The Giving Tree

About two months ago I received a package in the mail from a family with which I had recently worked. I had helped this couple to make arrangements to inter the ashes of their son at the foot of a young oak tree on the Preserve. Though he had passed a few years before, the depth of their grief for their child (grown or not, he was still their child) was still heavy within their hearts.

In their message, they shared that their son had “loved to climb trees and would be happy that he now lies under a beautiful oak tree.” Along with this message they also enclosed a gift – “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which was a favorite among their family.

The_Giving_TreeI read this story many times as a child. As a little girl, it always made me a tad uncomfortable. I never liked the progression of the little boy taking so much from the tree – perhaps feeling guilty for my own selfish, childish demands. Maybe this was why my mother would occasionally insist that this story make its way into the bedtime rotation…?

The little boy and the tree have made an appearance a few times as I am now reading to my own son. When I became a parent, the story took on a whole new flavor. My focus shifted to the tree, who gave without regard for herself. The love of the tree was so like the love of a parent; giving with no expectations. But the tree gives so much that by the end she is left a lonely stump.

Morethanherself As the book has sat upon my shelf for a few weeks, though, I have begun to consider the story differently. As many have before me, I see an environmental message underlying the story. It seems to me now that we all are the little boy, and the tree is all of Nature. We come into the world like the boy, full of carefree innocence as we climb and explore our world. As we age we become caught up with the demands of our lives, viewing nature as a commodity and often disconnecting ourselves from it. When we reach the end of our lives we will all return to Nature – to the earth – to rest.

Obviously everyone’s interpretation of any work of art will be different and personal. In the wake of my time spent with this family, this environmental interpretation feels like an appropriate and important reminder. A reminder to live my life mindfully, not taking too much from the tree. A reminder to cling to that young boy within me, swinging in the branches of the tree with a heart full of love and joy. A reminder to ensure that, when I reach the end of my life, I can return and rejoin her in peace.

I can only hope that those I leave behind will be able to carry with them the image of me swinging among her branches.


Volunteers on the Prairie

The United Way of Stark county organized their annual Day of Caring this past week, and The Wilderness Center was so very thankful to have a great group of volunteers from Synchrony Financial joining us for an afternoon of hard work.


Some of the volunteers worked on picking up litter. Others pulled weeds and cleared our Nature Playscape area. Another portion joined me in to work on prairie restoration at the Foxfield Preserve.



Right now Indian grass and Switch grass seeds are ready to be harvested. This group collected a large amount of these seeds from the prairie near TWC’s Interpretive Building. Then we took them, along with some milkweed seeds which had been frozen and stratified over the winter from last fall, and spread this seed through the lower prairie at Foxfield.



With restoration efforts like these, and the help of wonderful volunteers like Synchrony Financial, the Foxfield prairies continue to grow in beauty each year. Come on out and hike our trails to enjoy the beautiful views and peaceful surroundings.


Raising a glass

Last night I sat back with a glass of wine to reflect on a full day. It had been a bit hectic – meeting with a couple of families, returning numerous phone calls, and performing a burial. I had not had the time to truly process the events of the day until this quiet moment after dinner was cleaned and the children were in bed.

Malmquist1My reflections on yesterday’s burial brought me a deep sense of contentment. The woman we were honoring was a passionate botanist and native plant enthusiast. She had been pleased to choose Foxfield as her final resting place, and would have been gratified by the service performed there in her memory. Each of her children offered fitting tributes which spoke honestly and lovingly to different aspects of her character and their relationship with her. There were poetry readings, prayers, humorous memories and messages of gratitude. All were lovely, but the stand-out moments for me were not these loving tributes.

What will stick with me will be watching one of her sons rest his hand lovingly upon the lid of her casket for a moment as he placed it down upon the grave, lingering with her a moment longer. It will be the sight of her children, grandchildren and sisters surrounding the grave and raising wine glasses high overhead in a solemn toast, before laughing at the fact that she would have hated this wine. It will certainly be the moment Malmquist3that I stepped up to her dear friend to inform him that we had grave diggers standing by to finish filling in the grave. He took a break from shoveling and his stormy eyes were full of emotion as he told me “That’s okay. I think it’s good for me to do this.”And I hope to forever remember the loving hands of her children as they planted beautiful native flowers atop her burial mound.

These beautifully poignant moments seem to shimmer in my memory; gestures so full of love and life. As I reflected upon them, and the love shared by this family, I raised my own glass in a silent toast.


Thank you to the Malmquist family for generously sharing their images from these beautiful services.

Photo Flower-Picking

The sun shining through the office window was beckoning me this past Saturday. I had my own “Julie Andrews/Sound of Music” moment as I strolled through the Foxfield prairie, enjoying the ‘music’ of pollinators buzzing through the flowers and birds singing overhead. The flutter of butterflies skimming amidst the colorful blooms underneath a powdery blue sky added to the picturesque setting.

The beauty of the day and of so many lovely flowers blowing in a light breeze, took me back to sunny summer days of childhood spent flower-picking. Grabbing a camera, I decided to “pick” myself a lovely photo bouquet that would never wilt (and that I could share!).


