World History and the Meaning of Being Human – A Town and its Trees – by Ellen Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

World History and the Meaning of Being Human – A Town and its Trees – by Ellen Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

(Brule Bog, Solon Springs, WI)

There is something about a walk through the forest that really clears the mind. Even on a humid July morning, when the ground is muddy from rain and mosquitoes are nipping at your shins, it brings peace. Wandering through Solon Springs, Wisconsin, a person can get lost in a sea of green, a team of age-old pines watching over the town and casting shadows on the lake below. This is where I- following the footsteps of my father and grandfather- spent summer weekends growing up.

The natural beauty of this area would not exist, however, without the help of one man: Nick Lucius. I was told as a child that Lucius was a prominent, wealthy member of the town and a true lover of the woods it harbored. When loggers came in and sought to clear the area, he bought up miles’ worth of forested land, saving it from being razed and setting it aside for everyone to enjoy. Just like the Lorax, he spoke for the trees. To this day, people tied to the town continue to preserve the land, protecting it as extensions of themselves. The legacy of and appreciation for Lucius can be still be seen around, through a campground and roads that carry his name.

While this founding myth may not be based on divine intervention or involve a mystic act, it bears semblance to the creation myths of Hinduism’s Purusha and the Barasana River people. As in the Hindu myth, the story of Lucius emphasizes the importance of the natural world as an element of human life, echoing in sentiment the emergence of wind from Purusha’s breath, and earth from his feet. Lucius’ myth similarly reflects that of the Barasana, connecting generations through the preservation of a treasured land. While the Barasana go so far as to suggest that we are one with our ancestors in time and space alike, the Lucius myth merely highlights the idea that our lives have been made better by the actions of those who came before us. Nevertheless, the deep, arguably spiritual connection between people and their land can be seen in the Lucius, Purusha, and Barasana myths alike.

The existence of myths like these is central to the human experience. As sentient beings, we are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us, looking for ideas that connect us to the people and places we are attached to, and give purpose to our actions. This is what separates us from other species. Without any foundational myths- any sense of who we are and where we come from- we would be hard pressed to find this direction or belonging in our lives. As we have discussed in class throughout the semester, nothing today seems sacred. By paying close mind to the stories that build us, we can pull insight from the morals they harbor, pointing us to something greater than ourselves.

From Professor Liang’s Spring 2017 World History I class.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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Filed under History, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Professor Liang's Classes

34 responses to “World History and the Meaning of Being Human – A Town and its Trees – by Ellen Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Diana Deuel

    Hi Ellen,
    This article if full of beautiful thoughts. I think it is really awesome you are able to share this place with the memory of your grandfather and great-grandfather, it is so important for humans to be able to connect with the living and those who have passed. I believe nature to be one of the more powerful forces in the world, It can be calming and really help one find themselves. I really enjoyed when you mentioned that we find like to figure out the world by connecting it to the things we care most about. I hope humans always treasure the past and continue to learn and take care of special places like Solon springs.
    Thank you!

    • DyAnna Grondahl


      Thank you for this article and the refreshing anecdote you provide at the beginning. It is wonderful to hear about such human care for the planet. Humanity’s connection with the earth is an astounding part of our existence, and I regret that not everyone has the opportunity to grow up with the chance to foster a personal relationship to nature.

      As a Dignitas TA, I have thought about human nature extensively, and one thing that comes up in seemingly every religious tradition is some sort of idea of caring for the earth. With human nature and spirituality rooted in human nature, I find it puzzling that human beings still quarrel over environmental issues. Ultimately, I would argue, the story of Nick Lucius and his impact Solon Springs shouldn’t be a heroic and beautiful story. It shouldn’t have to be a story at all, really. Nick shouldn’t have had to buy up all that land for the sake of saving it from ruin at the hands of humans. But at the same time, I think about human progress and the motives behind acts like logging, mining, and all the other environmental atrocities, and I wonder, how do we fix it? How do we continue to move forward while caring for the environment? What drastic changes are most important to resolving our destruction and preventing further toil? I also often worry. If we can’t get humans to care about other humans, how do we get humans to care about the world?

