Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Remembering Jane Heyward

When I got the phone call that Jane Heyward had passed away, I sat there for a few moments.  Then I put on my hiking shoes and drove myself to the Fortune’s Cove Preserve.   I walked up the steep trail to the point where the path turns and runs along the contour of the mountain and I stopped.  It was a clear December afternoon. A bright blue sky shone through the bare trunks of the oaks, hickories and poplars and it took me right back to one of the first times that Jane took me here.  She was considering a gift of this property to my employer, The Nature Conservancy, and she was showing my colleague and me around.  At that time, the trail went straight up the mountain, meandering on and off the boundary line.   For the first of what would be many times, Jane was up ahead, waiting for us to catch up. 

Later, as more of my colleagues got involved in this project, Jane helped us lay out the trail for public use.  As you might expect, TNC staff tend to be a pretty fit bunch, but we would return to the office at the end of the day, at once exhausted and inspired by Jane’s ability to scoot straight up the face of the mountain.  Today’s trail, though strenuous, was a compromise with her.  With much persuasion, she agreed to let us construct a gentler path with more switchbacks. Not everyone is capable of scaling the hills like she was.

I have been fortunate to get to know Jane better and to go on many walks with her over the past decade.  She is one of the most positive people I have ever spent time with, and I have learned much from her.  My sense is that she had two priorities in life.  The first was her family and friends.  She frequently updated me on each of her children and every year would send me pictures of them along with her extended family.  She loved to point out the photograph of Fortune’s Cove, taken by Julie. Once when I was visiting her at home, she shared with me a book of poetry by her daughter that had recently been published.  It is one of my lesser regrets that I did not have a tape recorder to capture her distinctive voice reading aloud one of Nin’s “Dick and Jane” poems, all the while laughing mischievously.  

Her second priority was land conservation.  She acquired property in places that she loved and then she protected it.  In her life she placed thousands of acres in conservation easement, and through her donation to The Nature Conservancy, has made more than 1,000 of those stunning acres available to the hiking public.

On this afternoon, I hiked the lower trail, which takes the hiker to rock outcrops that overlook bucoolic Fortune’s Cove.  The path crosses musical streams.  This time of year after a rain, small waterfalls cascade down rocks and boulders here and there, making the preserve look the way a Japanese garden must want to look when it grows up.  

The trees in this forest are only about 40 years old. You might notice boulders the size of cars scattered throughout the woods and streams. That in itself makes this an interesting place if you understand the recent natural history here.  In August of 1969, what remained of Hurricane Camille stalled over this small part of Nelson County where it joined up with 2 other weather systems and dumped over 31 inches of rain in a several hour period   Now recognized by the National Weather Service as one of the Top 10 Storms of the Twentieth Century, more rain fell that night than meteorologists previously thought was possible in an event that some scientists estimate will occur only once every thousand years.  In addition to the lives that were lost in the county that night, thousands of years of soil and decades-old orchards and forests washed down the mountains.  Thanks to Jane, this property will never be developed and we’ll have a chance to see what happens after nature strips everything down to bedrock and starts over. 

Though she suffered from painful sciatica in her last years, she continued to walk around her lovely yard each day, enjoying her garden and trees.  She told me earlier this fall that she believed walking had kept her alive. 

Among other things, Jane introduced me to the writings of John Muir, another great walker.   I think of them both with gratitude this evening as I reach the end of the trail, the sky reddening in the west.  

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - Muir
Tribute written by Linda Crowe

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