By Dan Habermehl
It had been a long time since my last visit. Perhaps 35 years or more. It was maybe 10 years more, the first time my family went out to Uncle Bob’s land. We were just kids then, sledding down the hill in the front field in what was always deep snow when we were still so small.
When I was in Scouts, my dad and I camped out with the others one weekend in the winter. I remember one kid found bugs in his sleeping bag and he and his buddy tossed it into the outhouse pit and burned it. The outhouse caught fire and there was a great commotion.
Once or twice when I first got my driver’s license, my uncle gave me permission to camp out there with a few friends. I remember those as autumn visits, but those memories are foggy because those were also the times we drank too much Boone’s Farm wine.
Uncle Bob and Aunt Sandy are no longer with us, and neither is my wife, and so when I bumped into my cousin Bobby on a recent inspection at the place that he works, we ended up chatting for a while about old times. As we parted ways, I asked him to say hello to his brother Tommy, and give him my best the next time he saw him. Bob replied that he would be seeing him in less than an hour on their dad’s land.
I finished my inspection and headed home. My way takes me just a bit east of where I remembered Uncle Bob’s land being, and as I drove, I got to wondering if I could find my way again after all this time. I knew how to get to one of the nearby towns, but it was all intuition after that. Soon enough, though, I recognized the sign to the footpath to a fishing spot, and my final turn onto the road that led up the hill to my uncle’s land.
At the top of the road I saw two vehicles parked just into the woods and I knew my cousins were still there. There is a lot of acreage up there and I wondered how I would be able to find them. So I paused every few steps to listen, thinking I might hear their voices on the wind.
I watched as a group of startled birds flew out of the woods. I figured that they had probably been disturbed by something, and guessed correctly that I would find Bob and Tom over that way.
We joined up a short time later, much to their surprise. Along the walk on our way back to the vehicles, we swapped stories and memories, and although the visit was brief, it was very enjoyable.
What was so rewarding was to see these woods now mature. The old sledding hill now grown in with mature trees. The woods that I remember had, in a way, turned themselves inside out. Patches that I remember as being wide open were now thick with trees and brush. And the areas that were too thick with low branches to walk through were now wide open mossy places with old-growth trees.
The woods near my childhood home have been cut down and replaced with subdivision housing. I have watched the changes on my own farm for 25 years now. But this piece of land holds a special place in my heart. It is the oldest and longest memory I have of any woodlot over time.
It isn’t often nowadays that one can ponder changes over time like this. We tend to experience things in a snapshot sort of way. Experiencing things in the moment without benefit of knowing what came before, or the vision to follow its trajectory to see what might follow.
I must be old. Because it is only after having lived a lifetime alongside many different tree friends, in so many different places, that I have come to value the knowledge that can only come from observing the living relationships over a very long time, between the land and its heirs.
Thank you, Bob and Tom, for your hospitality.