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Healing And Repairing. Re-imagining Conservation From Where Our Lives Intersect. 2016

 

 

By Peter Forbes, For Maine Coast Heritage Trust (Download the full essay as a PDF)

Written for people everywhere who devote their lives to healthy soils, forests, oceans and people, Healing and Repairing demonstrates through practical examples how better understanding one another will lead to more successful and durable ways to protect nature. At a moment when our nation debates the value of walls and isolation, how might an emerging practice of conservation that honors differences and connects people offer a more compelling story? By carefully examining how this is happening in one place, this essay aspires to respectfully stretch and encourage a change in conservation everywhere. Conservation is Maine is molting as a concept, revealing how much Maine -with all its traditions from privilege to poverty -  has moved the discussion forward toward inclusion and a broader definition of conservation that more and more people can see themselves within. The narrower our definition of conservation the less of it we will have. Maine is asking us to have a different conversation, not one about ecology or one about human well-being but one about how these two things can’t succeed without the other.

The story in brief

Maine is a place shaped by stories. The most important ones are about our relationships, the kind we have with places and the kind we have with each other. This essay explores dozens of efforts underway today to re-think the promise of place-making as bringing those two stories together: repairing and, perhaps, healing some of the divides between us while strengthening people’s connections to a healthy landscape.

Through examining a uniquely modern lineage of conservation from Rockefeller to Rachel Carson to Helen and Scott Nearing, these different perspectives have created an ethic with three goals: protect a place, protect peoples’ relationship to that place, and invite new people to share in those benefits. This essay looks at land trusts working on food security, on rebuilding local wood economies, on fostering local self-determination in the face of global investment, and understanding how to sustain a fishing industry, on improving how some rural cultures treat each other, and how we might consider sharing what we have through a new national park.  

Chapter 1: Imagine This. A look at what possible.

Chapter 2: A Story of Two Maines: the edge, centuries in the making, that divides people.

Chapter 3. Who owns Conservation? When does conservation belong to everyone?

Chapter 4: Human Wellbeing. How saving people is connected to saving nature

Chapter 5: Commitment and Creativity. Exploring new measures of success.

Chapter 6: Being in service. How does conservation serve all of us?

If we are willing to change the types of conversation we have and to broaden the audience we commit to speaking with, then conservation can support a much broader range of issues and opportunities.  Conservationists have a longer time horizon and many have unique privileges and expectations that contrast with local views. If conservationists can raise their awareness to consider patterns of class, local fears and shorter time perspectives they can work through many of these divisions and forge understandings to be able to share power and neighbor well. And in this effort to better understand one another, we are learning the skills to protect land in a much more durable way.

In other words, by expanding our awareness and strengthening our knowledge and understanding of people and their needs, we might grow a land-based culture across an entire state that leaves nobody out. Land trusts are taking innovative risks: seeing new connections, building relationships, adjusting patterns of behavior, embracing new strategies, defining new measures of success; these risks are changing the character of these land trusts and creating new opportunities.


A Man Apart: Bill Coperthwaite's Radical Experiment in Living, 2015

By Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow

On a winter morning in 2013, six people paddled the body of their close friend across a bay to a wild homestead on the coast of Maine where he would be buried in a hand-dug grave. 

Among the paddling mourners were Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow.

A Man Apart is their story—part memoir and part biography—of their longtime friendship with William Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life) whose unusual life and fierce ideals helped others examine and understand their own. It is also a story about the tensions and complexities of mentorship: the opening of one’s life to someone else to learn together, and carrying on in their physical absence. A Man Apart is also a remembrance of the life, and death, of Coperthwaite—a homesteader and social critic in the lineage of Henry David Thoreau and Scott Nearing—and an account of his decades-long experiment in living on a remote stretch of Maine coast.

Plenty of people can put out their ideas for reform. A pitiful few have designed their lives to reflect their ideals as closely as possible. Bill is one of those few uncompromising souls, unblinded by convention, unsocialized, living what some would call an experimental life but proving it real for nearly fifty years. Coperthwaite lived out his ideals about society, education, and design on his Maine homestead, Dickinsons Reach, and over the years challenged and encouraged Peter and Helen to do some of the most important things they have done with their lives.

