Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

The Lost Forest

The Lost ForestHow many books can you name that are about sur­vey­ing … and a mys­tery? I know. Right? And yet we see sur­vey­ors every day in fields, on busy street cor­ners, and in our neigh­bor­hoods. What are they doing? Would it sur­prise you to know that near­ly every acre of your state has been sur­veyed? That knowl­edge about those acres is record­ed on plat books and maps that peo­ple in gov­ern­ment and com­merce con­sult all the time?

What if 40 acres of old-growth trees (actu­al­ly 114 acres) were some­how record­ed incor­rect­ly by sur­vey­ors in 1882? What if those trees were left to grow, undis­turbed, because they appeared on maps as a lake? Then you would have The Lost Forty, which inspired The Lost For­est, by Phyl­lis Root, illus­trat­ed by Bet­sy Bowen (Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press).

So inter­est­ing to learn how those sur­vey­ors worked, the instru­ments they used, the cloth­ing they wore to fend off the snow, sun, and insects. Then the author invites us to think about the chal­lenges of sur­vey­ing:

If you have ever walked through the woods
you know the land doesn’t care
about straight lines.

This book’s for­mat is tall, just like those old-growth pines, and it con­tains all kinds of infor­ma­tion that will fit beau­ti­ful­ly into your STEM cur­ricu­lum.

The writ­ing is engag­ing, telling a true sto­ry and invit­ing us to use all of our sens­es to explore the sto­ry. Bet­sy Bowen’s illus­tra­tions cause us to linger, exam­in­ing each page care­ful­ly.

from The Lost Forty, text copy­right Phyl­lis Root, illus­tra­tions copy­right Bet­sy Bowen,
used here with the per­mis­sion of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press

In the back mat­ter, there’s a list of 15 trees, flow­ers, and birds that may live in old-growth forests. You and your fam­i­ly can trav­el to The Lost Forty Sci­en­tif­ic and Nat­ur­al Area in the Chippe­wa Nation­al For­est to con­duct your own expe­di­tion, using the book to iden­ti­fy these species.

In addi­tion, the book offers notes about how land is mea­sured (fas­ci­nat­ing … and some­thing you could do as a field trip), How to Talk Like a Sur­vey­or (“mean­der line”?), and How to Dress Like a Sur­vey­or (prac­ti­cal). Do not miss Bet­sy Bowen’s illus­tra­tions of Phyl­lis and Bet­sy on the last page!

Two admirable pic­ture book cre­ators, Phyl­lis Root and Bet­sy Bowen, have teamed up once again to bring us a fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful book about those incor­rect­ly sur­veyed acres of trees. Bookol­o­gy asked them how this book, shar­ing an unusu­al his­to­ry, came to be.

Phyllis RootPhyl­lis Root, author:

I was work­ing on a count­ing book, One North Star, for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press about habi­tats in our state and the plants and ani­mals that live in those habi­tats. That led me to Minnesota’s Sci­en­tif­ic and Nat­ur­al Areas (SNAs), and on a trip north to vis­it the Big Bog I made a detour to see the Lost Forty SNA and was enchant­ed. The trees, some four hun­dred years old, tow­er so tall that it’s hard to see the tops, and the trunks of some are so big it takes three peo­ple to wrap their arms around. Since then I’ve gone back at least once each year, not only to see these amaz­ing trees but also to look for the wild­flow­ers that grow around them—bunchberry, moc­casin flow­ers, rose twist­ed-stalk, spot­ted coral­root, wild sar­sa­par­il­la, Hooker’s orchid, gold thread. Hik­ing in the Lost Forty real­ly is a trip back in time to before Min­neso­ta was logged over.

The Lost Forty

In the course of writ­ing One North Star, I also wrote a book about the bog (Big Belch­ing Bog) and one about the prairie (Plant a Pock­et of Prairie). I want­ed to write a com­pan­ion book about Minnesota’s forests but strug­gled to find a way in that would be both engag­ing and also spe­cif­ic. Because the Lost Forty is one of the few remain­ing stands of old growth pines in Min­neso­ta, and because the sto­ry of how it got lost was fas­ci­nat­ing, I began to write about it.

