The challenge is to do more, in all ways possible and with the deepest conviction from the most fibrous core of our beings. This is both a statement to begin and end this note in the course of a most difficult week.
It is tempting (and at the same time understandable, as part of being human) to pause now in that place of grief, disbelief, even disgust in considering those who would commit such senseless and horrifying acts. I must remind myself, and at the same time issue a challenge to community-based organizations, that working for a nonprofit carries with it both the burden and power of community leadership and action.
If our mission is worth its weight in the sweat equity and financial support of our community then I believe our work at LandPaths – short for LAnd – PArtners – THrough – Stewardship – must in some small way, in its own humble and locally-based way, do something so that the events of last week in Newtown Connecticut are less likely to occur in another school, another community.
We at LandPaths have witnessed remarkable, and often entirely unintended, outcomes from working together to conserve wild and working landscapes, to steward them in a myriad of ways, to provide them as places of learning and inspiration to school children, as places for respite and reflection to people of all ages and backgrounds and stripes. That is, these rather elemental activities help in supporting healthy people, healthy land and help to ensure healthy communities.
On a very personal level, while I do not know the depth of others pathos or perhaps debilitating mental illness that has compelled people throughout history – and with increasingly regularity in recent years and months - to harm others in our world, I can attest to the redemptive power of having a relationship with the land. If asked, I don’t think it would come as a surprise to those that knew me as a child growing up in the scruffy, live-oak studded hills and canyons above Santa Monica that I would be, some 40 years later, working in the field of land conservation. Moreover, working for an organization with its many-pronged collaborative efforts which focuses time outside working together for the betterment of people and the land.
I developed such a weight problem as a boy, from the time I was 5 until 17 years of age, that I was for some time the heaviest child attending my elementary school. I can recall one incident where teasing was so severe that I was unable to board the school bus at 3pm given inconsolable tears and hurt. However, I had something offered to me by virtue of a swath of wild land that divides the Pacific from the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains. Despite my weight I would journey after school two or three days a week up fire roads, ridgeline breaks and down into maple and sycamore canyon bottoms in search of arrowheads, puddles teeming with tadpoles, redtailed hawk and a handful of rocky outcrops still revealing faded paintings from the Chumash who had lived just beyond our backyard hundreds of years before.
A relationship with land brought skills in orienteering, confidence in being able to traverse chaparral highlands and arrive well past dark with nary a scratch. My mom didn’t much like the later, but she could see the pounds melting on account of these adventures. The encounters with bobcat and mountain lion, later black and grizzly bear as I made my way through a series of seasonal jobs guiding, teaching and exploring beyond the local mountains to the Sierra Nevada and beyond brought the lonely child out and into a world populated, quite delightfully, by people ready to help, listen, instruct. It gave me hope and helped to sculpt perseverance and confidence from earlier distrust and resentment.
I have professed with conviction (and in quite windy fashion, I must add) for the past several years at Rotary Club presentations, during public comment before the Board of Supervisors, in LandPaths staff meetings and at a series of conferences where I have been invited to speak, that “teenagers in our society are an endangered species and we should all try to do more in terms of mentorship, developing the lost art of apprenticeship and getting them out of the mall and into the out of doors both during and after school. There is often no more effective place or means to discover one’s true culture than to reestablish a connection with land near where we live.”
Here’s the Pledge. I will work with LandPaths staff and board of directors in the coming year to assess & then implement activities so that we do more for our young people, in particular teens. Further, activities that in some small way better develop them into the community leaders, doers, and later parents and citizens that only a myriad of positive experiences can help them become. In LandPaths case, that may mean time on land helping steward, understand and care for land. It might mean pulling French broom or helping guide a 6th grade class, assisting with an outing just for people confined to wheelchairs and walkers or volunteering at Owl Camp. I am confident that our program heads can envision and efficiently implement what we might do. Whatever it is, I feel LandPaths has the obligation to do even more for our young people so that they feel connected to their community, valued for what they have to offer, challenged physically and emotionally as the leaders our world needs them to be.
Please hold us, including me, to account on this pledge. We must all do more to turn away from a path of violence and isolation and despair in order to encourage the health of land and people in Sonoma County.
Craig Anderson has been the Executive Director of LandPaths since 1997 and can be reached by email here.
On this 16th Anniversary of LandPaths' founding by some forward-thinking community leaders (all women, I might add) we find our spirit of appreciation overflowing, so much so that it merits some expression of Thanksgiving.
