Monday, March 16, 2009

Letter to the Land

Dear Land,

First of all, I'm not really sure how to address you. I want to call you "my land" but I know that land ownership is such a man-made concept. I prefer the concept of stewardship, but if I am the steward, are you the stewardee? Awkward title at best!

My family has been your caretaker for almost sixteen years now. Before we took charge of you, you had been farmed for corn and soybeans in the recent past, and likely for hay at some time in the more distant past. But not all of your acres had been farmed. The front woods seemed to be undisturbed for a long, long time, and your wetlands never were drained thoroughly. Once we built our house and moved in, the farming came to an end and we began working to restore your natural state.

What I really would like to know is if we are doing the right thing? We hope that we are restoring your health, but it's so hard to know if we are doing the right thing, or if this is just the "current fashion" of the right thing. Will some future generation look back at what we did and shake their heads in disgust? I try in all aspects of my life to do the right thing, but without feedback it's hard to know if I am.

Yours in stewardship,


Dear Marlene,

Over the years, the treatment that I've received at the hands of man has varied greatly. For a long time, there were only those that you call Native Americans. They never spent a lot of time with me because my waters are very seasonal. The Native Americans came and went with the waters and left very little impact.

The earliest farmers showed up about 150 years ago. At first it wasn't too bad. The farm was small and not very intensive. Some years, I had so much water that they couldn't farm large areas. Then the idea of drain tiles came around. The land to the south, my sister acres, had lots of drain tiles installed and her waters disappeared almost entirely. But the man who was farming me only put in one drain tile, and not very well at that. I kept hearing him mutter about money, and what he would do if he had his neighbors' money. Perhaps it was best for me that he didn't have a lot of this money?

As time passed, the machines that rode over me got bigger, harsh chemical were poured onto me, and the rows of crops became more dense, sapping more and more out of me. But then one day, it ended. Of course, there was that huge hole gouged into my brow, but the other indignities stopped.

And I began to respond. Can't you see it? Remember that spring before the farming ended, when I pulled your shoe right off your foot? Have you seen muck like that since the plowing stopped? Of course not. I'm rebuilding my structure with the roots of the prairie plants that you sowed. In other places, you've removed plants that I did not care for. As the buckthorn has disappeared from my woodlands, I've been able to resprout the wildflowers that have grown here for years and years.

Overall, the answer to your question is yes, you've been doing the right thing. Of course, you always can try to live a little more lightly upon me. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't dig any more of those big holes in me, and please be careful of what you dump on me or drive over me. But keep removing the brush. I fear it will be a never-ending battle for you but the results are worth the effort.

You mention worrying about future generations. The best thing you could do is promise to protect me forever. Then I could rest easy every winter instead of fearing that the next spring will be the one that brings back the destruction.

Thanks for the concern,

The Land Under Your Care

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