Outdoors North

Not hard becoming attached to location

John Pepin, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

I have recently been thinking about why some places I visit for the first time tend to make a lasting impression on me and others don’t.

It’s kind of odd.

For example, I can experience two similar-sized lakes in settings very much resembling each other in surrounding forest makeup, directional orientation and all the rest of the rudimentary descriptive details.

Yet, I might get a sense of some type of attachment while at one lake and flat nothing at the other. It’s a pretty place and everything, but nothing makes me think I need to return to the site to experience more of what I found there.

At the first lake, the attachment can grip me almost immediately and it never lets me go. It will become a place I hope to return to repeatedly.

Sometimes, in these instances, I can feel almost uneasy being there at first, like it is some kind of haunting happening or other supernatural activity taking place.

It’s like there’s something different in the taste or temperature of the wind or something happened there long ago that I am somehow sensing on an intrinsic, subliminal level.

I can’t explain it.

It’s just a weird feeling.

Other times, it’s a sense of the silence or other character of the place that appeals to my regular sensibilities — those mainly being finding a secluded place of peace and quiet and an opportunity to soak up all that nature can provide to a curious and weary traveler on any given day.

On still other occasions, it will be something that happens while I am visiting the place that sets the process of attachment in motion.

This is a common occurrence.

I might spot a moose or a wolf or a bear, something that provides me with an unforgettable experience throughout the course of perhaps just a couple of minutes or even less.

I could detail these types of instances from many places I have visited and returned to. I think my brain is thinking that if something that cool happened once in this place, maybe something similar, or ever better, might be apt to occur if I go back there.

As I scan my memory to see what jumps to mind, I recall a day when I was out with an old bush-beating trout fishing buddy when I stopped the vehicle to examine some fresh wolf tracks pressed firmly into the mud of a logging road on a warmer than regular early spring Saturday morning.

Instantly, all those details come back to me, even remembering what day of the week it was. The seeing, investigating and photographing of those tracks proved to be an indelible experience for me – one of thousands or more.

I remember when I was a kid riding around in the backwoods with my mom and dad and my brother and sisters. One time, we came across a green and grassy clearing where we stopped the car to watch a bear sow and two cubs playing around an old, dead tree.

We returned to the place on more than one occasion, at around the same time in the evening, on a ride in the bush after my dad’s work and supper, being able to see the bears each time.

I often recall standing in a trout stream casting my line when I heard what I would call an almost “mewing” sound coming from the tall grass behind me on the stream bank.

A couple of minutes later, a fawn stuck its head through the grass to cock its head and look at me. It kept making the sound as though it thought I was its mother.

Then, after only a minute or so, it pulled its head back through the tall grass into hiding. Gone.

I’ve had numerous sightings of beautiful and mysterious owls of numerous species, on deeply engrossing experiences, at the various places I’ve lived or visited across the country – burrowing, barn and pygmy owls in California, whiskered-screech and elf owls in Arizona and snowy, saw-whet, boreal and short-eared owls up here in the great North Country.

In some cases, these happenings occurred decades ago, but I can still recall the details quite easily and elaborately. The sightings and experiences might not have meant much to some, but they were significant to a nature lover like me.

In turn, the experiences made the places where they happened special too.

So, if I go to a place and nothing helps me attach to the location, it’s harder for me to want to return. For some reason, if nothing happens it seems less likely that something ever will.

Of course, this notion is more than likely way off base.

Nonetheless, I find myself falling into this line of thinking if I’m not careful.

I admittedly need to actively remind myself to keep thinking of possibilities, positivity and the manifestation of good things and occasionally, even great things.

I need to keep my black dog at home under, or tied up to, the porch or he tends to snap and bite at me until I succumb to his negative way of thinking.

Winston Churchill famously had a black dog too.

So did Sherlock Holmes.

I guess I’m in good company.

Another sense I get when I form an attachment to a place on an initial visit is how much time I have on that day to visit. If I need to be someplace else before I’d like to leave, I have a notion of more exploration left to come back for.

The geographical location of a place might also help predict whether I will return one day in the future. For example, if I find a lake close to home to sit and listen to the birds or watch the water, it’s more likely I’ll return more often than to a similar water body 60 or 120 miles away.

I might also like other natural features situated close to a new place I am discovering for the first time. There may be a string of secluded lakes nearby or favorite trails or other haunts I like to keep to myself.

If that ability to keep something special to oneself, including thoughts, still exists in this modern world of technological tracking, hounding, sensing, bothering, finding, corrupting and exploiting.

I sometimes think if I was offered a million dollars free and clear or one entire day of complete silence and disconnection, I’d gladly return the money.

Weather conditions when finding a place are also a factor in determining if a connection will be made. If the day is extremely windy and cold or unbearably hot and humid, my appreciation of the experience there might not be as favorable as it would have been under more comfortable weather conditions.

Finally, I think I predetermine some of the odds of whether I will become attached to a place or not by usually doing my homework ahead of traveling to a new place.

I like to read about places or study maps to find topographic features similar to others I’ve enjoyed previously, before heading out. I also have a lot of curiosity about where roads go that I might have seen for years and years, but never traveled.

Some of this study leads to several places I might want to try to get to and explore before a day is done. Most often, on these trips, I have more that I want to do and see than I have time for, even if I have the whole day to myself.

There are places I have never been to even though they have been on my “bucket list” for years. This list includes numerous national parks, several states and, much closer to home, countless backwoods Michigan backroads, creeks, lakes, bluffs, valleys, plains and beaches.

Many of these types of topics I decide to think about, like this exploration of what makes one place special and another not, often lead me to the same conclusion.

That recurring revelation is that I need to spend more time exploring and taking opportunities to get outdoors instead of dragging around the house or worse yet, wasting away in bed on a Saturday morning.

Find yourself in nature.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outdoors North is a weekly column produced by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources on a wide range of topics important to those who enjoy and appreciate Michigan’s world-class natural resources of the Upper Peninsula.


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