My family moved from the suburbs near Baltimore to Washington County, Maryland when I was five years old, having bought a worn-out farm on the west flank of South Mountain below Lamb's Knoll. I was immediately enchanted with the fields and forests and small streams, spending endless hours exploring, ranging ever more widely as I grew older. Not interested in farming, my parents placed the fields in a soil conservation program; five years later they planted 20 acres to pines with all hands helping. And then it was all left alone. Although I left the farm to pursue an education and a career, I think that a desire to care for it had developed in those early years. While I enjoyed many attributes of cities and their environs, I was drawn constantly to woodland parks, where I felt most at home and where I developed a deep appreciation of their recreational and environmental values. Increasingly, I found myself pining for the rural life.
When the original home-site became empty, my husband and I decided to relocate and, on the side, try our hand at small-scale farming gradually planting and acquiring fruit trees, berries, honey bees, vegetable & herb gardens, horses, milk goats, and poultry. I soon learned that I was at heart a gardener, and that I most liked planting and fostering the growth of trees. As the near projects were established I naturally expanded outward, making trails, developing meadows, removing vines from promising trees, and restoring eroded gullies. I think that while my early experiences were the spark, my education in zoology and environmental biology together with visits to national, state, and regional parks and forests developed my awareness of the property's place in the greater community, and led me to see the land as a trust, not a possession. My time away from the land made me realize how important a resource was a place to walk in the woods, and so our boundaries are open.
There was always so much to do that sometimes caring for and improving the property seemed unmanageable. When we were fortunate enough to buy a small neighboring property we needed to make a forest management plan in order to change its tax basis from its residential assessment. Our county forester suggested we develop a plan for both properties since we were treating them as one piece. Developing the plan helped me to identify what we had and where we wanted to go. The need to implement it caused me to seek out forest stewardship skills; thus I met like-minded property owners and professionals through educational outreach programs. Now, while the tasks still loom large, I do have a plan and the skills and sources of information to carry it out.
During the course of my stewardship I think that the hardest lesson for me was that no matter how carefully you plan, and how hard you work, you will sometimes fail. The very animals whose welfare you promote will work counter to your efforts and nature can overwhelm the best-laid plans. So it is a good idea to scatter and diversify your efforts; some will prosper, some will not. But running with this is one of the great rewards of working with the land. Nature will augment your actions; very small actions will yield big rewards over time. If you change the way water moves along the ground, a big rain event will deposit soil rather than carry it away (or not move it at all); trees planted or released twenty-five years ago will now loom large in their space. Since all actions have consequences the joy of stewardship is that our acts give us the pleasure of doing the right thing today and a better world in the future.