In the Nineteen-Seventies, Cynthia and Ralph were part of the movement back to the land. They joined a community of people, mostly college-age, who were buying property close to each other north of Menomonie, Wisconsin, about an hour and a half east of the Twin Cities by car. Alas, their’s was a familiar story of not being able to find enough income in the vicinity to be able to stay on the land. But they held on to their 40 acres of wooded hillsides and abandoned fields on sandy soil. Visiting it, over the years, they became vividly aware that it had a life of its own, when left to its own devices.
Groups of Quakers have been going out to Sandhill and thinking about a Quaker Community Forest since 1998, for seasonal celebrations–berry-picking, maple syruping, camping, mushroom hunting…
I–this kid who has never lived outside of the city–have learned a lot. Really basic stuff, mostly, but very grounding in the realities of Gaia. For instance, you need to pay attention to the weather if you are doing things in ‘the country.’ Natch, but I now pay a lot more attention to weather and to climate all the time than I did ten years ago. For instance, it’s colder on the land! We live mostly in urban heat islands that buffer the cold edges of the night, the week and the year. That’s a LOT of BTUs, drifting up out of the storm sewers and sidewalk grates, radiating off the sides of buildings. It’s a level of not-so-challenging-cold I had completely taken for granted.
And then there’s the beauty and restorative qualities of the land. It’s nice to “get away,” of course, but it’s more than that. And especially year after year. And especially when you are actively caring for the land. The Quaker Community Forest vision is not: “lock up the acres and throw away the key!” We are not wealthy enough to do that. Our vision is that “the trees have to pay their rent.” We have struck a three-way-bargain with ourselves, with Lady Gaia and with Wisconsin Managed Forest Law. We will encourage the ecosystem toward a natural balance that favors a large diversity of native species, Wisconsin will lower our taxes, and we will selectively harvest enough trees to pay those taxes and to continue responsible stewardship, hopefully for generations.
Most important, for me and for many of us, is that Sandhill is an opportunity for us and our community to reconnect with one of Gaia’s ecosystems. For us to get some of our psychic roots out of the greenhouse of the urban heat island and sink them directly into land that is living “in the real world.” Of course, there is nowhere on earth that is not without human influence, in some degree, and connecting with Sandhill also brings us face to face with global issues on a very local basis. For instance, we can see the effects of acid rain and other aspects of global air quality in the number of lichens on our trees’ trunks. For instance, the national drama of “Forest Fires on Western Lands” applies at Sandhill as well. Rural Wisconsin has also been engaged in fire suppression for over a century, and Sandhill and the land around it shows the effects of that, with many woodlands having an unusually high proportion of old and dead trees, ripe for burning.
It’s all here, Friends, or at least a lot of it: sand hill cranes circling and trumpting overhead one day, six eagles in a single sky the next, the sounds of industrial agriculture floating across the hills, our beloved white pine seedlings getting their tops chewed off by deer… How shall we live, nourished by many aspects of our ecosystem and accommodating to it? Step right up, inhale the smells and face the issues. And move, in your own hearts and actions, toward an earth restored.