I was sitting with a friend riverside on the Mary’s. He owns an idyllic little place tucked in the valley, rich with small town history and wild with plant life. As we watched the kids bobbing and floating in the swimming hole hidden by a circle of trees, he says if he didn’t have all of this—if I had to go back 18 years without an opportunity to buy land, I would have liked to partner with someone who did. Invest myself in the wealth of the place, even if it wasn’t mine. Because isn’t that what it’s all about, sharing? I nodded, but with fervor— I know exactly what you mean, I say.
I grew up in the countryside of Southern Oregon, surrounded by mountains and sloping acreage, west facing pasture and our own private pond. My childhood was spent wading knee high down creek beds, sitting under grand arching oaks, walking through grasslands shoulder high to the sound of crickets humming and the dusky lavender sky. This was my home, my place, more than any house could have been, more than any room with four walls. From the earliest memories I can recall a deep connection to my environment, which was nature, untamed and limitless, barefoot and free, a young girl’s dream living true. And here I am now, a young woman, a wife, a mother, living in a small rented city lot with concrete, car exhaust, telephone poles. But the girl in memory is just as alive in me, and I carry a deep rooted longing for that sense of home, a place to make my own, for personal connection to ground, and water and sky, and the hope of passing it on to my children, teaching them through the love of sharing what it is that I love.
Here’s the thing, I say, as the magic golden light of evening bursts in beams through leaves, and I hear the sound of water spilling down rocky passages into a shimmering pool resounding with child laughter. And I express to my friend, what I have expressed many times before, to my own heart, to friends scattered across the states, to my family back in my hometown, I have an overflowing gratitude for what I have found here, in this community, Benton County. Thousands of acres of preserved public space, trails and parks, enthusiasm, caring, people who have invested what they have into the gift of good land. I own nothing. Maybe we will one day have a few acres with our name on it, I sure hope so. But for now, there is so much space for all of us. And it is this ground, with these people I want to stand with, work with, live life with, because I personally understand the profound meaning behind what is being done here. It matters! More than what many know. I am not the only one who needs to walk aimlessly through trees in silence but for birdsong and sit on a hilltop as the sun sinks low over the coast range and have picnic dinners in an oak savannah with the company of wildflowers to quiet my mind, soften my heart, renew my body, to simply enjoy life. We all need this. And we have it here, right outside our doorstep.
—Blog post and photos by Hannah King, Greenbelt Volunteer Naturalist