The Lost 40

In Reflect

“There is a hush that lays over the air in an ancient forest. The secrets she keeps coaxes silence from you in the hopes that she might reveal one.” – D.T.

Truth be told, I didn’t know about the Lost 40 until about a month ago. Yet once we discovered that in Minnesota there was still a small section of 40 acres of untouched, sacred woods, I couldn’t wait to experience it.

The story goes…
In 1882, a land surveyor by the name of Josiah A. King, and his three-man crew, traveled 40 miles from the nearest white settlement called “the Grand Rapids of the Mississippi.” For a month, canvas tents were their homes, and flour, pork, beans, and dried apples their rations. Josiah and his crew were finishing the last of three contracted townships in one of the first land surveys of Minnesota’s north woods.

As the November winds blew around the crew, they surveyed a six square mile area between Moose and Coddington Lakes. Perhaps it was the chilling weather, or all of the desolate swamps around them, but the crew became confused, and they ended up plotting Coddington Lake about a half mile further northwest than it was actually located. Josiah’s crew’s error is Minnesota’s great fortune.

As a result, these towering pines were mapped as a body of water, and the virgin pine in this area was overlooked by the hungry logging companies. Afterall, what logging company would want to pay for swamp land. This parcel of land became known as “The Lost Forty” and went untouched by loggers. It is now managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources under their Scientific & Natural Areas Program.
(taken from the History sign at the woods entrance)

Kat and I drove up from Minneapolis through Duluth to the northern shore on our yearly Gatherhaus road trip. We then cut across the iron range and headed over to the Chippewa National Forest to experience the “home to one of the last stands of virgin, “old-growth” red and white pine in Minnesota that are up to 300 years old.” (MN fun facts)

The trees tower in majesty as if straight out of a Grimm Fairy Tale, reaching so high that many of the tree tops can’t be seen, reminding me how small we are in this life. I found myself whispering as not to disturb the creatures who hide among this lost and now protected woods. There is something evokably different about the air that settles under tall ancient trees compared to woods that are less than a 100 years old. This wood had a different sound to it, there was something heavy and solid there. The age of the forest speaks truth to time, and offers healing to those that make the effort to listen.

While Kat turned her creative eye to the woods to capture the enchanted forest on camera, I walked slowly holding my young daughter’s hand sensing the stories that lurked in the branches above us and the seedlings shooting up from the ground. The moss covered rocks begging to be touched. The leaves a blanket on the earth. It is alive and you hear the pulse. It is the remembrance of natural time. That growth in this place is known in the years and not in days or moments. The forest is filled with stories unexplored. Depth and mystery forever hidden. It is a natural world I am a foreigner of.  You can sense that the answers to our world are tucked away here in this sacred place.

These strong pines have survived tornadoes, hail, the deadly Minnesota winters, settlers, war, and drought. The strength in this woods was palpable. Not all in the forest were so lucky, as we noticed trees laid to rest on the ground. Yet their death brought food to animals, new moss to grow, and shelter for those seeking refuge.

This woods sits on Chippewa land. A historic snapshot of what northern Minnesota was before European settlers took over. Took what they wanted. Took the land. Took the trees. Took the animals. I saw with my own eyes what we have lost by taking so much, and missing the opportunity to live respectfully with mother earth.  I couldn’t help wonder about the tribe who lived here. What their stories were. What life looked like when you lived in and with the woods, instead of stripping her bare. (We weren’t able to connect with the Chippewa tribe this past week in order to hear and learn from them. It is our hope someday in the future that this would happen.)

Walking through a living and breathing piece of our state history gave pride in the way that has the ability to open your mind and understanding. To grow your knowledge and change your world view.

How do we protect more of our land?
How do we learn to live with respect for the original people who lived here?
What are the stories we are missing from our history because we have been too afraid to hear them?
What is my part in all of this?

Thank you to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for protecting this beautiful piece of land. For doing your part to ensure she can continue to inspire and tell her story. That her age can pass on wisdom and her tall pines can protect the creatures that find solace there.


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