My Un-Monty-Don-Esque Woods

Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.

Monty Don, of craggy face and deep rich voice and calm confident demeanor, is the BBC’s in-house gardening expert, worth knowing if you are a gardener. And worth knowing if you are into travel. In addition to his weekly garden show, he has done several series where he helps non-gardeners develop their small yards and, my favorite, when he gives tours of great gardens of different countries, such as France and Italy. Of those I love the French tour most, in part because he travels around in post-WWII era Citroen, one of the more visually memorable cars. The French gardens are the highly structured masterpieces of topiary and shaped hedges and large fountains and looping pathways. The Italian ones are about as structured but do not appear to be so, cultivated randomness.

But it is the old English gardens which impress and irritate me. Garden on the English tour means large expanses of hundreds of acres where every tree, pathway, line of sight and folly has been developed to look ancient and natural, when it is not. The long lines of sight built into the landscape are masterpieces of faux natural. The beauty impresses me, but the bending of will to man irritates me, done by genius such as Capability Brown (1716-1783), original name Lancelot Brown. (Marketing was an art even in the 18th Century.) Brown’s face is shaped much like Monty Don’s, by the way.

Then there are the woods 20 feet off my patio, owned, except for the first 5-6 feet, by the city. Capability would rub his hands in glee on how he could change that abhorrent disarray. Not that I do not have a similar impulse, having been raised on a farm where the woods were managed as graze and woodlot. Our roads through the 85 acres still appear in my dreams.

My woods here is as wild and uncontrolled as woods in a city could be, mostly because of the ravine. Various parts of both Mankato and North Mankato are designated as Upper and Lower, meaning on top of the bluffs or below them where the ancient river Warren carved out a deep and wide valley in a matter of a few days.

The header photo shows the tangle at its worst or most glorious. They are the end of the woods where they point out into a small field of corn or soybeans, a la Ben. Those trees are not shaped that way by the wind, in fact they are bent right into the prevailing wind. I assume their need for sunlight made them arch out and away from the tall trees. It is a favorite place for deer to bed down. But even they struggle to navigate through my woods. There are several tall trees reaching their full maturity, about which there is a mystery I will not delve into. But when the leaves are gone (I took these pictures in April.) you can see the tangle of fallen and rotting trees down the sides of the raven, which gets deep very quickly, or up among the standing trees. Or you can see my corkscrew trees, as I call them, species unknown to me. They reach up like a middle finger in the face of Capability.

Trees are in all stages of life and decay.

Many visitors live or walk through the woods or the apartment building’s strip of grass.

Just three days ago I realized that at the base of one of the mystery trees a pair of squirrels have raised almost to maturity a litter of, I think, five kits. I caught them venturing out to explore, but only on their tree so far, and took this photo through the window above my computer.

I have sketched several parts of my woods. These two trees now are mush on the ground.

This spring a thick branch on one of the mystery trees broke in the high winds and got caught as a squirrel beltway. The next day the squirrels tested carefully before venturing out on this wonderful shortcut across an open space in the upper trees. Now it is their jousting ground and a trysting place, observation deck, escape route and attack route.

I could show and tell more, but I have overstayed my welcome.

Thoreau said he had traveled much in Concord. In what small area have you traveled much?

23 thoughts on “My Un-Monty-Don-Esque Woods”

  1. ” . . .traveled much” is an open-ended definition, so I’ll go with areas where I think I’ve visited and explored far more than average for me.

    I’ll start with the North Shore. Over more than 50 years of regular visits, I’ve probably stopped at every natural highlight on the shore, many of the motels, cabins, and campgrounds, hiked and or skied all the state parks, and stopped at probably every town along Highway 61.

    In a smaller area, the pandemic reduced me to a bike-riding enthusiast because I tired of walking all the usual paths and trails in town. So I explored much of Owatonna on two wheels back in 2020. I estimate I easily logged 500 miles up and down many streets I’d never ridden on, and many that I ride regularly.

    Finally, my two favorite hiking/ski trails are Kaplan’s Woods in Owatonna and River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Over 22 winters, I’ve probably skied KW 200-300 times and River Bend probably 400-500 times. I don’t do a lot of exploring on skis, but spring, fall, and the occasional winter hike allow me to stop and smell either the prairie flowers or the snow (or an occasional skunk). I’ve also had several one-sided conversations with deer and many two-way conversations (although unintelligible) with various birds who find me worth talking to for a few minutes.

    Beyond that, I suppose visiting the BWCAW 30-40 times counts as traveling much even though it’s a fairly large area and I rarely paddle the same route twice. But it’s merely 1100+ variations on the theme of water, sky, trees, rocks, and wildlife (which often changes depending on the area–moose aren’t ubiquitous, nor are river otters, and even the Trumpeter Swans seem to have lakes they prefer over others. The one constant seems to be the loons, which make any trip up there worth the effort. They are my favorite bird in the state and possibly my favorite bird of all time (at least I haven’t found a bird I enjoy and appreciate more.)

    Chris in Owatonna
    (impressed at his early-morning lucidity)

    Liked by 7 people

  2. Lovely post, Clyde. I suppose Rock and Pipestone counties, between the Hills turnoff up to Pipestone is a small area I used to be quite familiar with, east to Magnolia and Adrian, and west to Sioux Falls.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. My lawn is an irony for my post appearing today. It is covered with rows of white, red, blue and yellow flags. Now a pickup and trailer backed in followed by a little box on treads. They are laying fiber optics all through town. Maybe this will improve my wanky internet. One of the big gruff men just shook my bird feeder to level out tge seeds.
    A different kind of show but still a good show

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    There are two community dog parks my dog and I frequent. One of those has very rough terrain, including a ravine, so last year I could not handle that hike due to my hip. Maybe I can redevelop my ability to hike by the end of this summer. That would be nice because I enjoy it so much. In the winter time the high school cross country ski team uses that part to train due to the hills. For a period of time there was a big barred owl that lived there. The other dog park abuts a large lake, and there is a small pond where the dogs can swim. However, it is covered in algae by midsummer so the dogs emerge a fresh green color and with a fresh green odor.