A thick patch of prairie coneflower has establised itself on a hillside overlooking the Sugar Creek valley. With tree swallows circling overhead, I could have sat there for a while enjoying this beautiful view.


I was thrilled to see my first rattlesnake master popping up its head! The insects were certainly enjoying its spiny-looking blossoms.


One of my personal favorites, ironweed is just beginning to blossom. Love that deep purple.


I chased this black swallowtail butterfly for a while before it would land and pose for me!


Nice, tall Joe Pyeweed was stretching up towards the bright blue sky, its tight little buds preparing to burst open with light pink blossoms.


I had never seen St. Johnswort before. Luckily a TWC naturalist was able to help me identify this bright, bushy plant growing on the Preserve.


The heavenly fragrance of the mountain mint was hanging on the breeze. Sweet and alluring to me, it was completely irresistible to the many insects flocking to the plant.


The delicate blossoms of the tick trefoil were not easily noticeable until I was upon them. Their dainty purple blossoms were particularly lovely, and I felt rewarded when I noticed their beauty among the tall grasses.


As I was enjoying a tuft of bergamot covered with happy bees, I was able to quickly snap a photo of a silver-spotted skipper drinking nectar from the underside.


The delicate white of queen anne’s lace was floating among the green prairie grasses like fluffy clouds.


I had also never seen this lovely and delicate flower growing near the entrance of the Preserve. Our TWC naturalists have been trying to key it out, but haven’t put their fingers on it yet. Hope it isn’t some horrible, invasive non-native because it is SO PRETTY. Anyone have any ideas?


I caught a tiger swallowtail (dark form) enjoying a nice long drink on this liatris growing on the crest of the prairie. Great for us both, as it gave me ample opportunity to capture her photo for this beautiful photo bouquet!




At peace

We recently hosted a beautiful burial service at Foxfield Preserve for Richard Schultz. Unlike many of us, he was granted time to prepare for his approaching end. He had accepted his death. He was at peace with his god. He was able to plan the services he desired, and communicated his feelings to his family.

In crafting his memorial, he prepared a final message to be read to his family. It was incredibly moving. Within that message, he addressed his decision to choose Foxfield as his final resting place. As we stood at the graveside, in the midst of his heartfelt message to his family, I was overcome with the beauty and selflessness of his statements.

In speaking with his family following the services, they permitted me to share what he had written. “We all agreed that he would want to have his message shared.  He was a teacher and advocated for his beliefs.  He would be pleased that his choice is being used to show others they have a choice.”

“Why the natural burial in a nature preserve? 
It’s a beautiful cemetery, a beautiful place Milkweedfor you to visit. The remains will quickly return to the soil and provide nutrients for the continuation of the life cycle. I am of this earth, from this earth, supported by this earth, and to this earth I return. The final gift of my body back to the earth is in recognition and gratitude for the gifts the earth gave to sustain my life.

Life is eternal – Not in some far away by-and-by, but right here, right now and all the time. The Spirit of Life is my Father and the Earth is my mother and to her womb, I return.” Richard Schultz

This was humbling to witness. I can only hope that one day I can greet my own end with such beautiful understanding and peace.

Stormy Prairie Morning

As I busily prepared for a burial last week on a stormy summer morning, the colorful bloom of the Foxfield prairie proved to be a delightful distraction!


A pair of tree swallows were running in and out of this box, enjoying the garden we’ve planted outside their door. IMG_0266

Beautiful blooms at the entrance to the Preserve insisted that I pause to appreciate them.


I was incredibly happy to see such a plentiful supply of wild bergamot blooming this year – and so were all the happy pollinators buzzing around the prairie.


The gray coneflower is beginning to pop up on the hillside overlooking the Sugar Creek valley. Soon this area will be a lovely sea of yellow.

IMG_0244I was lucky enough to catch a quick glimpse of the spiderwort just as it was beginning to close up for the heat of the day.


A glimpse of red caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. This is the first time I’ve seen cardinal flower blooming on the Preserve. What a delight!


And then I was tickled to see it in among the prairie docks near the entrance.

IMG_0255 One of the biggest highlights of the day for me – The many milkweed seeds we’ve been collecting are beginning to produce plants throughout the prairie. Now bring on the Monarchs!

Honoring your principles

Sipping my coffee at the intersection during my commute this morning, I suddenly looked up and realized I was situated right behind the Batesville Casket Co. delivery vehicle.


For whatever reason, the realization made me laugh a bit. I had never put much thought into the vehicles that deliver these caskets, and had not expected them to be branded. But as I considered the messaging on the back of the truck, my amusement faded a bit.

“Helping families honor the lives of those they love.”