In A Man Apart the authors explore and reveal the timeless lessons of Coperthwaite’s experiment in intentional living and self-reliance, as well as describe the revelations and tensions of mentorship. Theirs is a story told through the adventure of building a home with him, Coperthwaite’s last concentric yurt—the building form for which he was best known—on a stretch of coast accessible only by boat. While mourning his death and coming to understand the real meaning of his life and how it endures in their own lives, Peter and Helen handcraft a story that reveals the importance of a life that seeks out direct experience, is drawn to beauty and simplicity, creates rather than critiques, and encourages others.

“What is a good life? The models offered by our celebrity culture are mostly shabby and shallow. To find worthier examples you need to look elsewhere—to books, for example, where you can meet Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Barbara Kingsolver, and Wendell Berry, among others. To that lineage of American rebels you can now add Bill Coperthwaite. In this eloquent portrait, Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow document the search for integrity, wide-ranging competence, and high purpose, not only in Coperthwaite’s life, but in their own. This is a wise and beautiful book.”—Scott Russell Sanders

This is a beautifully raw account of loving grief, instructive failure, and steadfast allegiance to an utter planetary necessity: major cultural transformation.”—David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K

Please consider purchasing a copy at your local bookstore, Chelsea Green Publishing or Amazon today. Thanks for your early support and enthusiasm!


Land Conservation and the Public Trust, 2013  

co-authored by Ernie Atencio, Peter Forbes and Danyelle O'Hara

"If this work of re-imagining land conservation as being about relationship and community were easy, we would have done it long ago."

"The courage to reach for something that may not be fully attainable in the short term is always hard and always an act of leadership. And that leadership couldn’t come at a more important time for the land trust movement."

“The direct and prominent connection between wealth, class, and land conservation has been well documented in this country by generations of academics and practitioners. This information, however, is not well integrated into the story that land conservation tells about itself or the practices it uses to address these dynamics. The gap between the stories told by conservationists and those told by others who are deeply connected to and love the land impede authentic collaboration, although connection to and love for the land should unite the two groups. This is the sorrow of the conservation movement, of our nation too, and one major obstacle to creating healthy, whole communities."  

"An African American forester interviewed in this project said this about the land trust movement: “We can only have conversation about what land trusts have not gotten right because of what they have got right. We can provide a nuanced critique of land trusts because they’ve been so effective.” Many folks, inside and outside the land trust movement, can see the big picture and can even name where we are today in the process. One land trust executive director said this: “It’s like medical triage; the first thing you’ve got to do is stop the bleeding, then you can take time to look at the long term, the systemic challenges that are preventing health.”

 

Editorial in Conservation Biology Magazine, 2011 Transforming Conservation for the 21st Century

"The enormous effects of our behavior make us the ultimate keystone species, and the implications to conservation are provocative. One cannot begin to meaningfully address loss of biological diversity or climate change without addressing human poverty, the destructive forces of the divides among races and classes, and the desire to improve one’s quality of life.

I believe that the primary challenge to conservation today is transforming our perspective from one that is primarily about biological diversity or science or even stewardship to one that also is about the making of lives that are worth living. If we do this, not only will far more people be drawn to conservation, but conservation itself will become stronger and more enduring."

 

 

 


A Hand Made Life: In Search of Simplicity, 2007

By William Coperthwaite, Photographs by Peter Forbes

William Coperthwaite is a teacher, builder, designer, and writer who for many years hasexplored the possibilities of true simplicity on a homestead on the north coast of Maine. In the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, and Helen and Scott Nearing, Coperthwaite has fashioned a livelihood of integrity and completeness-buying almost nothing, providing for his own needs, and serving as a guide and companion to hundreds of apprentices drawn to his unique way of being.

A Handmade Life carries Coperthwaite's ongoing experiments with hand tools, hand-grown and gathered food, and handmade shelter, clothing, and furnishings out into the world to challenge and inspire. His writing is both philosophical and practical, exploring themes of beauty, work, education, and design while giving instruction on the hand-crafting of the necessities of life. Richly illustrated with luminous color photographs by Peter Forbes, the book is a moving and inspirational testament to a new practice of old ways of life


Coming to Land in a Troubled World, 2004

By Peter Forbes, Kathleen Dean Moore and Scott Russell Sanders

The present rate of devastation of our natural world and of healthy lives is unprecedented, and accelerating. The work of conserving land, species, and ways of life is more urgent and vital than ever before. What does it mean to truly conserve land and community life in this era? And why is this so vitally important if we are to heal the divisions in our culture and ourselves, change our patterns of consumption, and reverse the fate of our earth?

