Conservation Minnesota

The Last Empty Places

Having just put down a book of that name by author Peter Stark, I started to think about Minnesota’s empty places.  And then I realized there aren’t any.

That’s part of the author’s point as he visits and probes northeastern Maine, north central Pennsylvania, southeastern Oregon and western New Mexico.  All are places on the map where roads and populated areas are scarce.  But Stark finds plenty of human and natural history everywhere.

You might consider the Boundary Waters an empty space, or maybe some quiet places out in what’s left of western Minnesota’s prairies.  But while there are no settlements in the former and few in the latter, each cannot be described as empty.  They are rich in heritage – including that of their original Native American inhabitants – and biological diversity.

It may be a small bit of heresy, too, to say no wilderness remains in Minnesota, either.  We have areas called wilderness but they might better be called primitive or natural areas.  Wilderness implies areas unshaped by humanity’s hand but it can be argued no such place exists in our state.  Logging captured nearly every stand of virgin timber. (Here’s an exception, “The Lost 40.” ).  And actions that take place far outside the local areas of wilderness – carbon emissions, for example – affect them.

These areas still have great worth.  Thriving through natural processes, they show us resiliency and they give us hope that we can promote that resiliency through intelligent management actions.  As refuges, they almost promote resiliency of our spirits.

A friend of mine who lived next to an undeveloped property objected to the realtor’s sales pitch that it was “vacant land.”  Right.  It had grasses, trees, bugs, birds and subterranean water.  There is no vacant land and there are no empty spaces except from a mercantile perspective. Minnesota’s farthest reaches are neither vacant nor empty. Life is everywhere, and that is nothing to mourn.

About Dave Dempsey

Dave Dempsey
Dave Dempsey is a resident of Rosemount and author of three books on environmental subjects. He formerly served as Conservation Minnesota's communications director.
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Nancy Heeman says:

Dave, i have resided in the upper peninsula(of Michigan) for the past 20 years. Recently saw an episode on TruTV with Jesse Ventura, about the fight over water. I used to live in the Lansing area about the same time you did. Seeing the water issue refreshed my memory in regard to the decimation of our state under Engler. I would like to know how to become involved in the continuing fight over America’s water rights. Please let me know of web sites, and other organizations to join pertaining to this fight.Thank you for all you have done in the past for conservation in Michigan as well as Minnesota. Nancy Heeman