I’m sure there are those who believe that burying your loved one in an extravagant steel or lacquered wooden casket is the appropriate way to honor them. For me, though, this does not ring true. Honoring the life that I have tried to live would not include polluting the earth with steel and concrete. It would not mean encasing me so that the earth would never again touch my skin, effectively removing me from the natural cycles of life. And I wouldn’t want it to ostensibly waste an enormous amount of resources in the process (see my previous posts on cremation  and the statistics on caskets and vaults).

courtesy of Kinkaraco Shrouds

courtesy of Kinkaraco Shrouds

What I want is very different. I want to be buried naturally in a simple biodegradable shroud so that my molecules will quickly rejoin the life cycle. I will be part of a beautiful nature preserve, and my burial will insure that it will forever remain wild. Those who love me will know that I am there in the life all around them – the tall sunflowers waving on the prairie, the butterflies floating on the summer breeze, the tree branch bent heavy beneath the wet snow. And my last act will support service that I value, instead of a corporation. My loss will provide additional funding to conserve and protect more land in our community, and introduce more families to the wonders of nature.

This is representative of my principles and what I want for those I will leave behind. This is the best way to honor me and the life I am trying to live.

Honoring Mom

Coping with the loss of your mother is difficult at all times, but perhaps even more so around Mother’s Day. While always reminded of her in daily occurrences, the inundation of commercial reminders at this time of year can be a glaring and painful reminder of that loss.

It can be important to find special ways to remember your mother and keep her memory alive – both on this difficult day and throughout the year. There are many ways to honor you mother, from planting her favorite flowers to spending the day in an activity you enjoyed together. At Foxfield, we host a Bird Watch on the day prior to Mother’s Day so that our families can come out and enjoy the peace of the Preserve.

In looking through old articles, I was once again moved by one young woman’s unique tribute to her mother which was brought to my attention in a blog by Akron Beacon Journal columnist Mary Beth Breckenridge (as well as her understandably proud father). In her review of a book called “Taming Wildflowers,” Mary Beth ran across the beautiful photo and moving account of Dana Buzzelli’s memorial to her mother, Laura, who was buried on the Foxfield prairie in 2009. Like Mary Beth, I was stopped in my tracks by the delicate tattoo across Dana’s back which pictures some of the wildflowers now growing on her mother’s grave.

“My connection to wildflowers came from my mother, who fostered in me a love of the earth and the natural world,” Dana wrote, “She was a self-taught gardener and naturalist. Growing up, our bookshelves were loaded with wildlife and wildflower field guides. My mother home-schooled us so we spent lots of time creek-walking, hiking and exploring Cleveland’s extensive park system. My mom battled cancer for almost a decade. Before she died she chose to be buried completely naturally at Ohio’s only green burial site, Foxfield Preserve. She is buried in an Ohio prairie ecosystem and has completed the cycle of life and returned to the Earth. The wildflowers keep her with me always. I plan on adding to them annually in memory of my mom.” – excerpt from “Taming Wildflowers” by Miriam Goldberger.

To paraphrase Mary Beth: Dana’s tattoo is keeping alive her mother’s commitment to the Earth and sharing it with others. A lovely way to honor her mother and keep those memories close. As I work out on the Preserve now, I see their love for each other in every flower that blooms on the prairie. They serve as a gentle reminder to me that our mothers are always with us.

Life on the Preserve

This past weekend we hosted a Mother’s Day Bird Walk on the Foxfield Preserve. It was a spectacular morning, with warm breezes and bright sunny skies.

BirdWalk2015Our purpose was bird-watching and we viewed plenty of bluebirds, song sparrows, common yellow-throated warblers, a turkey vulture, and scores of red-winged blackbirds. We caught glimpses of a prairie warbler, and, though we heard them, the white-eyed and red-eyed vireo played a good game of hide and seek with us.

TreeSwallowBluebirdIn addition to the birds flitting through the air, we were also able to witness a nest full of young bluebirds who were only about 3-5 days old! Aren’t they adorable little naked things?! Can’t wait to see them fledging in a few weeks.


A sharp pair of eyes also uncovered a small tree frog in the grasses near one of our bluebird houses on the edge of the prairie! Examining the grasses and flowers gave us the opportunity to even learn a bit more about the vegetation on the prairie, and the habitat that it provides for so many living things.


Thanks to attendee Laura Davis for sharing these beautiful images taken during the hike!

Planting & “Oom-pah” on the Prairie

We were met with a chilly, rainy day for our 4th annual Planting Day at the Preserve. The less-than-favorable weather kept away all but the heartiest souls. These few brave, cheerful souls did add some lovely native selections to the plots of their loved ones and have added to the beauty of the Preserve.

The highlight of the day for me occurred when we were working over in the forest section and heard strains of music carried across the prairie. We followed the sound to investigate and found a large family enjoying a picnic lunch at the graveside of their mother and grandmother. As this family installed some lovely wildflowers around their mother’s grave, they were also serenading the surrounding wildlife with some of her favorite “oom-pah” music. A native of Germany, she had chosen her location on the hillside because the yellow wildflowers and the views of gently rolling hills “reminded her of the old country.” The nod to her heritage seemed like a wonderful tribute to enjoy as they picnicked overlooking those hills.

While the turn-out was more sparse than in the past, it was so wonderful to have the opportunity to visit with these families. Thank you to all who participated!