I must have been ten or eleven years old when I first ran across the peculiar envelope that bore my grandmother’s shaky handwriting: “not to be opened until my death.” Tucked in her top dresser drawer amidst other valuables, its striking phrase burned into my memory at a young age. I don’t know exactly when, and I don’t know how often, but I know I visited the envelope numerous times, pondering what could be inside. What could be so important (or tragic) that it must be kept secret in this way?
I left Minnesota nearly twenty years ago, and yet it has never left me. The images in this project are artifacts of the myths and memories that have distressed me, challenged me, and shaped me.
There are the woods—a place of childhood adventures, and yet a place of fear, a place where things go to hide (or be buried). There are the rivers and lakes, sources of both life and death in my family’s story. There are the afghan blankets, hand-crocheted by my grandmother, objects that both comfort and conceal. There are also my grandmothers’ Bibles with evidence of struggles unspoken, prayers of sincere faith in a different reality.
But most of all, there is that envelope. I have never been able to shake the hold that piece of paper had over me. More than just a letter—I was haunted by what it represented. Loaded with latent meaning, yet withholding its story, that envelope is my experience of growing up in Minnesota. Northwoods Journals is largely about bearing the weight of secrets, living with the tension of things unknown, and searching for a different way forward.