Our work is nothing if not an outright community effort, a pairing of people with time on our local landscapes. That board member and volunteer, neighbor and financial supporter, staff and landowner, eight year-old student and veteran public agency representative are ALL a part of the change-for-good agent known as LandPaths is one of our elemental truths and one that warms us in this season of good, early rain.
We give special thanks to our volunteers—over 10,000 hours given so far in 2012 alone! We are grateful for the work of LandPaths Board of Directors this year - including its two newest members Melanie and Michael - as they all worked closely with staff to navigate the gift of three new properties to steward, to observe and to be inspired by forever. Our thanks spills out across the Laguna to Lynn and Anisya Fritz and the staff of Lynmar Winery for hosting an Autumn Supper in October.
We appreciate our partners at Sonoma Land Trust in working to protect Bohemia Ranch and to our County's Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District and to the tax payers that support its pivotal work. We give thanks and acknowledge the special gift of land to be handed down for generations to come by our friends Betty and Jim Doerksen, Phyllis and Ted Swindells, Julie and Will Parish and the Stanchfield Trust.
Our thanks extends to school administrators and parents, community gardeners with knowledge of food, farming and earth, and to the ever dedicated LandPaths staff – often the first to arrive and the last to leave.
And we thank YOU. With your investment in LandPaths, we steward both the land and our community. We are thankful for your investment of time and energy in the future of Sonoma County. Thank you.
At 1:53pm on Wednesday, February 15, the almost imperceptible sound of an ink pad stamping occurred at a cramped title company office in San Rafael. That sound signaled escrow being closed on what had seemed would forever be an unobtainable goal for those laboring in Sonoma County's conservation field: preserving Bohemia Ranch from development and providing it for public use. It also closed a chapter of my life - as it did for several of our close partners - comprising fifteen months of near full-time work on an effort that had moments of both tranquility and high drama.
At this hour the keys to a sturdy but rusting gate were figuratively dropped from the hand of a family into the lap of a local nonprofit organization LandPaths. Behind that gate are fields of native flowers, arid cypress and manzanita rocky outcroppings, cool shaded creeks, views of what appear to be endless conifer forest on the entirety of the horizon line, and an absolutely sublime waterfall. This family, let's refer to them as 'Ted and Phyllis,' had taken in 1999 what was a near lawless refugia for offroad vehicles running up ridge and creeks - replete with massive erosion on ranch roads bleeding silt into streams that were on their last gasp to provide spawning habitat for coho salmon - and painstakingly restored ridge and meadow and road to what is today a largely healed wildscape that is home to pileated woodpeckers, ringtail cat, redwoods and a place for generations to come to camp beneath the fog-shrouded stars.
This was all accomplished through a conservation easement (extinguishing development and forever keeping the land intact) purchased by the Sonoma Land Trust with funds provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the near simultaneous donation by Ted and Phyllis of 554-acres to LandPaths. Pivotal to this partnership was the entrance of another family, let's call them 'Will and Julie,' that will share a part of the former 860-acre ranch as adjoining neighbors, partners in grassland, forest and creek restoration, and friends to public use that is respectful of the land.
To the North Bay's collective delight, there have been a number of these seemingly "unreachable" land conservation projects in the past 14 years that have ended in success. The Jenner Headlands, Tolay, Calabazas, Willow Creek and the signature landscape perched above Santa Rosa, Taylor Mountain. That we have skilled and well-funded public agencies (our Ag Preservation and Open Space District, Coastal Conservancy) and nonprofit partners ("SLT" and other local land trusts) operating in Sonoma County is one of the reasons that these lands have been purchased and, economy and other factors willing, open to the public. Let us hope that those that labor in - and in support of - local agriculture can count just as many farms that will stay thriving for another five generations on account of this work. The human spirit needs clean water, clean air and wildness, no doubt, but the body needs local food produced with respect to that water-air-soil as well.
The passing of the figurative keys to the gate of Bohemia Ranch (now Bohemia Ecological Preserve) to LandPaths is but the beginning of our long-term stewardship (as in, who owns who, the land or the nonprofit?) at this beautiful place. We at LandPaths have made a promise to take this land - the entire project happening without a single public dollar (!) - even without the funds necessary upfront to steward the land. We will stretch what we have, of course, but we will need the community's help in the form of sweat and labor on the land, legacy bequests great and regular financial gifts small to create the preserve that you consider a part of your greater backyard. We've embarked on this bold effort for you, with you and for both the flowers and the people that follow us.
~Craig Anderson, executive director, LandPaths