Barkskins

Listening to an Annie Proulx’s Barkskins on audiobook while painting today, I think I am no storyteller. A poet, yes. Fleshing out characters for a story seems intrusive somehow, as though I were borrowing another’s eyes so that I might view the world in a different way. And in return, the spirits behind those eyes would have a right to claim real estate in my brain, intruding on what little peace of mind I currently possess in these crazy times.

Yet I am ever enthralled by the talented storytellers among us. Proulx at eighty-plus must have spent years researching the late seventeenth century forward, telling the tale of how abundant forests of the northeast, along with their original inhabitants, were impacted and stripped of a way of being forever. First the French settlers who came to New France (now Canada) to seek their fortunes in the lumber business and how they related to its native human inhabitants (the Mi’kmaq, pronounced Mikmaw). Then as lumbering migrated south into Maine and New Hampshire, the English imposing settlements where they wished, nevermind the tribes who had lived, loved and traversed these places for generations. The horrors of eminent domain, as these interlopers insisted the land belonged to whomever worked it – and they could not fathom how living in harmony with nature and residing in wigwams could possibly constitute any rights whatsoever. For the part of the Indians, they could not comprehend the white man’s obsession with surplus. One elder simply could not grasp why white men had to build such large homes with such high roofs – did they expect visits from giants? Confusion also stemmed from the concept of land ownership, something I’ve struggled with for years while holding title to my own real estate. Stewardship has always been our way of life, no matter where we’ve lived.

The relationships Proulx entertains possess the power to pull me into the story to the point that I find it difficult to put it aside. After thirty-four years in the Maine woods in a place known to be summer grounds for Wabanaki tribes, I only begin to apprehend the fullness of history of that place thanks to Proulx, although I always felt the magical nature of the forest. Knowing the varieties of trees from lumber families in that region, things begin to click. The land’s profusion of hemlock and birch stemmed from the clearcutting of more valuable species like white pine, maple and oak, which I was aware of in a general sense. Yet to understand those markets in a richer way is to finally mourn the loss of place in the name of displaced wildlife and native people. And even though Hawaii is clearly our home now, how could I forget those formative years in which I was lucky enough to reside that close to the heartbeat of Mother Earth’s woody breast?

 

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18 thoughts on “Barkskins

    1. It is true, the Wanderer and Warrior archetypes are alive and well. I never was a good history student – memorizing dates and battles just about put me to sleep in class, and I loved learning. But something told me the textbook accounts were lacking.
      Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of relating history, and my post is a nod to one of the most relevant storytellers in my own life. There are many others I also greatly admire, though their accounts are less relatable for me personally.
      Cheers, Eliza! Thanks for your contribution. Aloha

      1. You might like her. If you’re ‘from’ Maine or thereabouts especially. She was born in CT, but went to Deering High and Colby (for awhile). The Shipping News is another great book of hers, as is Brokeback Mountain, though she wasn’t thrilled with the movie’s reception and felt it did not convey her meaning in writing it – that of bringing homophobia and its injustice into the hearts of her readers. We all love her here 😉

      2. I didn’t connect the author with those titles. I read The Shipping News and enjoyed it, as did our book group, it made a good discussion. Brokeback Mtn. I did see, and felt the love and injustice, but movies stir me deeply, more so than the norm. Always have, probably why I don’t watch many!

    1. They surely do, Val. When I’m working inside (not in my gardens, in which I prefer silence) I always plug in an audiobook. I love reading stories to others as well as being read to. My husband on the other hand can’t focus with stories in his ear so he prefers music. Though he’s an avid reader, so I got him this book in hardcover 😉
      Glad you enjoyed the post! ❤

  1. Thank you for this post, Bela. It’s on a topic dear to my heart. I’ve never believed in “eminent domain”. (And yet my ancestors came here and homesteaded land and here we are.) We must never forget the history, and the travesties committed on indigenous peoples and the land. Gaia weeps.
    I’m glad you posted this. Sounds like a fascinating book.
    💕💞

  2. How did you ever leave . . . [Rhetorical Q]? I’ll assume it was for a greater beauty, were that to have been possible. May the new owners, when they come, dwell ever-happily there. With love, gratitude and best wishes, always, Hariod. ❤

    1. Yes, dear Hariod, good question. Our house was 1/2 mile into the woods on a rugged dirt road. In snowy and icy winters, it was just a lot of work. Easier here in lovely Hawaii. But this place will always and forever hold a place in my heart. ❤

  3. It seems that wherever there is beauty then, pain, suffering and loss has nearly always preceded it, Bela. Thank you for sharing and telling this story in a way that made it come to life for me. Love to you, oxo

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