In our long wandering years we dreamed of returning not just to the US but to the Willamette Valley. Human salmon returning to the river that gave them life (I can’t say native river since I was born in a different watershed—along the banks of the Mississippi. . .). For years we told our kids stories about fixing up an old farmhouse in the valley, getting a dog, a chainsaw, and some chickens. Somehow it happened—we rebuilt a 19th century schoolhouse (built by a freed slave—no mere metaphor) not far from Corvallis, got the chickens and the chainsaws, and with the help of another GLT member turned part of our field into a seasonal wetland. The geese are already wheeling overhead, and in a few weeks teal, mallard, and wood ducks will arrive. This valley draws us all. Not that it’s perfect. We could do with some fireflies, for example. And more lightning, at least in the wet months when we wouldn’t have to worry about wildfires. And maybe snapping turtles.
The valley draws us and we change it. Where I grew up, change was slow—a new house or two every decade. The same creeks, the same hickory trees I grew up with still draw kids and quail. I walked to school past cypress my great grandfather planted, and my brother hunts morels in the bottom land under white pine we planted as kids. But here things are different—the valley nourishes change: housing developments sprout at every turn, fields yield pavement and parking. And this too is good and necessary, no doubt about it. We shop at a store where cedars grew alongside a creek fifteen years ago. Dozens of families live in houses on the slopes across our wetland where oaks stood when we built our chicken shed. You can actually see the urban growth boundary—it’s where the houses stop. And perhaps this is good and proper. But we must move wisely. All lands are not equal –we run the show, but we are not the only stakeholders. Those other citizens—finny, feathery, too small to see and all lacking voices—depend on us. The bird species alone has doubled on our place since we returned our field to wetland. Land responds generously to water and silence, and both nourish us. As Carl Sandburg said of his own Illinois countryside, walking out into the margins of the farms and field near his home in Galesburg — “This is a proud place to come to, on a winter morning, early in winter.” Whether our valley remains a proud place to come to is up to us.
– Seymour House, Greenbelt Land Trust Board