June 18 – BEMIDJI – When Barry Babcock was in elementary school, he often spent his lunch money on books rather than food. Now 73, Babcock has written his own book.
“All my life I’ve been a compulsive reader,” Babcock said as he sat at his writing table in his Wolf Lake home. He joined the Weekly Readers Book Club and used that lunch money to buy books. “I didn’t dare tell my parents. I’ve always been deeply interested in history and literature.”
His own book is called “Teachers in the Forest: New Lessons from an Old World”. It’s filled with Babcock’s stories of life in the Northwoods, communion with nature, and lessons in preserving the environment.
The author, an environmental activist, credits three teachers largely: authors Aldo Leopold and Henry David Thoreau, and the late Larry Stillday, a spiritual healer from Ponemah who became a close friend.
“Larry Stillday, Thoreau and Leopold really contributed to who I am today, to how I see the world,” Babcock said. “I went to Stillday’s teaching on the seven grandfathers. I just could see the parallels between that and a lot of Christian beliefs. It’s a land-based religion, but it’s still about ‘to be a good person and to live in harmony with the natural world, not to harm it, not to dirty our waters, all that.
“I could see that Larry and Aldo Leopold came to the same hypothesis about how we should live. One got there through academics and the other through spirituality.”
Babcock also wrote extensively about his relationship with trees, plants, and wildlife from his nearly 20 years of living in a small log cabin near Laporte.
“When you look at these animals, how they take care of their young, how social they are, it all became so apparent to me,” Babcock said. “The ancients tell us that animals speak to us, but they don’t speak to us in our language. We have to learn how they communicate with us.
“There are so many things I’ve seen in wildlife that often make me wonder, ‘Are we really the most advanced species? They don’t harm the world they live in.”
Babcock was born in South Dakota and raised in Minneapolis, graduating from Southwest High School. But he was introduced to the Bemidji area by a friend and fell in love with the outdoors.
“I loved to hunt and fish,” he says. “In the book I write about crossing the lake and seeing the sun rise, seeing a shooting star, mallards coming our way, seeing the flame come out of the gun at dusk. It all really impressed me. I thought, ‘It’s beautiful here.'”
He got a job with a log home builder and ended up building his own, a little northern escape near Laporte. During his 21-year career at the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, Babcock and his wife, Linda Mae, spent as much time as they could in the cabin, which had no running water and a wood-burning fireplace for heating.
He installed a solar system, cut all his wood for heating, had a garden, harvested wild rice and tapped trees to make maple syrup. On cold winter days, getting to the outhouse was a bit difficult. But Babcock considered it a minor issue.
“All of our vacations have been spent here,” he said. “We were really living on the cheap. I’ll never regret it. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Teachers in the Forest”, available on Amazon
Barnes and Noble,
get a sense of what life was like for the Babcocks while they were in the woods.
“My hope is that they would see the world as something more than a commodity,” he said, “that’s what sustains us all, the air we breathe, the food we let’s eat everything.”