In three powerful essays, three influential writers and thinkers--Scott Russell Sanders, Peter Forbes and Kathleen Dean Moore--explore these questions, giving us new insights about the promise of land conservation in our present world. Through its deep examination of the value of land to our culture and our souls, this book becomes a meditation on reconciliation and restoration, love and loss, wholeness and innovation, fairness and community. It gives us new approaches and new hope to work to heal the great divisions and losses we see around us each day.

The book also includes a "Land and People Index" which gives often startling statistics on the state of our world, such as the fact that America now has more malls than high schools. The index, a set of guidelines for setting one's highest values, and other tools give this reader an added dimension: as a practical and thought-provoking workbook for conservationists and social activists it offers ways to move forward with more power to effect change.

 


The Story Handbook: A Primer on Language and Storytelling for Land Conservationists, 2003

In The Story Handbook, contributors Tim Ahern, William Cronon, John Elder, Peter Forbes, Barry Lopez, and Scott Russell Sanders present us with the power of stories, narratives of people and places, and how those stories can advance the work of land conservation toward creating meaningful change in our culture.
As Trust for Public Land president Will Rogers writes in his introduction, "true success in our work means moving land conservation out of the ‘emergency room’ of last-ditch efforts... To do this we will need to help create a fundamental change in how our society thinks about and treats land; we will need to nurture the flowering of a new land ethic. Stories may be our best way to get there."

 

 

 

 

 


The Great Remembering: Further Thoughts on Land, Soul and Society, 2001

By Peter Forbes

The Great Remembering is an activist's exploration of what land means to our culture. In three chapters, "The Extinction of Experience," "Dissent and Defiance," and "Building a New Commons," the author traces the roots of our disconnection from place and from meaningful stories about our lives. He discusses what he terms the "ethics of enough"--the growing trend to slow down and place the quality of our experiences over the quantity of our possessions. It is through preserving land and rebuilding the relationship between land and people, he argues, that our culture can not only restore natural habitats, but revitalize human communities as well.

In his introduction to the book, the Trust for Public Land's president, Will Rogers, writes, "The time has come for some hard questions and new approaches to land conservation. . . the pace of development and the impact of often poorly conceived growth on the American landscape have accelerated. . . How can we rethink our work as conservationists to change how our society approaches not just land use, but also our relationship with each other, our sense of community, and our responsibilities of citizens of a rapidly shrinking world?" Whether we are conservationists or citizens concerned about the quality of our lives and landscapes, The Great Remembering helps us begin to answer these questions and to work toward restoring a vital, interdependent, whole-land community.

Trust for Public Land's companion book, Our Land, Ourselves (1999), gathered together a diverse collection of readings on the many themes of people and place. Peter Forbes' introductions to those readings suggested a new way of viewing land conservation as the process of building values and shaping human lives. In The Great Remembering, he goes a step further, arguing that land conservation has the power to transform the heart and soul of our communities and to restore a set of values to a society that is increasingly fragmented and individualistic.


Published Essays

Facing Change in the Whole Thinking Journal

Stretched and Ready in the Whole Thinking Journal  2010

The Circle of Story in the Whole Thinking Journal, 2009

Toward a New Relationship in Yale's Conservation Innovations Series, 2008

Building a New Movement, 2008

What is a Whole Community? 2006

 

 

“The essential argument has been consistent all through the years: We must care for both people and land; in fact, we can only care for either if we care for both. Your work for the Maine Coast Heritage Trust grounds this core idea in the work underway throughout that state, and articulates the healing values through the words of people who are carrying on the vital work. It’s a fine piece of writing, and a heartening testament to our capacity for creating more just and sustainable communities. The examples you document, the voices you quote, and your own narrative presence are all the more heartening in this time when the public arena is dominated by forces of division and exploitation. You are doing the real work, my friend. I honor you for it.”

Scott Russell Sanders

Author of The Conservationist Manifesto and many other books and essays.