A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke of the axe he is writing his signature on the face of the land. –Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac

Many modern back to the land stories unfold on neglected farmland that is ready to be brought back to life with attention and care.  The piece of property on which my story takes place had evolved past neglect: it was simply abandoned to the forest.  When we looked out the windows of our old home in the early years, we didn’t see fields onto which we could project agrarian dreams, but walls of vegetation that were wild and unwelcoming. If we wanted to make a farm, we would have to cut it into a forest.

We purchased our home on ten acres in 2011 because of its location — 10 minutes by car to the college where I teach and 3 minutes by foot to my wife’s family’s home — not because of its agricultural potential. Nine of the ten acres were entangled in a web of noxious weeds and vines climbing up through box elders and Russian olive, pioneer plants whose natural function is to reclaim fields for forests. My affection for the place was not yet rooted in time and memory, so I couldn’t help but see my woods as an obstacle to idealized ends. What we wanted for our place and what it had become required me, in the words of Aldo Leopold, “to write my signature on the face of the land.” But how?

The industrial solution to land “development” involves strip-mining sites of their flora, fauna, and topsoil, embodying practices Wendell Berry laments in his poem, “Damage”: “The trouble was the familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge.”

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