“I do not know whether it is possible to love the planet or not, but I do know that it is possible to love the places we can see, touch, smell and experience.” — David Orr, Earth in Mind
This time of year makes me think about a sense of place, the terra firma of our region, our part of the world with its beautiful valleys, picturesque hill towns and historic mill towns.
I am fortunate to know many local folks who have an abiding love for their land, and each has helped me better understand the region’s natural resources.
These folks have taken the time to carefully observe and monitor the natural habitats in their care. They value the fauna that lives and travels through their land, as well as the flora rooted in their soil.
One friend has more than 50 acres of carefully managed forestland in Eastford. He has developed and maintains a “sugar bush” of sugar maple trees specifically for the seasonal tradition of making maple syrup. He is knowledgeable about the biology of his trees and understands the long-term care for each specimen so it reaches its greatest potential.
He and his wife have also ensured that their property will be protected in perpetuity from development. They are true stewards of their land and recognize their ownership is but temporary. The land will be all the better for their thoughtful care long after they are gone.
I have a friend from the Hanover section of Sprague with a large, 40-acre beaver impoundment on his property. He maintains wood duck nesting boxes to aid in conserving their breeding numbers and puts food out for migrating ducks and geese.
On occasion he’ll send me an e-mail describing the different species of ducks that use his property for nesting or as a safe waystation on their migratory travels. He understands his pond is more than a large body of water — it is a life-giving force critical to many animals. He takes his responsibility to maintain their habitat very seriously.
They enjoy recounting their shared adventure in finding, purchasing and actively maintaining the land so that others can learn from their example. They are true stewards of the land and not only talk-the-talk but also walk-the-walk of conservation and preservation.
Some of my favorite nature writers are those who share their deep personal relationship with the natural world beginning in their backyards. I am drawn to and inspired by their adventures, their knowledge and their connection to the landscape where they reside.
Here in New England we think of Henry David Thoreau as the progenitor of the writer-naturalist. With the wisdom of a philosopher, keen observation skills and awareness of his natural surroundings, his writings inspired generations. Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” is perhaps for many the original sense of place as well as a place of mind.
Though born in Scotland and raised in Wisconsin, John Muir came to adopt the Sierra Mountains of California as his true home.
His writing and unbridled passion led to the permanent protection of thousands of acres and the establishment of some of our country’s first national parks. His influence on the environmental movement is unquestionable and derives from his deep spiritual connection to the mountains he called home.
Aldo Leopold is one of the pillars of the environmental movement. His seminal book, “A Sand Country Almanac,” vividly describes the property in Wisconsin that he and his family purchased with the purpose of restoring the land. His book and writings became a clarion call to conservation and a new understanding of a land ethic.
John Hansen Mitchell is a writer and naturalist from eastern Massachusetts. Within the pages of his many books, including, “Ceremonial Time: Fifteen Thousand Years on One Square Mile,” “A Field Guide to Your Own Back Yard” and “Walking Towards Walden: A Pilgrimage in Search of Place,” he leads you on a journey through the history and ecology of his home region with vivid depictions of the natural world.
Here in The Last Green Valley, former Hampton resident Edwin Way Teale published several volumes that richly describe the natural world. One of his books, “A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm,” provides wonderfully informative depictions of his land and the efforts he and his wife Nellie made to create wildlife habitat for their enjoyment and study.
Edwin and Nellie called their property Trail Wood and made arrangements for it to be donated to the Connecticut Audubon Society after their passing. Trail Wood continues today as a wonderful sanctuary open to the public for enjoyment.
I have many connections to the six New England states, but this region —The Last Green Valley — has become my adopted home. I arrived here after graduating from college, then raised my family here, and gradually, over the past 39 years, discovered a deeper belonging and connectedness to this region that defines my adult life.
There is much to be grateful for living in The Last Green Valley. Let us appreciate our rivers and valleys, our forests and fields, our place, our home. Our time here is fleeting and ours is but a temporary role as stewards of this land — but it is our role today, in the here and now!
I hope you’ll join me and together we can enjoy, share, and pass on The Last Green Valley.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for 35 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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