For the past four years (three years in an official capacity), the local community has set aside a weekend each May to focus on forest regeneration. Originally, the reforestation began because of the people of the community was hungry for some solidarity. After the 2007 Ham Lake Fire experience, people wanted to plant trees, not just to replace the trees that had been lost in the fire but also to regain a sense that life and the forest were both returning to a more normal, familiar pace of things. In the May 2007, a group of neighbors gathered to plant trees in the areas burnt over by the Ham Lake Fire. And they kept planting little white seedlings during the two Mays that followed, only this time they invited others to join them and dubbed the event “Gunflint Green Up.” It was quite the success. In 2008, 500 people gathered that May weekend to plant trees along the Gunflint Trail.
I have always been on the edges of this fire and subsequent events. I was finishing up my degree when the actual fire burnt and for the last two years work has kept me an arm’s length away from the Green Up events. So somehow, this past weekend ended up being my first Green Up. We didn’t plant trees. Instead we “released” them.
(One of the things I’m most excited about with my new summer job is that I think it’ll be much less likely that I’ll be called “Ranger Ada” this summer. That doesn’t mean I don’t mind acting like “Ranger Ada” every once in a while.)
That’s right, we poked around the burnt areas looking for trees that had already been planted and then we trimmed brush and undergrowth away from them. The organizers warned us yesterday that finding the little white pine seedlings might be a little like an Easter egg hunt. The area we were assigned to clear out was pretty brushy and it was hard to tell if past year’s planters had actually ventured through the heavy undergrowth to plant trees. Andy and I spent a lot of time smashing our shins against fallen, charcoal tree trunks and picking twigs out of our hats. At one point we thought we heard a moose splashing around in a nearby bay, so I spent a good ten minutes crashing through the woods to find, you guessed it, a now very moose free bay.
We did find some little seedlings and clipped away undergrowth to let the sunshine in. We pulled bindweed away and nipped a raspberry, dogwood, alder and aspen that could crowd out the white pine seedlings and rob them of nutrients.
When we got back to the cabin, we planted some white spruce trees around the property.
It’s hard to know if the little seedlings we found yesterday will someday grow to be the towering trees with their cloudlike branches of needles that (along with the moose) have become somewhat iconic symbols of the region. It’s unlikely that all six of the white spruce trees we planted yesterday will really take off. But we gave some trees a little better chance to survive what Mother Nature might have in store for them and if they do, this corner of the world will be just a little bit greener.
Last but not least, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! We love you, so much.