By Kelli Carmean, Lexington, Kentucky, originally written for the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists Club.
In the chilly
morning of Saturday, September 29, some 25 hearty souls stood before the wooden
informational kiosk near the trailhead at Greenwood Lake Conservation Reserve. Unseen
below our numerous bundled layers, many of us had donned red suspenders, in
memory of the man with whom we were about to walk: my dad, Dr. Willard H.
Carmean. My dad died December 30, 2017, a handful of days before his 96th
birthday. Our family had moved him down to St. Paul, Minnesota, to be closer to
family, and into assisted living, six years before his peaceful passing.
bright autumn sun, the birch shone yellow and the maples red, and above their
brightness soared the majestic, always-green, old growth white and red pine
that my father so loved. He first came upon these majestic trees – now some 350
years of age – soon after he arrived in Thunder Bay to join the Lakehead
University’s School of Forestry, in 1979.
In 1992, Greenwood
Lake Conservation Reserve was officially created. In the years since then,
trails were cut, and the wooden kiosk built. It is my understanding that some
kind of unfortunate hiking mishap caused the TBFN to distance themselves from
the Reserve. My dad spoke frequently of how sad it was that the trails were
becoming overgrown, which meant the public could no longer learn from and
appreciate this rare forest. But by
then, we were urging and cajoling our dad to move, and finally that transpired.
summer of 2018, a group of volunteers led by Dr. Lada Malek, had taken up axe
and saw to clear trails at the Reserve. That morning before the wooden kiosk,
several speakers told of the uniqueness of this forest, and the history of the
considerable and ongoing efforts to Reserve it. Nearly everyone spoke of my
dad’s contributions. I spoke of my memories of him, and my surprise at seeing
the veritable family photo album displayed on the walls of the kiosk.
As we “Walked with
Will,” I did as Gerry Racey had requested of our group at the trailhead: Ponder
what Will Carmean saw when he walked through this mighty forest for the first
time. I will admit this was a hard task, as every time I gazed up at a mighty
pine crown, my heart ached. I also knew with a strange precision exactly what
my forester father would have been thinking on his inaugural visit of
discovery. He would have been thinking about how a hot, long-ago fire (he loved
the fire history story; I’d heard it many times) had produced this rare, shallow-soiled
boreal forest. He would have been contemplating how fortunate it had been that
many decades of logging operations had managed to miss it. He would already
have been considering how he could protect this place. My dad was never against
logging; his belief was that logging should be as productive as possible so
that important areas like Greenwood Lake could be spared the saw. He wanted as
many people as possible to see and admire the ancient trees of Greenwood Lake.
interred most of his ashes at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in St. Paul, we held
back two small vials to bring to Greenwood Lake for the Walk with Will. A short
distance along the Yellow Trail and to the right, in the space between the
decaying stump of a mighty pine and a moderately aged one, I lifted the humus
from the forest floor. There upon it my niece, Ms. Margot Thraen, one of Will’s
three grandchildren, and I scattered the last bit of ashes of a man who loved
this forest more than any other place on earth. I am deeply grateful that a
portion of him will always be there, nurturing new pines. He would be pleased
On behalf of my
family and my late, great dad, I would like to thank all the “Walkers” that
day, organizer Lada Malek, those who spoke, anyone who has ever been to
Greenwood Lake, anyone who has ever loved Greenwood Lake, and to all the future
visitors and lovers of Greenwood Lake. May this unique forest continue teaching
and inspiring a long succession of future generations.