    • Reid Peterson

      Thank you, Ellen, for this awesome report on such an interesting topic of world history and the deepest meaning of being human. As a devote Catholic, nature is place for me to see God in the world. Connecting the physical world and spiritual world together is a significant task for those that are religious to truly feel and comprehend the presence of God on Earth. For many people who are religious, many usually have experienced an out of body/spiritual experience that awakened the soul and that person felt the presence of a high force/power in the midst of your surroundings. Nature has the ability to acknowledge this inner feeling that is so power for one person to take in. Like you said, Ellen, myths are essential to the human experience all together. Now, by myth I do not mean “not true” or “fantasy”. Instead, myth implies that something happened that does not follow the laws of nature. These experiences are so crucial for the mind to let itself roam out to the mysteries of the world. Our conscious is, in my opinion, the most mysterious part of life there is. Our conscious allows us to feel emotions that are not explained though the basic understandings of life, for example: Love. Love is a feeling and emotion that is incredibly illogical, but it is an aspect of life that transcends the human being into the mysteries of the beyond.

    • Maria Nowak

      Thank you Ellen! This is a very beautifully written article about beauty and wonder and preservation. I think our society takes for granted the natural beauty around us. We want to keep building, expanding, tearing down, reforming everything that once was before us, in order to maintain this consumer world. This mindset has a dangerous affect on people in our society, is there any way to step away from it? I especially liked the imagery you set up in this article. It reminds me of one of my favorite places on this planet, which is my cabin. My cabin is in a small town in Minnesota, and I just go there to enjoy nature, spend time with loved ones, and gawk at the natural wonder. Is there any way to go back to such a simple lifestyle?

  2. Hannes Stenström

    Thank you for this both very eloquent and interesting article! It seems to me as humans and nature have been interconnected for almost the entire history of mankind, mostly because of the obvious reason that nature has set the boundaries for our terms of existence. However, as a parallel to your story, we now have the ability to shape and harm nature as we please, for example via extensive logging. While this enables us to drastically improve our standard of living, it will most often not come without a cost to our environment. I guess that this is the theme of the religious texts you mention: that humans must realize that the power we wield comes with a great responsibility, and that there might be values tied to nature that are greater than the mere profit one can make from exploiting it. It does however seem as the age of consumerism has drastically increased the need for people like Lucius to protect our environment, as calls for governments to reduce CO2 emissions among other things are frequently ignored.

  3. Jacob Moran

    You do a great job of painting a beautiful picture of Solon Springs in my head. As Hannes pointed out in his comment, it seems as though some people are willing to put our environments at risk in order to make a profit or to make our lives easier. I feel as though we live in a time when consumerism holds the most importance to people so they are willing to put other factors at risk. I’ve always felt as though nature comes from something bigger than ourselves and that we must protect it. The myth about Lucius really makes one think about the importance of their actions and that we must strive to take care of this single earth that we has. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ryan Sauve

    I think that there is nothing better than taking a stroll through the woods to clear your mind. Sometimes, in some cities and places, it is hard to find trails and places to escape the reality of life. I am from northern Wisconsin as well, so I can vividly imagine the picture you paint. That is also why I love Duluth so much, because unlike many bigger cities it has many trails and places to escape into nature. I think that conservation will increase in importance in the coming future and I hope that more people decide to be like Lucius in the future. Great article!

  5. Megan Gonrowski

    Hey Ellen,
    I love how you connected environmental coexistence to a wider myth and human experience. I believe that western culture has a lot to learn from indigenous and native cultures because they have an ideology and spirituality that is connected and respectful of the environment. I’m currently pursuing a minor in Sustainability and it is becoming apparent that the current economic and global ideologies that dominate the world are not going to last us much longer. If we truly wish to continue as a human race then we need to give rights to the land and start supporting inter-generational justice. I see this idea of inter-generational justice in your writing because you mention that this place is in a way sacred to your family for multiple generation and that it will continue to be a place for your family in the future. Thank you for this thoughtful article.

