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Photo by Hidehiro Otake

The Inhabitants of the North Woods


​1999 - 2001

Hidehiro Otake

## wolf ##



One morning, I woke up, went outside the cabin

and found fresh wolf tracks on a light coat of new snow.


## snowshoe hare ##



A snowshoe hare was running towards me from up ahead on the road.

She was moving ever closer to me in a constant rhythm.

She didn't seem bothered by my presence.

She got right in front of me.


In the end, she passed right by me with a straight face.


## otter ##

an otter family


I noticed something moving when looking across the frozen swamp.

Three long and black creatures were running together like tangled lines.

They threw themselves onto the ice and slid on their bellies looking around restlessly.

They rushed as fast as they could, disappearing over the beaver dam.


## beaver ##

i'm home


I saw the bush swung on the opposite shore,

and a beaver came down with a young aspen tree between his teeth.


He went into the water and carried it swimming.


On his arrival to the beaver lodge,

three children came out and started chewing twigs noisily. 


## spider ##



It can walk on a wall and hang from the ceiling.

It can walk on a quaking lake lightly and quietly.


## gray jay ##



It was a beautiful day.

I went for a walk into the woods carrying a wood chair from my cabin.


I took a rest sitting on the chair alone on bed rock covered by reindeer moss, and eventually I felt hungry.


The instant I took out bread and nuts from my pocket,

gray jays came together on pine branches.


## owl ##

great gray owl


As a swinging pendulum hanged from the gray sky,

she glided in an arc from tree to tree.


Grey jays started ranting on her the minute she paused on the top of a standing dead tree.

She looked up them, shook her head a bit, and started mumbling.


After a while the gray jays flew away and the woods became silent again.

Then she leaned forward and her yellow penetrating eye was fixed at one point.


The next moment she swooped without a sound,

I heard a thud from her landing site.



## mosquito ##



Similar landscapes go on for miles and miles.

It is hard to find a suitable spot for looking out far.

And, what's more, a compass doesn't work in many places on account of lots of iron.

If you lose your way in these woods...

If you have to spend a night without a tent...


Great hordes of mosquitoes will attack you all through the night.



## moose ##

a moose of dawn


I was waiting for a moose by the swamp before dawn.

There were fresh and huge foot prints all over.


A black shadow appeared from the woods on the farther shore.

It crystallized to an animal's shape.

And a huge bull moose was standing there out of nowhere.


He jumped into the swamp,

plunging his head into the waters,

and stuffed his mouth with waterweeds.

The crystalline sound of water dripping from his mouth rippled over the misty morning woods.


I wondered,

a waterweed is a moose?

a moose is a forest?


The boundary dissolved blearily.


## black bear ##

get out


The moment I went back to the animal trail to retrieve my pack,

I saw swinging bush in front of me, and was surrounded by the big noise of breaking twigs.


Then a huge black bear appeared on the rock just ahead of me and glared and barked at me.


His bark got to my bones and I got goose bumps all over.


I totally understood he ordered me to get out.

Even though we couldn't communicate with words.

# Written in English by the author. (English translation advice by Marek Lugowski)

about the work

About the work


(Introduction from the old website, at the time it appeared.)

The creatures which appear in this essay are inhabitants of the North Woods in Minnesota, where the author frequently visited and stayed over three years. The North Woods is a huge stretch of lake and forest country from the north of Minnesota to the Arctic Circle in Canada.


In May 1999 the author Hidehiro visited the North Woods to meet Jim Brandenburg (a nature photographer) and to encounter the wolves which appeared in his works. He met Jim after an eight-day trip by kayak, starting from a small town Ely. Jim introduced his friend, Will Steger, who is a polar explorer. It was in Will's small vacant cabin in the woods that Hidehiro ended up spending a total of thirteen months on repeat visits from 1999 to 2001.


He took many pictures in the North Woods. The pictures of trees, plants, landscapes of deep forest, animals and birds remained in his hand, and the experiences of living in the woods became part of him as a result of the three years. These texts are a record of what he saw in the North Woods -- captured in another way than pressing a shutter.


You can read all the creatures on our old website.

Book version of The Inhabitants of the North Woods.

Otake bio

Hidehiro Otake

Born in 1975. Graduated with a degree in sociology from Hitotsubashi University. Since 1999, his main field has been the boreal forest of North America called “The Northwoods”. His photographic subjects are landscapes, wildlife and First Nation culture. Otake’s works have been featured in major media including National Geographic Japan, Canadian Geographic, the L.A. Times and NHK. He has published six children's books (published by Fukuinkan Shoten) including “Living in the Northwoods”, “The Watching Woods” and “Looking for Spring". He also published an account of his first trip to North America titled, “And then, I went on a journey. It began in the Northwoods”, which received the 7th Tadao Umesao Mountain and Exploration Literary Award. He was also the winner of the first prize in the nature category at the NIKKEI National Geographic Photo Prize 2018. Otake published a photo book, a compilation of his 20 years' work, titled “The Northwoods; The Land that Gives Life” in 2020.  He won the Domon Ken Award for the photo book in 2021.




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