My daughter is a child of the forest. She told me this over the weekend as we hiked through the woods in Northern Maine. She stopped and photographed fungi along the way, and collected leaves for identification. At one point she exclaimed: “Look! It is a nursery tree!” (A nursery tree is a dead log.) She made comparisons to the Michigan forest where she had lived and studied last summer.
I did feel a little bit like Hansel and Gretel as she lagged behind, exploring the forest floor while I had a goal of reaching the top of the mountain. Her red hair and decision to go barefoot along the path might have contributed to the feeling of living a fairytale, most of which take place in forests. But I did manage to slow down and engage in a discussion about types of trees we saw and asked how much she recalled about the New Zealand forests that we had visited when she was 10 years old.
I knew this might happen some day when I moved from Iowa to Michigan at the time she was four years old. But now the reality has sunk in. About that time I visited Chinese friends who had immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong. They talked about how their sons would not be Hong Kong Chinese. They would lose a part of their identity. At the time I thought about this in reference to my daughters who would inevitably not identify with the same place and culture that I had, and wondered about how I felt about this. It was unsettling.
My daughter is a child of the forest. It has happened. She has declared it to be so. I remain a child of the prairie.
I don’t live and work on a ledge, but on ledge. In an early conversation when I first moved to Cape Ann someone said: “We ran into ledge.”
I had to scramble to use the context of the conversation to interpret what they were referring to–a granite batholith that forms the bedrock of Cape Ann. The formerly molten material cooled deep under the earth and is now exposed due to erosion by glaciers, wind, and water. It is part of a terrane–a piece of the earth that is a fragment that originated elsewhere–but became attached (or accreted) through tectonic forces. John McPhee, one of the best nonfiction writers of our time, has a book titled “Suspect Terrains” where he talks about the accretion of terranes that led to the geologic mixture of the American west. In my mind, terranes are clearly more suspect than terrains. The suspect terrane, composed of the granite ledge on which I live, broke off from Africa and attached itself to North America when the two continents collided, prior to the formation of the North Atlantic Ocean.
The granite ledge around me creates both challenges and opportunities. Building can be a challenge when you are at a place where the ledge is right at the surface. I hear stories of pieces of ledge in basements–where it was easier to build around it. From my observation, it appears that towns that originated as fishing villages are build right on the ledge–Manchester, Gloucester, and Rockport. Towns like Ipswich and Newburyport are located in areas where rivers empty into the ocean, leading to deposition and better soil.
This past Saturday my daughter and I went to Halibut Point State Park, one of the best places to get a good view of the geology of the area. At Halibut Point you can also see the opportunity that came from ledge–the quarrying of the granite, most of which ended by the 1930s. One of the characteristics of granite is that as it is exposed, and the pressure of the weight of material that was on top is reduced, it breaks off in layers, much like an onion. This process is called exfoliation, and it makes is easier to quarry.
I live on ledge, which is part of a suspect terrane that originated in Africa. I have always wanted to visit or live in Africa. Does this count?