Sometimes a little patch of earth seeps into you until it gets a little hard to discern where it ends and you begin.
It’s funny that we don’t have a word for that feeling, though countless people have experienced it across the ages. That missing word is the source of much poetry, good and bad; the reason for many songs.
I think people who develop this sort of relationship with the land are some of the luckiest among us. They feel a connection that a lot of us have lost in the modern world, where many have lived out entire lives with a barrier of concrete and pavement separating them from the real ground.
And how much happier for these lucky folks if they have some control over the plot which has captured heart and mind?
Sometimes friends express shock when I tell them that someone has donated land to The Couchiching Conservancy instead of selling it. Land, after all, is among the most valuable commodities. How could someone just give it away?
Thanks to a federal government initiative that recognizes the public benefit of permanently protecting sensitive habitat, there actually are some excellent tax incentives to donate land.
But in my experience, that’s not what motivates most donors. They’re after something else.
Usually after spending a long time on the landscape — maybe watching their kids grow up there, maybe going there sometimes to recover from the inevitable knocks life hands out — they come to see it differently; not as a possession to be bought and sold, but as something that, through chance or hard work, has come under their control for a little while. A trust. Something maybe a little bit sacred.
Our conversations often run along the same lines:
“We’ve had it 40 years,” the owner might say, “and we don’t want to see it ruined.”
I tell him I understand, and then sometimes jump too quickly to the fact that he could receive a tax receipt for the entire value of the property that can be used over 10 years.
“Pretty great if you’re facing capital gains on the sale of a parcel you’ve held for a long time, ” I’ll offer.
“Hmm, good to know,” he’ll say, disinterested enough to make me wonder whether he heard me. “Counted 29 deer coming out of that cedar thicket over there seven years ago. Came out one after another, single file. So quiet.”
Maybe I hand him a colourful brochure with The Canadian Ecological Gifts Program Handbook blazoned across the cover. If he looks look at it, it’s only in passing.
“And this low spot here, the peepers make such a racket in the spring you can’t hear yourself. Less of them now than there were, though. One year my son lost both rubber boots at once in that muck, chasing frogs. Did he howl? He’s 47 now. A lawyer in Toronto. Boots are prob’ly still in there.”
And so it goes.
I put my pamphlets away and we’ll talk about the land. He’ll tell more stories, and show me where a pileated woodpecker nests, and lament over a downed tree he used to climb when he was a boy.
What he won’t do is specifically articulate the deep sense he has that he and the land are somehow joined, and that the land has to stay as it is, even if he can’t.
There’s no word for that.
Mark Bisset is the Executive Director of The Couchiching Conservancy, a charitable land trust that protects important wild lands and holds them in trust for future generations.