A (b)log of learning through the science of nature

To the person who passes through this place…
my visit to Franklin Nature Trail


           It’s been about four months since I’ve moved to Eagle River, and a great deal of the surrounding area still feels new and curious to me. My method for settling in essentially amounts to finding something to explore every weekend. Last October, that something was the Franklin Nature Trail, a one-mile loop situated just about a half-hour east of Eagle River, Wisconsin.


            The trail wasn’t my idea—I certainly had no idea it existed (though the extent of my hiking research amounted to poking around on and clumsily asking my coworkers for recommendations). I had two friends visiting me that weekend, one of which used to stay in this area at Camp Nicolet with her family every summer. She asked if we could visit the trail her family used to hike, and we were happy to oblige. So, on a fortuitously warm weekend in October (mid-sixties!) we drove out to the Franklin Nature Trail.


            As a general, sweeping review—the trail’s fantastic for anyone who wants a short but vibrant excursion. The loop takes you through a tamarack swamp, a short boardwalk over a bog, and plenty of massive trees subjected to windthrow that make a grand spectacle to gawk at. Another highlight’s a clearing next to Butternut Lake with plenty of bench room for staring wistfully out into the waters (more of a warmer weather activity, to be fair). The last stretch of the hike’s primarily uphill which was a bit treacherous since it was covered in wet leaf litter, but certainly not insurmountable. Since the trail’s only a mile, we were in and out of there in about forty minutes total (a portion of which was spent on skipping rocks at the lake and the aforementioned wistful staring).


            Franklin Nature Trail also features 21 interpretive stops. There’s a pamphlet at the trailhead offering insights and explanations for each numbered sign along the loop. Admittedly, this aspect of the trail was glossed over on my first visit. My friend led us on an interpretive hike of a different variety—with stops informing us not of the ins-and-outs of the trail’s flora and fauna, but of their significance to her past with the place. There—on the log that sort of looks like a crocodile?—was the designated photo spot. There—on the start of a creek—the game Poohsticks would be played, a moniker which is significantly more confusing when heard spoken aloud. 


            Near the end of the trail, I saw a sign carved with a poem, pictured below:



           This poem, entitled “Prayer of the Woods,” is found on forest trails all across the United States. Originally, it was written in Portuguese in 1914 by a man named Alberto de Veiga Simões, an ambassador who helped persecuted populations during WWII. The original title of the poem is “Ao Viandante,” that translates “To the person who passes through this place.” It’s a poignant call to mindfulness during our interactions with nature, and its original title particularly resonates with me. Here's why:


            My brother told this story before his passing: during a difficult time in his life, he went for a walk to try and clear his mind. After turning one corner, a fox emerged on the side of the street and walked parallel with him for a time. When they reached the next intersection, the fox went one way, my brother the other. The story, the fox, they’ve become emblematic of grief in my mind, of the plain and difficult truth that every connection we make ends eventually—and more often than not, without warning.


            Still—my friend hadn’t walked that trail in years, but every familiar sight brought back stories of the time she spent. Every fox I see reminds me not of endings—but of how important my time with my brother was, no matter its impermanence. The hike and the Prayer of the Woods led me to reflect on how preserving these natural areas also allows us to preserve the memories stitched into their splendor.  


            So, to the person who passes through this place: you are here, you are gone, you are remembered. 


I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights,
the friendly shade screening you from the summer sun,
and my fruits are refreshing draughts quenching your thirst as you journey on.
I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table,
the bed on which you lie, and the timber that builds your boat.
I am the handle of your hoe, the door of your homestead,
the wood of your cradle, and the shell of your coffin.
I am the bread of kindness and the flower of beauty.
Ye who pass by, listen to my prayer: Harm me not.


  Author Jane Freely, WisCorps member and TFT environmental educator