100 Acres at a Time
Buddhist and Shambhala liturgies make many references to caring for other sentient beings. But how do we put such aspirations into practice? The world is full of sentient beings, the vast majority of them being non-human. They don’t speak our language. How does one care for salamanders, otters, whales, alligators, snakes, bats and rhinoceros?
A simple answer is to protect wild nature. Wherever we live.
Paul and Cathy Keddy have just received an award for their contributions to protecting a square mile of forest and wetland in Lanark County, Ontario. The story begins in 1975 when they walked through a 100 acre property and found 30 pairs of great blue herons nesting in a wetland.
The land was for sale. Although they were just newly married, and living in Halifax, they found a downpayment and began paying 70 dollars a month to own this property. “You have to remember that at this time, there were no laws protecting wetlands, and any fool with a bulldozer could have destroyed that wetland in a matter of hours. Even though we could only visit occasionally, we knew the herons were safe.”Over the years, as adjoining properties came up for sale, the Keddys repeatedly mortgaged themselves to purchase adjoining land until they secured nearly a square mile. Within this square mile were extensive wetlands, with herons, otters, wood ducks, and six species of frogs. And adjoining was a large tract of ancient hemlock forest, home to pileated woodpeckers and barred owls. The property includes no less than 15 beaver ponds, each with its own mixture of wild species. A single-room, rustic cabin made longer stays and even retreats possible.
The Keddys cared for this land, and all its sentient beings, for more than 40 years. But what would happen, they worried, when they died? Would the land be logged, subdivided, or drained?So they gave it away last year. The Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust now owns some of the land outright, and owns development rights to most of the rest. This gift is for 999 years, renewable! (Not quite a kalpa, but still a long time.)
The Nature Conservancy is probably the best known organization that protects wild spaces in perpetuity, but there is now an international network of land trusts which seeks to expand the network of protected wild spaces. Land gifts and purchases are now growing a system that supplements protection provided by government parks and wilderness areas. So, wherever you live and practice, you will likely find a local land trust.Here is what Paul told us: “Each of us will die. We are relieved to know that when our time comes, all the wild creatures we have known over the past 40 years will be safe. They will carry on their lives without us. The 100 year old oaks and hemlocks will live several more centuries, and then, when they die, become homes for owls and hawks and tree frogs. Yes, we could have sold the land, and burned through the money on expensive cars and luxury cruises. But we would have been no happier. And, as we know, you can’t take it with you.
“What about our sons and the issue of inheritance? The boys are thrilled that a property with so many happy memories will stay the way they remember it. Moreover, our conservation easement agreement will leave each of them the option to some day live on the edge of the property and enjoy it with their own families. And the salamanders and warblers and turtles and all the rest of the innumerable inhabitants will be allowed to carry on their lives in relative peace.”
To read more about the gift of this land and its natural dwellers, you can visit the land trust’s web site. This gift was also covered in The Ottawa Citizen, with a longer article in the summer 2015 issue of Ottawa Magazine. The Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club recently gave Paul and Cathy a conservation award in recognition of their contributions to protecting wild species and wild places.