Most­ly I con­cen­trat­ed on the plants and ani­mals, with a nod to how the for­est got lost. I remem­bered a sign at the entrance to the Lost Forty that talked about a sur­vey­ing error. But my mem­o­ry mis-remem­bered, and I wrote sev­er­al drafts before real­iz­ing that the error was made not by tim­ber cruis­ers, the peo­ple employed by lum­ber com­pa­nies to esti­mate the amount of usable lum­ber in a cer­tain area, but by land sur­vey­ors. This led me to research the fas­ci­nat­ing world of the cas­das­tral sur­vey that mea­sured off most of the land in the Unit­ed States, step by step, acre by acre, sec­tion by sec­tion. The Bureau of Land Man­age­ment has dig­i­tal records that include the map and jour­nal of the crew who sur­veyed what is now the Lost Forty. For some rea­son (there are sev­er­al the­o­ries as to how it hap­pened) they mis-sur­veyed part of the for­est as a lake. Spec­u­la­tors and tim­ber com­pa­nies who stud­ied maps weren’t inter­est­ed in buy­ing lakes, just for­est, and so the site was over­looked for 76 years. I couldn’t track down the exact per­son who “found” the Lost Forty, but I did find a let­ter dat­ed 1958 that request­ed a re-sur­vey which dis­cov­ered those vir­gin white pines.

Per­haps one of the biggest real­iza­tions for me work­ing on this sto­ry was under­stand­ing that how we mea­sure land reflects how we treat the land: as a com­mod­i­ty to be bought and sold, often with no attempt to under­stand the organ­ic nature of the land itself. It made me so hap­py when one review not­ed that the book’s “implic­it mes­sage that the nat­ur­al world is some­thing more than a mea­sur­able com­mod­i­ty.”

I have always loved maps (although I am also fre­quent­ly lost). Just pour­ing over the names of places fas­ci­nates me, as does know­ing that maps are only an approx­i­ma­tion of real­i­ty, and that some­times maps delib­er­ate­ly lie. You can find the Lost Forty on maps now, no longer lost but pro­tect­ed for any­one to vis­it who wants to take a trip back in time. And it makes me think about what oth­er won­ders might not be on maps but still wait­ing to be found. v

Betsy BowenBet­sy Bowen, illus­tra­tor:

When this man­u­script came to me from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, I eager­ly took it on. I have lived on the edge of the north­ern Min­neso­ta for­est for over fifty years, and there are only a few places to see the real­ly big, old trees. I’d had the expe­ri­ence of canoe camp­ing in Cana­da and find­ing sec­tions of the for­est that felt like no one had ever seen it before, thick spongy moss, deep green light, and gigan­tic trees. There was a mag­i­cal sense to it. My grand­fa­ther P. S. Love­joy was a forester in the ear­ly 1900s and an ear­ly con­ser­va­tion­ist voice who made an effort to save some wild places for us all to expe­ri­ence. I loved vis­it­ing The Lost Forty and feel­ing like a lit­tle kid try­ing to put my arms around such a big tree!

I used acrylic paint on ges­soed paper, first paint­ing the whole page flat black, and then draw­ing with a chalky ter­ra-cot­ta-col­ored Con­té cray­on.  I had help from some present-day foresters to find the orig­i­nal old sur­vey notes that I could page through online, and pho­tos of the sur­vey crew in 1882. My father, a civ­il engi­neer, was also a sur­vey­or, still using the same equip­ment that Josi­ah used to sur­vey The Lost Forty. I remem­ber look­ing at the moon through his old brass tran­sit. My moth­er was a car­tog­ra­ph­er in the 1930s and ‘40s, and I gained my love of maps from her. 

I love the sense of dis­cov­ery in Phyllis’s writ­ing of this sto­ry. The book was great fun to work on. v

Our thanks to Phyl­lis Root and Bet­sy Bowen for shar­ing their cre­ative process with us, a process that result­ed in this impor­tant book. We hope you’ll trea­sure it as much as we do.

2 Responses to The Lost Forest

  1. Brends April 3, 2019 at 9:37 pm #

    Can’t wait to see this book! I vis­it­ed the lost 40 just last fall.…soooo inter­est­ing.

  2. David LaRochelle April 5, 2019 at 2:09 pm #

    After read­ing this inter­view, I want to pack my back­pack and make a trip up north to see the Lost Forty. Maybe this sum­mer! With these two tal­ent­ed cre­ators, I know this book is going to be a trea­sure.

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