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.