  6. Matthew,D Koch

    Hello Ellen,
    I thought your article was going to be about more a more boring, route historical story. I was pleasantly surprised to see that your article worked out more in the artistic flavor. Artful language is something that too few people used nowadays in article. If everyone made articles that were as easy to read. This Nick Lucius character is someone that you characterize as an almost mythological being, but what I see is the actions of a normal human man, though they were great. Actions we take have lasting effects on the future, even if we can’t see what those effects are. Lucius was clearly a wise man to do as he did.

  7. Nicholas Burski

    Solon Spring seems like a really beautiful place to go enjoy nature. I love stories like the ones you shared that are about people doing very selfless things in order to preserve the beauty of nature. This is especially important nowadays when it seems like those areas are in danger of becoming parking lots or cities. Having myths like these make more people relate to a specific area and they may be more inclined to speak out about its protection. If more people had the chance to experience these wonderful areas, I think it would be much easier to convince them that they are indeed worth saving. Thank you for the great read!

  8. Owen Granger

    Thank you for your beautiful explanation of Solon Springs, I think we all have a place that we hold in this regard and understand what you feel. I think we all know that anything that can be commercialized will be and it takes people like Lucius to beat the system. It takes a very special human to use their resources to preserve the environment for future generations. I find it extremely commendable that the people of Solon Springs have been able to continue that tradition for generations.

  9. Dylan Brovick

    I really enjoyed your article on the trees and the story of Nick Lucius who protected them. I find trees to be very beautiful to look no matter the time of the year even though they are at their best during the fall when the leaves change colors. Also, there is something about being on a lake surrounded by trees that seems more peaceful then anywhere else in the world. I like some faiths connection to the earth such as Native Americans and how they worship the earth and everything that it brings to humans. I’ve always thought it is interesting how old and long some trees have been around and all of the human events they have stood for. Nature has always been something that is important to me and I think to many people because it will always have been there before we were around and it is very important. Lastly, I feel that more should be done to protect tree areas and other lands of scenic nature because it does have the power to invoke different emotions in many people as well as a great way to clear your mind.

  10. Jacob Kallenbach

    I really enjoyed the article along with the photograph. I think we all grow up on myths whether they are shared along a campfire with friends or passed down to us from our grandparents and the generations before us. I think that in the world today we get so caught up in being different from each other that we forget to see the resemblance. You just shared myths that are common all over the world and in different religions that share similar aspects. We forget sometimes that we are all people on this planet and are quite alike. I also like these stories because I think it is important to protect our environment for our future generations. These myths help spread the ideas of saving the environment and I hope that we can act on this and save our planet.

  11. Katrina Lund

    Ellen, I really liked your comparison of Lucius to the Lorax (my favorite book as a child) as well as your appreciation for the healing attributes of being in nature. It often feels as if we are so separate from nature and our everyday lives are so rarely intertwined with what goes on outside. It’s extremely cathartic for me to take time when I’m feeling overwhelmed to be outside and maybe read a book I enjoy. Maybe if people spent more time enjoying the earth it would be easier for them to respect it?

  12. william Brennhofer

    I love the myths that humans share all around the the world. I wish we had had more people in that time that would have saved our woods. Because the natural beauty is something that everyone still needs in their lives. I wish we could take more lessons from other people around the world. Because i feel like there are great thoughts out there that don’t get enough credit just because of where they are from.

  13. Joseph Ehrich

    Dear Ellen,
    This article was really interesting to read and I really liked how it concentrated on nature. Nature is one of the most amazing things that has benefited mankind and has enriched out minds with new ideas. Walking through the woods clears your mind of the troubles going on and has you focus on the beauty all around you. Solon Springs sounds like a beautiful town especially of the beautiful pine forest that surrounds it. Nature has helped me and other people make sense of the complex world all around us. The biggest thing nature teaches you, is that everything has a purpose and they all play a part in the bigger picture.

  14. Will Richardson II

    Thank you for this very intuitive, thoughtful article. I could not relate anymore to walking in the woods as a time to clear ones head, I do it all the time here on campus back in our trails. I like how you referenced myths and how humans are constantly trying to make sense of the world, and through different stories we can find new understandings of our realities. Nick Lucius sounds like an honorable individual and more people in our society could benefit from hearing his story, and potentially live a life like he did.

