These two words resonate deep within us. Our connection to land literally grounds us in our connection to the All, reminding us daily of the purity of nature and the divine. The word “trust” relates to one of our most important human values, representing a security that can only be found through an open heart. Used together, v the words “land trust” represent people who have dedicated their energies as stewards of the land for the greater good of present and future generations.
When I was a child, my parents moved from a crowded subdivision to the edge of the suburbs. Behind our home were acres of woods and the ﬁelds of small family farms. I spent my summers building forts, collecting tadpoles and cooling off in our creek.
Today those farms are gone, the ﬁelds now ﬁlled with apartments and subdivisions. The creek has disappeared. As I watched these changes, I began to question the direction of society and its ﬂagrant disregard for the Earth. A great number of my generation embraced materialism, settling into lives with no relationship to the land. In my search for a deeper understanding of spiritual values, I came to see the cities as an illusion created by man. I felt the path to a peaceful heart would be visible in the purity of the natural world.
In the 70’s, my wife and I left the city to build our life at the end of a dirt road in Tennessee, determined to raise our children with the freedom to be found in a natural environment. We left the supposed security of Middle America to create community, joined by many with similar dreams. Forming an alliance, we purchased 1000 acres, and our community, “The Farm,” became real.
The uninhabited forest stretched for many miles in all directions. Just beyond the border of our property was a paradise of cascading streams and gentle waterfalls, a living sanctuary. These woodlands had been privately owned by rural families for generations.
In the 80’s, things rapidly changed. The recession placed immense ﬁnancial pressures on family farms and one by one they were acquired by huge timber companies. Hundreds of thousands of acres around us left private ownership and were swallowed up by the multinationals.
In the early 90’s, the farmers across the road announced that their 650 acres were for sale, nearly all of it mature hardwoods. Unless a better offer came soon, they would be forced to sell to a timber company.
A few of us sprang into action. Neighbors were called, and we devised a plan to purchase this land. It was divided into parcels and we located buyers among friends both near and far, who wished to see this forest remain intact. One hundred acres within the land were inaccessible and could only be reached by hiking. This piece was set aside and became the foundation property for the new nonproﬁt corporation, a land trust.
We called it Swan Conservation Trust, named after the creek that ran through the 1100 acre neighboring property that it was our dream to acquire. This piece had gone up for sale in the 80’s and was one of the ﬁrst to be purchased by a timber company. Over the next two decades, we were forced to watch portions of it disappear as various tracts were clearcut.
At ﬁrst I was just a supporter, donating a few dollars each month. Then I became a volunteer. After a couple of years, I joined the board of directors, and began an odyssey that has changed my life.
Negotiations for the Swan Creek land continued for over ten years, our efforts constantly thwarted by nameless corporate bean counters in ofﬁces thousands of miles away. We watched as land values soared, until one day I found myself in our local bank, signing a huge contract. At last the land was in our hands, but it also meant the nonproﬁt would be faced with raising $5000 a month for 15 years. It was daunting.
Only a few months before, I had lost my grandson, Julian, to a tiny bug called E-coli. He was only two years old, yet he could identify the names of numerous birds by their song alone. I had watched as he explored these same forests and streams in wide-eyed wonder and felt his growing connection to the land. I was devastated when he died.
In my grief, I returned to the only place I could ﬁnd solace, this woodland sanctuary that had always been there for me. As I lingered along its creeks and in its hidden valleys, I felt his spirit and the spirit of the land. I felt the energy of countless others who had traveled to this sacred space for healing and celebration. In his memory, I committed my life to saving this forest from devastation for children of future generations.
The following spring, I traveled to the west coast to gain support from friends who had a connection to this land. Now I realize this journey was actually a vision quest, a time in which I sought healing, afﬁrmation, and a communion with spirit. A times, I felt lost and alone. Over and over, I found myself being blessed by friends through sacred ceremony and touch. Each day opened up waves of emotion, images and insight about myself and the land at home.
In a vision, I saw before me the conﬂuence where our two creeks joined together. This became the point of a sacred heart that surrounded the land and held it in its protective embrace. I felt the injustice of man’s artiﬁcial boundaries and the land called out to me to maintain its integrity. In the center of this sacred heart was our community, a spiritual refuge whose creation and future survival were dependent on the wall of protection created by the unbroken forest around it.
Native peoples lived and hunted here for untold generations. Along the ridge lines are mysterious rock mounds. Legends of the area tell of Indian people who remained in this valley after the Trail of Tears. It became their protector, a place where they could live out their days close to nature and in touch with their culture.
In my heart I felt that we had been brought to this land at a time when our fragile culture needed protection and nurturing. The land had provided for us the isolation necessary to establish our ways and pass them on to our children, with the voice of nature as teacher of peace and compassion. Now it was the land that was in danger and I felt its call resonating in my soul.
While still on the west coast, I found myself on a high mountain overlooking the Paciﬁc. Below me were centuries old redwoods, existing only because someone else long ago had said “No!” to the saw blade’s thirst.
A voice inside me rose. “Trees of the West. I come to you from the Trees of the East. My brothers and sisters are dying. We ask for your blessing from the Valley of the Black Swan, where we make our stand.”
I went down into the redwoods, spending the day in solitude and contemplation. I felt the enormity and gravity of the task before me. I understood that success would require long-term commitment and sacriﬁce. I could not turn back.
I thought about my hikes back home where I would often encounter the presence of a great blue heron. With its sleek body and long legs, accented by a six-foot wingspan, it had the appearance of a prehistoric creature.
As I sat in mediation, eyes closed, I saw before me once again the silhouette of this majestic creature and was jolted into the present. THIS was the guardian spirit of our land! Through endless cycles of birth and death and rebirth, it had lived in this valley for thousands of years. In fact, pioneers used to call it a black swan.
Reconnecting to the Earth
When I returned home, I hiked along the borders .of the new property and came upon a waterfall. This one had a drop of over six feet and a strong ﬂow, its rivulets dividing into a trinity. I realized that few people in recent years had ever visited this waterfall, tucked away between two ridges with no path leading to it. This was a gift. It became a special place where I could go to find solitude and healing. I came to realize that this was a Sacred Space. Throughout my life, as I have spent time in the forest, I have come to recognize that certain locations seem to hold a kind of power. I am drawn to these power spots again and again. Each time they perform an invisible service, often serving as the touchstone for various transitions in my life.
The waterfall came to symbolize the spirit of my grandson, its special sparkle and continual ﬂow representing the lessons he taught me about unconditional love. Julian Falls has given me a greater understanding of the meaning of sanctuary. It has become my most intimate sacred space.
That was three years ago. Since then, I have poured my heart into this project, reaching out to others who also feel a connection to land and nature in the core of their beings. I cannot save all trees, but I know I can make a difference here. I am reminded daily that it is only through many people working together that an effort of such magnitude can be accomplished, I am grateful and made humble.
I believe sacred spaces serve to nurture our spirit. We honor and empower the sacred space when we give it value and it provides a place for us to put down roots, the bit of grounding that enables us to maintain our sanity. Find your sacred space wherever you are. It might be in a secluded corner of a park or under your favorite tree. Trust your intuition and discover what calls out to you.
Then, go one step further. Learn about the land trust near you. Better yet, get involved. Land trusts are everywhere, with hundreds scattered across the world, each with the vital mission to preserve and protect the special places, the land, the water and all its creatures.
Find your connection to the land and trust with an open heart.
Nourish it. It will sustain you.