My Kingdoms Stand – For Now

Today I read Peter Forbes’ speech, “Conservation in the Age of Consequence.” (Link) The message is profound, and the delivery is memorable. I’m a big speech nut, so I was hooked after the first page in which he asked:

Pause for a second. Think back to when you were 8, 10 and 12 years old. Re-connect with that place that most inspired you as a young person. Perhaps it was your grandparent’s farm, or a park, an urban garden, or a pond where you grew up, or a place that you visited just once. Now, show of hands, for how many of you would that place be impossible to find because it simply no longer exists

I thought for a moment about my childhood and four places came to mind.

The first was The Pathfinder School, which I attended from pre-school through seventh grade. At Pathfinder I was literally educated in nature. The campus is set in the woods along Cedar Lake near Traverse City, Michigan. Upon entering the school you’re greeted by a small office, a large soccer field and a fifty-seven step stairway that leads you to the upper campus. I know those stairs well, as I walked them several times a day for years. One of my most vivid memories of Pathfinder is shaking the snow off of a sapling pine tree on my way to third grade homeroom. I have returned since, and the tree, which was once no taller than my eight-year-old self, is now much taller. But it is still there! I remember another giant tree on recess that had a network of exposed roots that we used to climb on and run around. To my ten-year-old self, that was an amazing and fun tree. I remember the hall of cedars outside the science cabin. Two long rows down which my twelve-year-old self could run. Among all these trees were old buildings and cabins built of stone and wood, parsed together with slightly newer stone and wood. I could feel the unevenness – the effect of time on each and every classroom in which I stepped. The old brown carpeting worn thin by thousands of playful footsteps rose and fell with the ground beneath. It was in these buildings among the Pathfinder wood that I went from eight to ten to twelve. The fields, woods and people that I literally grew taller with.

The second moment that came to mind was hiking the end of Old Mission Peninsula with my father and our dog Sunshine. I have pictures of me in a blue nylon jacket and a hat that looks like a bear. I have the same intense stare then as you might catch me with now, should I be deep in thought. I remember little about the actual hikes back then, but I do remember sitting on a high wooden bench and eating a snack during the hike.

The third memory is biking through the cherry orchards to a general store called Underwood Orchards. My best friend for years, Todd Hale, who lived next door to me for much of my childhood would bike over with me. These trips are countless now, but vivid nonetheless. After obtaining permission from whichever parents were around, we’d set out on our mountain bikes through the tall and think orchard grass. Todd would head down one row of trees and I down another. Depending on the time of summer, there might be blossoms, yellowish cherries or dark red cherries. At the general store we’d sample fresh apple cider from the barrels implanted in the back wall before buying candy to fuel our ride home. Late in the fall, I would go there with my family to buy homemade donuts and cider after picking out a pumpkin to carve.

The fourth location (of many more) is Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Each summer, as a child, my family would travel to Ishpeming, Michigan to visit my grandparents, aunt, uncle and two cousins. The car ride was long and I left friends behind, but those many trips developed in me what is now a profound appreciation for the Upper Peninsula’s landscape and people. There is a rocky bluff behing my grandparents’ house in Ishpeming. I remember being eight, ten or twelve and hiking that bluff with my grandfather and father. Once, we picked wild blueberries, which I put in a small pocket of a new frog-shaped backpack I has just been given. By the end of the hike, there was blueberry jam in my backpack that left a huge purple stain on it that never came out.

Perhaps I am one of the lucky few that wouldn’t be raising their hand because my childhood memories had been leveled and developed into nonexistence. Sure, things have changed. Pathfinder has a new entrance that cuts through part of the old soccer field in which I ran and played, but the fifty-seven steps are still there as are the trees with which I grew taller. The trail system on Old Mission Peninsula has actually grown much larger and includes twice the trails that my dad and I hiked when I was eight. The cherry orchard has changed along with the general store, but not completely. Thankfully, they’re not all gone. In their place are new cherry trees, rows of grapes and a winery. As I said the other night, I’m fortunate that my back yard grew up with me. Finally, the rocky bluff behind my grandparents’ house in Ishpeming seems smaller now (I climbed it over Thanksgiving), but little has changed atop it or in the surrounding area.

None of the childhood experiences at any of my four kingdoms was a deliberate attempt to “be outside.” Rather, the beauty and space was there and I did my best to fill it with laughter and fun. In return, I am left with irreplaceable memories of an unparalleled childhood.

I’m convinced that my adulthood will be equally as magnificent, but I am starting to realize the enormous amount of perseverance and hard work that is and will be required to maintain that which I have taken for granted much of my life.

After being away for many years, I’ve made a conscious decision to return and stay in the area that grew me up. Like Forbes says in his speech, “The most radical thing one can do today is to stay put and really love a place.” I’ll spend a lifetime learning what that means and how best to protect the land that lies beneath my many childhood memories.

My kingdoms stand for now, but it’s up to me to ensure they remain.

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Attorney & Amateur Golfer

One thought on “My Kingdoms Stand – For Now”

  1. There are some places in WoW that are dear to me, but in WoW you can attack and kill anyone who encroaches upon your domain.

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