March 12 dawned with snow flurries here in northern Alabama. Thunderstorms accompanied a passing cold front the evening before, triggering wind warnings and a small hail alert as it passed. I measured two-thirds of an inch of rain.
I departed 7:00 AM to visit with a landowner and his consulting forester (a former Union Camp colleague from my 1981-85 service as the company’s Alabama Region Land Manager). Some 165 miles south in central Alabama, I met my two hosts mid-morning at the cabin atop a hill overlooking one of the two attractive ponds enriching the 400 or so acres of open land, mixed pine/hardwood uplands, planted pine, and bottomland forest. A major creek at bank-full and a vibrant tributary bisect the property. Chilly northwesterly winds buffeted us as we snapped photos of the view down to one of the ponds and the creek bottom. The old family residence still stands intact, and is occupied by tenants who likewise love the land. The current generation owner has built this exquisite cabin:
We had all agreed via email discussion that this property may be a good candidate for a Land Legacy Story. Here are some of its fitting attributes:
- Rich multi-generation heritage; in the family since 1862
- Formal Heritage status
- Treasure Forest, Tree Farm, and other designations
- Active management for timber products and wildlife; formal management plan in place
- Evidence of the landowner’s deep land ethic; in harmony with my own belief that land ownership is spiritual and sacred
- Two ponds/lakes
- The major creek
- Its smaller tributary
- Diverse ecosystem components
- Mix of open land, bottomland, upland mixed pine and hardwood, and planted pine
- Strong and ongoing relationship between landowner and the consulting forester
- Topography with great character, beginning with the cabin atop the hill overlooking the pond and creek bottom forest
After just a few hours, beginning with fresh coffee, enthusiastically discussing the property, hearing the landowner’s love for the land and his stewardship ethic, grabbing some local BBQ, and touring the acreage, I am soundly convinced that this Legacy Story merits telling and memorializing. This landowner epitomizes the ethic that Louis Bromfield so beautifully captured in his non-fiction book about his efforts to return his Ohio farm to soil health and vitality:
“The adventure at Malabar is by no means finished… The land came to us out of eternity and when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here. The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.”
Because I have much yet to do to develop this Forestland Legacy Story, I am not identifying the owner nor the location. I will simply offer the following photographs with some brief annotation. I want to demonstrate the power of informed and responsible stewardship, and to evidence the tremendous strength in telling the Story both to guide current practice and to leave an indelible testimony to those who follow.
A lower pond occupies an old gravel borrow pit along the creek. Excellent habitat for fish, herons, waterfowl, turtles, and multiple other critters. Eagles are a common sight. I saw a red-tail hawk cruising (and calling) above the water. I found two projectile points in an adjacent food plot, witnessing that others inhabited this land long before European settlers discovered its beauty and bounty.
Near the first pond, the owner has planted and protected (from deer and rabbit browsing — see the tubular tree shelters) several species of oak seedlings. The trees are on a 30-foot grid. Note the blind (for hunting) along the woods edge.
Here is an eight year old loblolly pine planting recently commercially thinned by removing every third row.
Adjacent to that planted stand the owner maintains another food plot. Note the mowed grass lane, which serves as a firebreak and ATV access route.
This is one of the fields that the landowner will plant with containerized longleaf pine seedlings. Longleaf, representing yet another species important to wildlife and timber production, does well in this locale, and these soils are well-suited. Note the old field-edge oak, a majestic symbol and survivor from long ago, still standing watch over the field… and providing food and shelter for birds, squirrels, and who knows what else. Just another standard bearer for the story of the land.
The Forestland Legacy Story Concept
My Land Legacy Story concept is novel, rooted in my philosophy of Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading. To my knowledge, I may be the only person offering these services… in Alabama, across the US, or even internationally. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am the only former four-time university president who is engaged in writing these Legacy tales! I view this endeavor and this service as a full complement to my current mission, as well as to the spirit and intent of my books and my weekly posts.
I stand to learn a great deal in this story-telling endeavor. I am breaking new ground. I hope to generate demand, get a few of these under my belt, and ensure that others carry the torch beyond what my own limits might be for satisfying what I envision as a latent demand.
I want to sow the seeds of informed Earth stewardship. What better way than by recruiting leaders and enablers like this landowner (the early adopters), and then diffusing the concept, the practice, and the ethic among others. Everett M. Rogers, PhD, an education specialist whose research on early adopters of agricultural practices (Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition), prompts me to seek such innovators for the Legacy Story idea. As Bromfield said, “The best we can hope to do is to leave the mark of our fleeting existence upon it, to die knowing that we have changed a small corner of this Earth for the better by wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.”
That is my mission through my writing, speaking, and sermonizing!
May all that you do be Nature-Inspired.