Escape, Woodland

by Sherrie Kelly

Kaitlyn Lawrence & Margaret MacDonald
February 14, 2014


According to Aldo Leopold, the land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such. On the Sustainability Semester we are trying to become more in-tune with the biotic community and enjoy the fresh air as much as possible - be it snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or tromping through the woods. We are grateful for the 33.5 acres we have access to where we can escape and become lost in our thoughts, even if only for a short period of time.

One of the most interesting ways we’ve utilized the woods thus far is in the form of fort building. Three students (Sean Morrissey, David Smith, and Myles Trainer) all went on a walk during the first week of orientation to explore the woods. What they came across were some felled trees, probably from a recent storm, that created a type of enclosure. With creative juices flowing, they decided to expand the natural barrier and make it into their own personal fort. When was the last time you made a fort? Probably not since you were a child. Nevertheless, on this day, these three made a pass at revisiting childhood imaginations. The woods were the talk of the dinner table that night - everyone wanted to see this new fortress.

A few days later, we all had free time and decided to make a communal trip to the fort. We trudged up the gradual hill in back, strung out, bent against the spray of snow. The landscape leveled; the forest beckoned as something gentle and hushed - we stepped more carefully.

How refreshing it was! To do something together that was unplanned and unorganized; building relationships on our own accord. Once we arrived at said destination we went right to work. Like busy beavers we set off looking for the perfect pieces to make the design come together. The distinctions were organic, if segmented: the women deliberated which dead trees would be least disruptive to remove, collectively prying them out of obstinate ground, while the men assembled the resulting parts. We coalesced in a simultaneously poetic and functional way to form something tangible – a mark of our existence as a unit, albeit developing.

Though infrequent wind-blows within the woods had forced us to be still and stop our work, the return trek thrust the storm into immediate consciousness once more. The vastness of the field, unthreatening in its own right, was alive with new brutality – the wind whipped across that flat expanse like a dancer, enthused and enraged. This dancer cavorted and sprung, sweeping intricate patterns and destroying them. It was quite a strange sensation; to be tossed inconsequentially, fight doggedly merely to make a straight line – forge a direction.

On a given day the land could either receive or repel us. It was interesting to reflect that coming down the hill was a radically different experience than going up it. Our relationships with the earth are in expanding flux. The earth itself is increasingly undergoing accelerating change on account of our actions. Simply being turned around in the field birthed new perspectives and vantage points; rendered our farmhouse small, ourselves smaller, even our fort rather silly.

And they are – and they aren’t. There are ways of befriending flux, of derailing feelings of inadequacy (their brunt, at least); I daresay even of owning them. Yet climate change is no longer flux on a global level. Its implications are unprecedented in the history of human civilization. This is constant change turned on its head – and then kicked, too. How can we embrace flux in the face of such a hopelessly inelastic force? To consolidate these ideas and relate them to themes of our Sustainability Semester: it’s exactly these concepts of perspective and big-picture seeing that are more and more crucial to grapple with – even if they add layers of complexity to our environmental problems and cause us to question how much individual impact we can make.

In the woods, the nine of us did some (literal) community building. But we also, perhaps unconsciously, strove to strengthen our relationship with the land and life around us – two threads of connection. Our intentional community, however small, serves to exemplify the concentrated energy of an impassioned group of people. Just as a forest ecosystem is imperiled in the aftermath of a clear-cut, so all things are inextricably bound. Though our numbers may be few, a love for life is palpable, and that energy touches others. We build our fort off Route 68 as protection from winter winds, but also, in a way, as preparation for more dire threats. These movements are telling, instructive. Even in the dead of winter, we still built. Built with only the frozen ground to emulate, likely missing ideal tools or time enough to finish. But despite drawbacks, we continue to build; community, resilience, and most importantly, hope in togetherness. It’s these nonmaterial things we’ll take with us as we continue our journey.