Tending the wild, tending ourselves
by David Wolbrecht
Despite an unseasonal cold snap, I was excited to get my bundled hands dirty. It was land stewardship day, and, not quite knowing what to expect, our Anake class huddled around a roaring fire listening to a poetic story by the school’s land manager, Andy Franjevic. I was eager to get going and sweat, but Andy started his talk by inviting us to slow down to the speed of the land, to imagine the geologic and glacial influences that literally shaped Linne Doran, the name for Wilderness Awareness School’s campus. Not what I was expecting, but… (deep breath)
Eyes closed and envisioning the near-mile of ice that once covered the spot where I sat, I felt my mood and energy shift. With Andy’s invitation, I immediately became more relaxed, more contemplative, more connected, and I sensed a similar shift in the rest of my Anake class. For a subsequent two hours, whose duration simultaneously felt shorter yet fuller than two hours could contain, Andy recounted a portion of the natural and cultural history of the Snoqualmie Valley, Duvall, and Linne Doran. We learned how the native peoples of this land, the Snoqualmie and Skykomish, among others, had actively cared for the land upon which we now stood, had been doing so for countless generations, and, indeed, still do to this day.
During his sharing, Andy demonstrated that he was the holder of the two hundred year vision for the school’s land, a vision that resides only in the dynamic forms of ideas and speech. To look ahead two hundred years with appropriate respect and humility requires a thorough grasp of the previous two hundred, and it was this period of time that Andy emphasized in his story that morning. Sprinkling in anecdotes from historians and anthropologists, Andy shared a sliver of the complex wild-tending that the first peoples had enacted repeatedly during each seasonal rounding. This gave us a glimpse of how humans had lived in productive reciprocity with the land for thousands of years.
I admit, I was enraptured by Andy’s story of this place. I figured it was because I am a Pacific Northwest local and have a keen interest in the cultural and natural history of this place in which I grew up. However, after reflecting on the story with some classmates, it seemed that most were similarly captivated.
It was with this sense of historically contextualized humility that we transitioned into actively caring for Linne Doran. We split up into our learning groups, and each were led to their group’s site on the land. Throughout the cold and clear day, my group selected specific locations a few serviceberry shrubs, dug their holes, and transplanted them from the school’s plant nursery. Our group was led by one of our apprentices, Brock, who shared that his learning group had tended this same clearing during his time in Anake. And Brock’s learning group, two years prior, was led by an apprentice who had also tended the same clearing. In this way, my group became part of a tradition within the Anake program.
Surrounded by towering big leaf maple, western hemlock, douglas fir, and western red cedar trees, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and honored to be a part of a developing lineage of wild-tending naturalists. Although my part in this land’s care is as of yet quite small, I nonetheless feel gladdened that my hard work will undoubtedly feed the resident deer, perhaps some towhee, and, hopefully, a budding naturalist who, like me, grew up relatively disconnected from the natural world. If, in picking that wild serviceberry, tasting its sweetness, and wondering about the plant that produced it, that human’s relationship to the natural world has even a slight shift towards connectedness, then my work on stewardship day will have served the noble purpose of helping rekindle the awareness of humanity’s intimate reliance upon more-than-human nature.
In reflecting on that day of land tending, in which we helped shape the future experience of human and non-human animals for (hopefully) generations, I’m reminded of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I’ve included an excerpt from her poem, In Blackwater Woods, which I feel captures some of what I learned that day:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.