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Blue Sky

We Just Saved the Land That Saves Us: Everyday Magic, Day 1,101


Celebrating with KLT conservation coordinator Patti Beedles, president Julie Coleman, and director Kaitlin Stanley -- French toast was involved.

A few days ago, after 39 years of trying to save the land that we love and where we live, Ken and I spent five minutes signing papers to protect this land forever.


What we signed gave the

Kansas Land Trust (KLT) our development rights in exchange for KLT protecting Wells Farm - the 127 acres we own -- in perpetuity. The legal paperwork for this conservation easement encompasses dozens of pages with an in-depth survey and an appraisal, legal descriptions, and thousands of spinning nuances we worked out with KLT for years. Altogether, this stack of papers preserves the woodlands, back-to-prairie fields, and wild open spaces for all the plants, animals, and even some of us humans dwelling here.


To say this is hard-won is like saying sometimes we have interesting weather in Kansas. We actually have occasional micro-bursts, tornadoes, flash floods, 80-mph winds, blizzards, and long droughts that would bend the strongest will to the dry ground. In a sense, working to save the land has included bouts of all kinds of hard weather over a crazy-long time.


When I married Ken in 1985, I knew I was also marrying this land and our dream of preserving it come hell or high water. We didn't have high water, much of the land being on a hill, but we sure experienced the hell of overwhelming fear, worry, dread, and anxiety. We started out as a poet and a tofu maker. But with Ken's return to school for an occupational therapy degree -- and then career -- and my teaching gigs in and out of institutions, here we are today, three kids grown to adults and out of the house we built on this land. It didn't seem possible for much of the last 39 years that we could pull off protecting the farm.


"What you want is impossible," we heard many times. We wouldn't be able to afford it and the configuration of family ownership of the land blocked a way forward. We were open to any number of alternatives that didn't involve us ponying up money we didn't have, but none of those possibilities panned out. Meanwhile, land prices, especially for a beautiful stretch of prairie and woodlands only five miles from the heart of Lawrence (center of the universe in my book) keep surging higher.


Yet this was where Ken and our kids, who sixth generation on this land, grew up. We are so connected to the plants and slopes of this hill and these fields, especially Ken, that we worried how we'd ever be okay if we lost the land. Conventional wisdom deemed it a foolhardy dream to think we could buy it and put a conservation easement here.


Making it official!

But it was never a foolhardy dream to the land. We would stand in the field or on the back deck of our house, praying, strategizing, planning, and listening to and for the best way forward. The wind always answered, the barred owls too on occasion. Stars would fall at moments when we thought there was no way through. Or we would just hold each other and hope, wish, and beg the life force to help us find a way through while lightning bugs stitched the field or sleet fell.

It turns out there is something much stronger than "No, you can't do this." It's going past the no. Although this isn't the reality for all of our individual and collective dreams, it was for us. Despite our not-so-overflowing finances, we were preparing all along in ways we didn't realize would add up just in time. We had a saving account for the land that our financial advisor, himself a South Dakota farm boy who "got" what we were aiming for, set up for us. Decades of driving old cars into the ground until we needed to get a new used car to drive to oblivion paid off. Although we've never skimped on books or visiting with family and dear friends, somehow, we were able to pay off the mortgage for our home just in time to take out a big-ass loan to buy Wells Farm. We also plan to sell two parcels of the land (included in the easement) -- to pay off our big loan -- to wonderful humans who are all in on the sacredness of this place.


But we also had a lot of help from many of you who believed alongside us. Anyone who knows us likely knows this has been the deal, and many of you have shared frozen fruit bars on the front porch with us while talking through what we might be able to do. You've walked the hill with us, sat on the deck, or met in the living room to watch a panorama of lightning. You helped us figure out financing and gave us faith. You listened to us when proposed plans turned to dust. You told us stories of others who had persevered and how you really saw this happening, despite all signs to the contrary.


Yes, we just signed papers to save the land for the future, but the land has been saving us and will continue to save us. In my memoir (hopefully to find a willing and good publisher soon) -- The Magic Eye -- I wrote about the confluence of going through eye cancer at the same time we were preparing to buy the land, all in the middle of the fiercest part of the pandemic:

The view from here

This is the place we clung to for meaning and solace from the time we married each other and this place until -- and beyond -- now. We found refuge here during my first cancer, and 16 years later, during my second. When my father died, then Ken’s father, then Ken’s mother, and so many dear friends, some by surprise and some slowly over time, the land was this place full of thunder and bird song that sustained and healed us.


After each child started school, then college, then whatever confusing path showed itself. After each drive to town to refill five-gallon jugs with drinkable water because our well water was too salty from remnants of old oceans. After each long or short work trip or family reunion or exciting-at-first and exhausting-in-the-end family vacation camping in the mountains with altitude sickness and teenage attitude. After taking in an abandoned dog and several cats who just showed up at our home, and years later after their expected or unexpected deaths. After all.


It was the view of the sky and walks through the land—carefully and quickly during chigger and tick season, with dogs still alive or just gone—that restored us and our children. It was this land, a perch in the cosmos, a still point in the big winds of each storm and the clearing afterwards, that owned us.


So now the papers are signed, the fields are lush, full of chiggers and magic, and we are even more at home here, strangely calm, a tad incredulous, and startlingly satisfied. Nothing's changed from the vantage point of the darkening blue of another beautiful summer night, the rising heat of the coming day, the deer slipping from shadow to shadow, the indigo bunting bursting from the cedars. Our gratitude isn't changed either, just bigger, so much so that we continue to grow into it.


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14 Comments


Guest
a day ago

Bravo!!! To all of it! 🌟

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Guest
Jun 20

Fantastic!!! I always knew you would make it; I just didn't know how.

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Guest
Jun 17

I'm a fan of yours, and have been for a while. I love your God given sense of the world and the life force that s was inustains us whether we deserve it or not. Keep dreaming.

Jim Coffman, Columbia, MO

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Replying to

Thanks so much, Jim -- you made my day! Wishing you your own generative dreams.

Caryn

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Beautiful! So happy to hear more of the story and of your great love and fortitude. Just the kind of story we need these days. Congratulations and we're planning our next visit to the Overlook.🌻 Lisa

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Guest
Jun 16
Replying to

Thanks so much for the proceeds from your book, too, which helps make this happen!

🌹

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Guest
Jun 16

Just beautiful. Love Never Fails.

Lorel

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