Our homestead, the Knob house, is part of a roughly 500 acre land trust. Called the John A. Sheppard Memorial Ecological Reservation, (JASMER), this land trust was pieced together in the sixties and seventies by Edwina Pepper and her children to create a preserve of Appalachian hardwood forests and to prevent the land from being developed for coal mining (read more about Edwina Pepper here.) Because the land was bought when it was available, the parcels are strangely shaped and not always connected to each other. In recent years each parcel has been surveyed and mapped, but to our knowledge no map was created to show the total acreage together. One of Ian’s passions in college was geographic information systems (GIS), which is a computer program used for manipulating, analyzing and displaying geospatial data. While still a student he collected data about the parcels from the surveyed maps and georeferenced their borders to make the map below.
But seeing the borders on a map and knowing where they extended in real life are two very different things. When we first moved here, Ian and I had a rough idea of the land trust’s boundaries, but looking down the hillside from our garden left us questioning how far the borders extended below us. We were thrilled when a member of the JASMER board of trustees expressed her desire to walk the borders of the land trust and we jumped at the opportunity to join her. The plan was to walk most of it on a beautiful Saturday morning, relax for a few hours, and use the late afternoon to finish what we hadn’t gotten to. In actuality we only managed to walk a tiny portion, maybe 70-100 acres, in the entire day. We had underestimated the steep hillsides, the thick brambly understory, the almost buried boundary markers and the ornery, wayward animals that insisted on following along with us.
Our attempt to walk the entire border of JASMER was largely a failure, but the day was not. Through the parcel that we managed to trek we got a sense of how big 500 acres in forested mountains really is. Our heaving sides, sopping feet, and stained pant legs from slipping down the steep slopes gave us a sense of how crazy and convoluted this mountain land can be. It was proof that we could walk out of our house and wander in the forest for hours without running into another person or property. How many people today can relate to that?
After a lunch break back at the house, Pepper and Peak, our mediocorely successful mousers, decided that enough snoozing had already happened that day and that they would rather wander along with us through the woods. It seems they regretted their decision soon after we met our first stream, but by that time they had committed in their ventures and followed along with loud yowls to announce their displeasure. Our pace was slowed considerably as we waited for them to daintily scamper through the leaf litter and scurry over fallen logs, but those kitties are troupers and made it through the wilderness with only minimal help. A pretty big accomplishment for such teeny legs!
And finally, Sister Kathy’s love of dogs and all other critters surpasses just about everyone else that I know. She often takes her dogs over to our home so that Wendell can have some doggie play dates. Though he’s very timid around people, Wendell has yet to meet a dog he hasn’t immediately liked.
If a Catholic Sister playing with dogs doesn’t warm your heart, then I’m not sure I can relate to you.