop) lived on Genesee Lake in Wisconsin. My mom and her sisters’ childhood home was near the Owens farm in Dousman where Pop spent the bulk of his farming career.
Playing in the lake with my cousins was the best part, but it was also fun to accompany Pop to the farm—to learn about cultivation, germination, soil irrigation systems…. Occasionally we visited neighboring farms. I can remember running the cornfield rows of the Pabst farms with my cousins. The last time I visited the area in 2006, The Pabst Farms was a development—complete with suburban neighborhoods, a business center, a YMCA. What a funny foreign weirdness that gave me.

I don’t blame the Pabst family for selling, or the development company either really. I just miss the ways that Pop used those fields to explain cross pollination. He was a guy that I didn’t think I could live without. I also will have to live without the Pabst Farms— no chance for that land to return to the fields that I remember.
Fast forward 30 years to where my kids play. I’m counting on the BWCA playground to be preserved for their children. I’m grateful for the places that the government protects in that way. My mind wanders to stewardship of the land—especially how it works around here.
During last years’ first annual Gunflint Green Up we were grateful for the people that came to replant donated pines and give the forest recovery a jump start in the places where the Ham Lake fire nicked us. Although many trees were planted on private land here and up the trail, we couldn’t plant any trees on US Forest Service property. We didn’t even bother to ask; we knew better than to attempt something like that on the fly. It can be annoying really, the official procedure it takes to do anything on USFS property, even though I’m pretty sure that we care about it as much as any of the other US citizens that share ownership with us.
I’m realizing more and more how touchy this local vs. federal ownership issue has historically been around here. As irritating as it can be, it seems to me that the ongoing conversation between all the stakeholders has the most potential to be an effective way to tend the land . It is possible that it takes a bureaucracy to bring the broad and narrow angles together. You can bet that I wouldn’t have initiated any prescribed burns on the properties near us—but I was mighty thankful in 2006 that somebody did.
My angle last spring didn’t actually take into account that the USFS must ensure that we aren’t planting white pines from seed sources in places like South Carolina—which technically makes them non-native species. This year, the pines are coming from tree farm seedlings planted in abandoned mine pits in central Minnesota. Citizens and business owners on the Gunflint Trail have been working closely with the USFS to raise funds and bring volunteers to plant 75000 trees on May 3rd—to fill in the patches left by the Ham Lake fire. Apparently, this time the right people are coming together to make the system click. .
As we sit at the dinner table and discuss government and politics with the kids, there are plenty of times that it is tough to justify the systems that we are part of. This is one time where we can feel proud of those systems. And that is a good thing.
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