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A Measure of Time and Place

This issue takes a holiday from the news. Instead, it focuses on photography and personal essays that evoke a sense of place. What is your Minnesota sense of place? How do you read the lands and waters where you find yourself? How do you get your bearings, take the measure of natural features, learn to care for a place and its natural resources?

These are questions to consider as you look at the landscape photographs and read the essays in this issue. These are also questions to ask old-timers -- DNR field practitioners, hunters, and farmers who have walked, worked, and sat and pondered a place for a fair share of their lives.

Experience teaches that a place can only be truly understood over time. Photos can help provide a long-term perspective. A photographer snaps the present moment for a future look at the past. Thus, an old photo can offer a context for understanding the present.

A recent exhibit at the Bell Museum of Natural History illustrated the power of photographic records. Flashback: Norwegian Landscapes in Retrospect paired historic and contemporary shots from the same locations. For example, a photo from the 1880s showed farm fields with corn bundles drying on poles. In a 2004 photo, electric poles and wires framed the same mountain valley with fields now covered by trees (no longer cut for wood-burning). The exhibition brochure from the Norwegian Forest and Landscape Institute said: "By visualizing landscape changes over a period of 125 years, we hope that those who influence landscape development will become more conscious of the consequences of their actions and choices."

Photographs may show a time and place we wish to preserve. Craig Blacklock's book Minnesota's North Shore collects photos taken over two decades. For "Reflections of Gichigami," art director Lynn Phelps selected some of those images from winter through fall.

Though the depictions of the lake's power and beauty may seem timeless, Blacklock wants the viewer to appreciate the fragility of these shores and waters. His book closes with a photo of a house being built on shore and an essay calling for more mindful, well-managed development.

In this issue Mike Dvorak's photo essay, "Deep Woods Trout," captures an outdoor tradition he'd like to preserve. His pictures chronicle a fly-fishing trip in the Boundary Waters. Whether the images spark memories or dreams, the viewer has a chance to relive the experience.

Dvorak's portrait of an old-time hunter opens "This Old Farmland." Like a family photo album, the following pages show Eldor Omdahl at home in his kitchen and out on his land. In his accompanying essay, wildlife manager Blane Klemek recalls coffee and conservation with Omdahl, who has spent nearly a century caring for his corner of the earth in northwestern Minnesota.

Gary Alan Nelson's close-ups display the grandeur of ancient birches, pines, oaks, and maples in "Walks in the Old Woods." The viewer can imagine wandering among the imposing boles in four old-growth forests. DNR ecologists Chel Anderson and Steve Wilson guided Gustave Axelson on walks in these northern forests, and his four essays take readers along too. These longstanding field practitioners give clues for identifying old specimens. And they lend insight into how the natural communities of plants and animals came to be. Through their eyes, one can see an old-growth forest is not simply a relic of the past—it's an ever-changing ecosystem.

The dynamic nature of landscapes may escape us because we don't see what happens over time. We start measuring change from the time of our arrival in a place, suggests Scott Lanyon, director of the Bell Museum. When Lanyon moved from Chicago to Minnesota, he said he was initially delighted to discover loons calling and bald eagles soaring near his home in suburban Lino Lakes. Then he met Art Hawkins, a longtime resident and retired wildlife biologist, who had a different perspective. Hawkins had witnessed decades of wildlife habitat losses in the neighborhood.

What is your picture of this place called Minnesota? As this year ends, how might you measure the changes on its lands and waters? And how might you influence its future?

Kathleen Weflen, editor
kathleen.weflen@state.mn.us

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