  15. Madina

    hi Ellen,
    I thought your article had some very great depth. A lot of times we tend to take things for granted just because were used to it being around so abundantly. I think that goes for the nature aspect and the myths. Nature is such an important part of the way we live and how we come to be. It surrounds us and i think its important that you brought that significance into your article. I think that more people should have a mindset like Lucius because those are the mindsets that really make a difference. Thank you so much for this interesting article!

  16. Ellery Bruns

    Hi Ellen,

    I loved your article! To me, the woods are the most peaceful place in the world. I love being surrounded by trees because of the calming, rejuvenating, at-one-with-the-world feeling I get whenever I take walks near them. I feel whole when in the forest as the rest of the world washes away. There is something sacred about trees, about nature. I wish more people were like Lucius and see the importance of nature and wish to protect it. Thank you for sharing!

  17. Linnea Moore

    Hi Ellen,
    This was a really interesting report about something that I think people in Minnesota tend to take for granted. The idea of small town myths are abundant and I partially think this is due to wanting to maintain a heritage for a given place and a nostalgic longing for a simpler time. I found it really cool that this town’s myths are tied to preserving nature as this is something I haven’t heard often. In my town, the name of our town is somewhat of a myth. I grew up hearing that “Madelia” was the name of a Native American Chief’s daughter, but as a child I just accepted this fact regardless of its truth. I haven’t done any research, but I find it really interesting that my town’s myth is connected to a symbol as well as your town.

    Thank you!

  18. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Thanks for this article, Ellen.
    I really enjoyed reading about the connectivity between people and environment. There are a lot of people, like the loggers, not regarding the environment for the important and ongoing sustenance that it provides to humanity and all other species. It is necessary for people like Lucius to take a stand for the environment because it cannot speak for itself. You and your community are critical to the future of the forest in Solon Springs; the more you utilize the land in a healthy manner and then write about it, the more likely people are to defend it. It is amazing how much appreciation you can gain for your surroundings simply by pausing to recognize their existence. In a world that is constantly buzzing with technology, it is hard for people to remember that the natural world is essential to life. Thank you again for this reminder.

  19. Ellen,

    Beautiful article about your hometown. I love how you called attention to myths shaping the way we view the world. I think many people devalue the power of myths because they’re “not real”, but their cultural significance is huge. I think it’s interesting that you found parallels between your hometown’s myth and myths associated with Hinduism. I’m sure there are countless Native American myths that would tie into these ideas of protecting nature for future generations as well. I’m glad your community seems to be so attached to its roots!


  20. Katelyn Fischer

    Hi Ellen!
    I enjoyed reading this article, because it brought back memories of my childhood and spending time with my cousins. We didn’t get to see each other very often, but when we did, we had a lot of fun. A favorite pass-time of ours was going to one of the state parks near my hometown and walking the trails. It was a great time just spending time together and away from all the electronics and technology we are constantly exposed to. I though it very interesting how you connected this little piece of home to the broader topic of myths and human experience.

  21. Alexandra Erickson

    What a wonderful, well-written article connecting the two myths and tying it into the overall human need for morals. We need to make sense of the world around us, which is where religion was formed. It is wonderful to find everyday stories where morals can be drawn from because in that way it seems more realistic. Nature is so beneficial to us, and it is inspiring that one man noticed that and devoted resources to preserve it. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Jane Kariuki

    Hello Ellen,
    Thank you for the beautiful article, I love it for its simplicity and power to capture one’s imagination. Looking at our political environment today people believe it is a matter of choosing a side when it comes to the environment. Some people see it as a matter of taking a walk in the woods and admiring its aesthetics while in reality, it is both that and keeping in mind the future generation. I think there needs to be a more push on focusing on the environment, which can start by taking a walk through the woods and passing that practice down to other people. When people learn to appreciate nature they will care about the effects if it is not taken care of. It is no secret that we are in danger if when do not realize what is at stake. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful article with simplistic yet profound ideas.

