Wild Walks and Driftless Saunters

Cornelia Mutel’s Fragile Giants: a Natural History of the Loess Hills endures as the standard comprehensive work on Iowa’s Loess Hills, now almost 30 years since publication. For Connie and for those of us who love it, the Loess Hills landform is “one of North America’s special gems, possessing natural features rarely duplicated elsewhere on the planet.” Many of us in the New Tree School community have discovered something else quite rare in those hills: ancient and vital sanctuaries of wildness. Connie continues: “In addition, the native inhabitants of the Loess Hills to some degree have been protected by the rugged loess topography. While lands on all sides have been converted to cropland, extensive areas of the Loess Hills have remained in prairie and woodland, communities that contain rich and unusual mixtures of native species.”

New Tree School in the Loess Hills

New Tree School in the Loess Hills (photo by Robert Smith).

Cornelia Mutel’s observations seem to channel the spirit of Henry David Thoreau and to echo his  journal entry of August 30, 1856: “I see that all is not garden and cultivated field and crops, that there are little oases of wildness in the desert of our civilization, wild as a square rod on the moon, supposing it to be uninhabited.” And in this same spirit, Aldo Leopold in his Sand County Almanac (1949) celebrates, though with some sadness and irony, local native “frivolities” that could remain as oases of native flora, the “idle spots on every farm” that could preserve native plant communities as part of the “normal environment of every citizen” so long as “cow, plow and mower” are kept at bay.

We seek those idle spots and wild oases, those square rods of moon-like wildness, those hidden places folded into deep ravines and hovering out of reach on sun-baked ridges, those gems and niches that have never known a plow, cow, or garden. And we invite fellow seekers with sturdy boots and dispositions to join us this autumn in the Loess Hills of Iowa and in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin for wild walking with provocative teachers with wild ideas.

Our 2015 program partners are Golden Hills (Iowa) RC&D, The Aldo Leopold Foundation (Baraboo, Wisconsin), and Pottawattamie County (Iowa) Conservation. The Autumn Quarter schedule is now posted. Click on the Offerings 2015 tab above.

Native places are disappearing as our planet becomes less wild every day. Our workshops and saunters can help you discover wildness close to home, recover a sense of wildness within, and take up the work of preservation. Sign up soon – we keep our sessions small.

Go wilder.

Jack Phillips