My extended family owns a quarter-section of land in Wisconsin — a homestead from 1870. My deeply homesick Swedish relatives, who had been horse-keepers and hostelers in the old country, chose a piece of land that reminded them of home — unfarmable land with four lakes, the deep rubble piles of a terminal glacial moraine, the second-highest point in the state of Wisconsin, and virgin timber. (We don’t so much dig holes in the earth but work with a crowbar to pry large and small rounded boulders out of the ground to produce a cavity.)
This homestead is one of my favorite places — a refuge where I have been told my face changes as it relaxes in peace. There are special places in the woods with old-growth hemlock, white pine and elm. One hemlock section we call the Cathedral. This is a place with towering dark trees and no undergrowth on the edge of a lake. Ghost flowers bloom out of the thick needle-covered forest floor and thick pillows of moss tempt naps. Midwestern virgin timber forests have nothing like the enormous trees we have here — the climate provides a natural bonsai action. We’ve measured temperatures below -60 F in this place.
I drove with my mother to the Homestead last summer; it was becoming increasingly clear that the forgetfulness and confusion she had been experiencing in the last year was going to require big changes for her life. We were there for the month of July as family came and went. This was a sad, painful time that not even the healing properties of the place could ease. Angry; sad; grieving; depressed at my best friend for leaving me.
We sent my mother back to Oregon on the plane and I stayed on another three weeks seeking the peace and happiness this place usually gives me. In the end, it took total, near-crazed immersion in a carpentry project replacing rusted metal kitchen cabinets with a new set made of knotty-pine to bring me peace.