    The mystery of these dog parks: Why do squirrels try to live there? Those squirrels are doomed to being chased by the dogs.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I have the same thoughts about bunnies in my fenced backyard. When YA was out of town, the “let Guinevere out for the last time at night” duty fell to me. 2 out of 3 nights, when I was about to let her out I saw a bunny right in the middle of the back yard. I knocked on the glass of the door – repeatedly. Obviously turning on the backyard light had frozen them. Both nights I had to go out (in my nightgown and zorries) and shoo the bunny out of the yard while Guinevere lost her mind stuck on the back porch. Even if bunnies aren’t bright, wouldn’t you think word of mouth would do it (“Psssttt… there’s vicious rabbit killer inside that fence”)

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Nice, Clyde. And I can just make out the squirrels on the last photo, thanks.

    In Robbinsdale we had the road down into Sochacki Park, where there were alternate walking paths (probably deer paths) between the main road and the railroad tracks. We became intimate with these – including where the path had washed away some and was a bit “risky”. We knew what flowers would appear, watched the spot where we had once found a single large morel mushroom…

    Here we know a Levee path pretty well, a few blocks away. And we have the 8-block route of our usual “constitutional” – it’s not daily, but we almost always travel the same sidewalks – sometimes picking up trash, stopping to see if there’s anything new in the Little Free Library, watching progress in people’s flower gardens.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. The little space I know isn’t nearly as prosaic as everyone else’s. I’ve worked right off 494 and 100 for 37 years… B Dalton Southdale, Software Etc (two different HQ locations near there) and now BIW. What that means is that I know the area between that crossroads and my house really well. I know about 20 different routes between here and there, including the best bike routes from when I used to bike in the summer.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Nice post clyde, Thanks for writing it!

    Our son and DiL were here this past weekend and we were talking about parts of the pastures that he wasn’t familiar with. He remembers going fishing down there, but he’s just not familiar with it.
    That’s an area I am familiar with and I have travelled much in there. But since selling the beef cows 20 years ago, I don’t need to get down there as much. It really helps that one of the neighbors has spent the last couple years clearing brush and buckthorn from that area and it’s a wonderful spot to walk around now.

    And then there’s our East Pasture. Another area I don’t get too very often. When we had beef cows, I’d get back there once a year to check fences, but other than that, there’s not an easy access; Can’t get across the creek with a vehicle except the 4 wheeler. And even now, there are tree’s down and I haven’t been back there in a couple years.
    And another corner is rented out to the neighbor, and there’s another creek to cross and I’ve only been in that corner a couple times in my life.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. I have a two-mile circuit I walk most days when the weather allows. Part of that walk takes me along the the edge of the bluff that overlooks the Mississippi and the steepness of the margin between the walkway and the river means that area is unimproved and rather wild and extends that way for many miles. Although I don’t see deer as I commonly did when we lived in Golden Valley and lived near another wooded creekside linked to larger woods, I have seen foxes and turkeys and we have had both opossums and raccoons in our back yard. Walking, I never wear headphones and prefer to take in the varieties of birdsong, especially along the river while giving over that time to free association of one sort or another.

    But the territory that defines me, the one I have traveled most in, as I expect Thoreau also traveled, is a virtual one delineated by focused reading and reflection over many years and made whole and tangible by the mesh of interconnections between individuals and events I have come to recognize and my own interpretation of those connections.

    Liked by 6 people

  9. I love that you have your own, unmanicured, small piece of wilderness right outside your back door, Clyde. What a lovely place to sip your morning coffee, or enjoy a late afternoon glass of wine.

    Unlike Bill, the virtual travel I do these days is mostly through ever changing landscapes of “wild” places where I’ve actually spent a lot of time during various stages of my life. What’s interesting to me is how many of these places I explored alone. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, that the places I explored alone left a deeper, more lasting, impression than the ones where I was in the company of others, and those are the places that still offer refuge when I want to escape from it all. Those landscapes I can readily conjure up in vivid detail, something I have never been able to do with places I’ve only read about.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Came back from clinic to see big whites Xs on three of the biggest mystery trees. I pointed out to Kevin how bad they are at the base. I guess will come down. Windstorm could drop them on the building.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My backyard is minus the two ash trees that have been there the whole time I’ve owned my house. It’s a little early yet but I expect it’s going to change the complexion of my backyard without that shade.

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Thank you those who came to my woods. My sedative today was stronger than ones I have had in the past. Finally have a clear head and a steady gate.
    My space was in my childhood the rocky hill on which I was raised and our pastureland below it. I learned much, flet much, found a safe place I have never had since.

    Liked by 5 people

  12. thanks clyde for a day in the woods
    i got to read responses through the day and typed my offeringvbut got interrupted and it was lost as often happens
    as a kid i had the suburban woods where the corn field across the street led to the path behind the masonic home to the woods that took you to the river
    at the river there were special spots that were destinations and held a special theme to revisit
    the marsh spring where watercress grew
    the open glen when the sun shines on the long grasses between the trees that were everywhere else
    the big ravine where we always had rope swings set up paths along the creeks that fed the river
    the rivers edge where the barges parked the woods and rivers always a part of it
    i have a couple place where i occasionally walk the dogs but mostly i think more about past visits than i enjoy current ones
    the past is such a delightful place to visit and it’s surprising where memory takes you
    i hadn’t noticed it so much when i was there

    Liked by 3 people

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