Three women lead a group of grown-ups and children along a sun-dappled trail in a Deschutes Land Trust preserve. Connections begin to weave from the threads of knowledge the women offer - connections between a child and a white-headed woodpecker, connections between strangers, new connections between a parent and a child, perhaps most important, the delicate connections between human and earth. The leader of the group, Norma Funai, is a familiar figure on Land Trust walks and senior tour leader for the Land Trust. The two other Connectors are Carol Wall and Pat Kearney, tour guides for the Land Trust. Their earth-connections began long before either woman came to know and treasure these protected places.
I first met Pat and Carol when Amanda Egertson, Land Trust Stewardship Director, guided a few volunteers and staff through the forest restoration project on the Metolius Preserve. I was impressed with the knowledge of the folks around me, a few of whom guided tours of their own. I fell quickly into conversation with Pat and Carol - and their pups. Casey, the English Shepherd was a bundle of wiggles and wet kisses. Kona, the Rottweiler, maintained her dignity in the face of the puppy’s unmannered enthusiasm.
Carol, Pat and I agreed to meet an a later date to talk about their love for the earth and commitment to the Land Trust. Casey became an adolescent before three busy lives allowed his humans to sit down for a long talk in the snow-lit sun-room of their passive solar Sisters home.
As soon as I walked into the living room, I noticed a charcoal drawing of a sad-eyed little girl on the wall. It seemed old. Carol noticed me looking at it. “That hung in the library of the family home when I was a little girl,” she said. “I was lucky to be in a family of comfortable circumstances, but I studied the child in the picture often. I knew it was necessary to be reminded that not all children had lives like mine.”
Our conversation moved to Carol’s and Pat’s earlier careers at the University of California, Davis where Carol was a professor as well as a dean and vice chancellor, and Pat was Director of Housing from 1985, as well as Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. We are all women in our sixties and seventies, all once deeply engaged in students’ and women’s concerns in the universities in which we worked. I asked Carol if she felt that there were special connections between women and the land.
She looked out at the snow-covered trees in her backyard for a moment. “Mary, as you, I am a woman of a certain generation. I grew up in the aftermath of World War II during the Cold War, lived the changes brought about by a work force that included women in significant roles beyond home and family. I embraced the increasing ethnic diversity in my life that came with people from many backgrounds coming to the universities and colleges, and abhorred the destruction of life and our earth during war. I was/am a feminist, a social activist, and an anti-war activist.
“I think women were the first, though certainly not the only people, to come to embrace the Earth as the land that sustains us, providing food and shelter, beauty and solace. In my experience women are much less likely to work to control, modify, and shape to their own visions the lands that we inhabit. At least my relationship with the land is a search to understand, to become a part of, to live within it.”
“And to want to share that understanding,” I said. “As you and Pat do guiding bird tours.”
Pat laughed. “I’m more the sweeper. Carol does the talking.”
“How do you guide?” I asked
“I like to ask the participants questions,” Carol said. “Especially the children. I’ll say, “Look around you. What do you think lives here? How would you live here?’ There’s no fixed script.”
“And how did each of you begin to form connections with place?” I ask. “Was it in childhood?”
Carol grinned. “My parents ventured outside only for water sports, but my godparents began to take me to the mountains and deserts beginning when I was 8 years old. I loved being godparent-napped.”
I thought of how a stone tool is knapped, edges sharpened and made useful. It has seemed to me for a long time that those of us who love the earth enough to actively care for it have been knapped by that love and care.
“Our family explored the outdoors,” Pat said, “but I think the connections deepened when I traveled in the West in the Sixties - especially hiking and snow-shoeing in Colorado. That landscape spoke to me of a more natural pace of life - you could even hear it in peoples’ speech.”
I asked Carol and Pat to reflect on two colors and tell me what memories of place emerged: orange and purple. We were quiet for a few moments. “Mountains give me strength,” Carol said. I think of red-gold and purple sunsets. The powerful rock and the warmth and softness of the fading light.. I find myself thinking, too, that events in the late Sixties - gas crises and the growing awareness of what humans were doing to the earth in the Seventies combined with my connections with the mountains moved me toward a deeper understanding of my place on the planet.”
“I remember water and lakes,” Pat said, “the colors of wild flowers, Grandma, my aunt, Mom and I picking huckleberries. I had to wear socks on my arms and hands to avoid scratches.”
“And now you both extend new connections to the people you guide,” I said. “Can you see those connections form?”
“There is a local man who lived on Indian Ford Meadow but didn’t really know the place, at least not in detail” Carol said. “After being on a tour, he told me he newly understood the importance of protecting these places for the future. That kind of connection and the connections I see children making are why I volunteer for the Land Trust.”
“What are your hopes,” I asked, “for the future of the Deschutes Land Trust. Let’s pretend that wishes are magic - shazam, you can have what you want.”
“I’d like to help sustain the balance in the Land Trust places,” Pat said. “And, if there’s magic, I want to see our dreams for the Skyline Forest come into reality in the next five years.”
I wish for others to connect with the land at a deeply personal level,” Carol said, “to know and understand the landscape in which they live. And through that, come to care about it, not just with words, but with actions.”
“Thank you for those answers,” I said. “There will be many of our readers who will share them.”
The sky outside the sun-room window had darkened. Snow blurred our view. I wanted to drive home before the roads were difficult. Still, there was something missing. “Where are the dogs?” I asked.
“We’ll show you,” Pat laughed. “We put them in the garage (in cars with their bones) because we weren’t sure whether you were comfortable with dogs.”
“Let’s go see them. I’ll even risk getting dog hair on me and profoundly offending the cats when I get home.”
Kona greeted me sedately. Casey was no longer a puppy, but the wriggles were still there. Carol gave me directions to return to Highway 20 and we said good-bye. Our words, our shared connections stayed with me as I drove home through the gently falling snow.