  23. Angela Pecarina

    Hi Ellen,
    Thank you for sharing this story. I agree with you that taking a trip through the woods can be very calming. l have thought this before while at my cabin, it is nice just listening to nature and not the city! My favorite sentence of yours was the last. It was very meaningful & deep.

  24. Kendra Trudeau

    Hi Ellen, I really think that the message that your article sends is a powerful and meaningful one. I think that most people, myself included, tend to become so busy in the day to day responsibilities that we all have in life. Sometimes it’s really hard to appreciate the more important things in life. I really took this article as a reminder to not forget to appreciate the small things we have been given in this life. I really like how you use the example of being immersed in nature as an example, because I think most of us have had this experience. The natural world is extremely complex, diverse, and beautiful, just like the human experience. It’s so easy to forget that there are bigger things than our own personal lives, but human life is so much bigger than ourselves.

  25. Marissa Mikrot

    This is such a beautiful article, Ellen! I love the ideas you put forth in the final paragraph. I constantly hear my youngest brother, who is six, tell stories from the bible of why things are the way they are. For him, these stories truly do give him a sense of belonging by explaining how he got here, just as you said. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, is myself who doesn’t follow a specific creation story of any kind. I love listening to them, though, and sharing them with my brother. In respect to belonging, how do those who don’t follow these traditions find their way of belonging?

  26. samantha willert

    Hello Ellen,

    Thank you for sharing your story. Nature is an amazing aspect that benefits our everyday lives. I agree that walking in the woods can really clear one’s mind. I love taking a hike when I need to clear my mind. The air feels refreshing and sometimes crisp, and the sound of nature is quite peaceful. With all the environmental problems arising, sometimes I do not think we deserve nature and all the wonderful gifts it gives us. I am hoping that someday, all minds can be opened to the knowledge of how much we need nature is our day to day lives.

  27. Anissa Kathryn Jones

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. I really appreciate the connection you made between the community members passion about the environment and Barasana river peoples appreciation for preserving nature. When you talk about how important nature is to you, it makes me think about what life was like at the beginning of time when humans first roamed the earth. I would love to travel back in time for a day and really appreciate the raw nature they got to experience, compared to our industrialized world today. I also loved how you mentioned that we are constantly trying to give purpose to our actions, which is what sets us apart from other species as humans. Beautifully written.

  28. Lexie DeWall


    Thank you for sharing a really amazing story of the earth and its natural beauty! It is so true when you mention that we are constantly trying to find purpose in our lives, and make connections between us and our surroundings. I feel as though people have turned to different religions to find this connection or meaning in their lives, and find reasons behind their doings. For example, “In most areas of sub-Saharan African and the Americas, it was not easy for ideas, institutions, peoples, and commodities to circulate broadly. Thus, we do not see the development of universalizing faiths” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 305). This shows that from people having different beliefs and rituals, affect their decisions and actions. So when some loggers want to cut down the trees, while others do not, this reflects their different rituals and beliefs.

  29. Hannah Holien

    Hi Ellen,
    Thank you for sharing your post, I found it very interesting to read! Your post drew me in because I love the outdoors and I do think that it is really good for your mind and soul. While reading, I was reminded of the how important creation myths are to humans. In the book “Worlds Together, Worlds Apart”, they state, “For thousands of years, humans have constructed, out of their values and available evidence, narratives of how the world— and humans—came to be” (Tignot et al., p 4). Humans need these myths to make sense of their world and to pass on from generation to generation. Thanks again for sharing your story!
    – Hannah Holien

  30. Tara Bighley

    Thank you for this wonderful post. It’s awesome that you are able to spend time with your family doing something that you all love. That’s a very cool story that has been passed down of the wealthy landowner who helped salvage the land and wilderness there. There are not many things that can quite compare to the beauty of nature. The way that you tied that story into myths and how we pass stories along is also very cool. Humankind would not be the way it is right now without myths and stories being passed on along generations. “For thousands of years, humans have constructed, out of their values and available evidence, narratives of how the world -and humans- came to be” (Tignor, 2018, pg. 4). It’s crazy to think that stories can get passed down for so long, it makes you wonder what kind of stories from our generation will get passed down to the generations after us.

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