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A book of his own: Activist and voracious reader Barry Babcock publishes 'Teachers in the Forest'

“Teachers in the Forest" is filled with Babcock's stories about living in the northwoods, communing with nature and lessons on preserving the environment.

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Barry Babcock has been a voracious reader since he was in grade school. Now he has written a book of his own titled "Teachers in the Forest."
Maggi Fellerman / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — When Barry Babcock was in elementary school he often spent his lunch money on books instead of food. Now 73 years old, Babcock has written a book of his own.

“All my life I’ve been a compulsive reader,” Babcock said while sitting at his writing table in his home in Wolf Lake. He joined the Weekly Readers Book Club and would use that lunch money to buy books. “I didn’t dare tell my folks. I’ve always been deeply interested in history and in literature.”

His own book is titled “Teachers in the Forest: New Lessons from an Old World.” It’s filled with Babcock's stories about living in the Northwoods, communing with nature and lessons on preserving the environment.

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Barry Babcock recently published his first book, “Teachers in the Forest: New Lessons from an Old World.”
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The author, an environmental activist, widely credits three teachers: 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, how I see the world,” Babcock said. “I went to Stillday’s teaching about the Seven Grandfathers. I just got to see the parallels between that and a lot of Christianity beliefs. It’s an earth-based religion, but it’s still about being a good person and living in harmony with the natural world. Not harming it, not dirtying our waters, all that.

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"I got to see that Larry and Aldo Leopold arrived at the same assumption about how we should live. One got there through academics and the other got there through spirituality.”

Babcock also writes extensively about his relationship with trees, plants and wild animals from his nearly 20 years of living in a small log cabin near Laporte.

“When you look at these animals, how they care for their young, how social they are, all of that just became so obvious to me,” Babcock said. “The elders tell us that the animals talk to us, but they don’t talk to us in our language. We have to learn how they’re communicating with us.

"There’s so much that I saw in wildlife that often makes me ask, ’Are we really the most advanced species?’ They don’t harm the world they live in.”

Babcock was born in South Dakota and grew up 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 said. “In the book I write about going across the lake and seeing the sun come up, seeing a shooting star, mallards coming at us, seeing the flame come out of the gun at dusk. All that just had a real impression on me. I thought, ‘This is beautiful here.’”

He got a job with a log home builder and eventually built his own, a small 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 at the cabin, which had no running water and a wood-burning fireplace for heat.

He put in a solar system, cut all of his own wood for heat, had a garden, harvested wild rice and tapped trees to make maple syrup. On cold winter days, trips to the outhouse were a bit challenging. But Babcock considered that a minor issue.

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“All of our vacation time was spent up here,” he said. “We really lived on the cheap. I’ll never regret it. It was the most rewarding thing I ever did in my life.”

Readers of “Teachers in the Forest,” which is available on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, will get a sense of what life was like for the Babcocks during their time in the woods.

“My hope is that they would see the world as something more than a commodity,” he said, “that it’s what sustains us all, the air we breathe, the food we eat, everything.”

Related Topics: BOOKSNORTHLAND OUTDOORS
Dennis Doeden, former publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer, is a feature reporter. He is a graduate of Metropolitan State University with a degree in Communications Management.
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