The act of undertaking the purchase and preservation of Raven Rocks was like the planting of seed. All kinds of projects, some of them almost as ambitious as the land purchase itself, have sprung up here.
But none of this—the land purchase and preservation, or the other projects that have grown out of it—just happened by some fortunate accident. Raven Rocks is the product of many ideas, the expression of many dreams.
“Giftful employment”—an idea bears fruit
As an example of just one of these, we would mention the idea of “giftful employment.” Giftful employment is not a new idea, it is an ancient one, restated by philosopher Gerald Heard. We begin with what we all know and accept—that we must earn and produce what we need for our own sustenance, shelter, and growth. This is the gainful employment that we and our society understand and do best. But, with gainful employment accomplished and with our needs met, we encounter an additional need. We human beings need giftful employment. We need to engage our energies and our capabilities in productive work that benefits other people, that improves the prospect for those who will follow us in the future. This is giftful employment. As many know from their own experience, we thrive on it. Without it, our lives are diminished, our spirits and vision blighted.
We wondered what society might be like, guided by more giftful intentions. This idea assumes that generosity is important, in fact that it is natural, and that we need it, like a social-spiritual vitamin. Our dream was to produce what we were able, to consume what we needed, and then to pass along to others and to the future all the surplus. What you can see at Raven Rocks, are expressions and fruits of this and of other ideas. The land that we are protecting, the forest we are renewing, the buildings we are building, and maybe even some dreams we've been dreaming—all of these we'd like to leave for the benefit of others, and for the future, a gift from lives happily lived.
When the Raven Rocks group undertook the purchase, we had few resources, but the former owner of the property had begun a Christmas tree plantation, so we set out to learn the tree business as our means of paying for the place.
Each of us, out of his regular employment saved what he could and loaned to the Corporation to assist with the payments. But in the long run, it is volunteer labor applied to Christmas trees that paid for the land. Individuals volunteered as much time as each felt able, to get the Christmas tree work done: the planting, mowing, pest control, pruning, harvesting and selling. There was enough work involved in keeping some 45,000 Christmas trees in the production sequence to provide a constant opportunity and invitation to members to explore and to develop their capacities for giftful employment.
This invitation to exercise one's natural giftfulness has attracted non-members as well. A significant part of the work at Raven Rocks has been accomplished by non-members who volunteered hours, days and even weeks of their time. These are people who call us, or write, or just stepped in at one of our Christmas-time sales lots and asked if there was something to do.
Since 1970, Raven Rocks, Inc., has added important areas around the borders of the original property, raising the total acreage at this time to 1,268 acres, of which 1,015 has been placed in a wilderness conservation easement. There remain additional acres that should be added if the preservation intent is to be fully realized and is to work well. Some of these include parts of ravine formations themselves.
Cooperation makes projects possible
Besides the shared work of the corporation to pay for and preserve the land, members are encouraged and assisted in projects of their own choosing. Some of these projects are major undertakings. That individuals or households could attempt projects of such magnitude is a reflection of one of the most fundamental benefits of the more cooperative style that is characteristic of the Raven Rocks efforts. The truth is that without the shared expertise and labor of members, many of these projects simply would not be possible.
In one way or another, these member-managed projects contribute to the over-all Raven Rocks objectives, including efforts to conserve resources, and to restore and preserve the environment.
When, as often happens, these projects result in construction of buildings on the property, or in the improvement of the land, these "assets" become part of the preservation. What this means, in the case of a building, for instance, is that what a visitor sees being built at Raven Rocks today may be occupied by its builders in their lifetimes, but is not theirs to sell on the open market. It is part of the Raven Rocks preserved property. That is because the corporation has written into its rules and bylaws the fundamental intention of the group, which is that the preserved land itself, or any part of that land, cannot be sold again. Pockets of privately owned property within the preserved area would, in the judgment of Raven Rocks members, diminish the effectiveness and value of the project.
"The Raven Rock"
For generations, Raven Rocks has been a favorite place for hikes and outings. “The Raven Rock,” as old-timers called the largest and most accessible of its dramatic ravines and rock formations, have been the chief attraction. That seems to have been true at least as far back as the year 760 A.D., when, according to Kent State University archaeologists, Indians began a 200-year period of regular use of The Raven Rock for what appear to have been ceremonial purposes.
Who visited the ravines, and for what purposes for the next thousand years, we can only guess. But we do know that for many, many years, as Elsa Harper has described in her book, An Enchanted Childhood at Raven Rocks, which focuses on the early years of the 20th century, Raven Rocks was a favorite place for people from miles around to gather on Sunday afternoons. It was their custom to go to church prepared with picnic lunches, and head for the ravines when the services were over. In good weather the parking area above The Raven Rock was busy with their horses and buggies.
Paul Warfield laid the foundation for the present Raven Rocks project. Over a period of ten years prior to 1970, he purchased a number of adjacent small farms, many of them no longer actively farmed, making them a single property. The group of nineteen who purchased Warfield's 843 acres in 1970 set up Raven Rocks, Inc., as legal owner.
From wilderness to farmland and back again
In the early 1800's, when the Northwest Territory was opened and the first settlers entered these hills, they had no way of knowing that they were in the heart of the largest hardwood forest on the North American continent, and one of the largest in the world. For families needing open fields for agriculture, the forest presented a formidable obstacle. Its removal was a challenge that taxed the energy and ingenuity of man, woman and child. But times have changed. Our needs are different, our understanding much enlarged. In today's circumstances, one of the dreams that motivates the Raven Rocks project is that at least 1,000 acres of that magnificent forest may be restored to something approaching its native state, and its long-term preservation assured. Wilderness objectives such as this, rather than commercial objectives, guide the Raven Rocks project.
Raven Rocks is not prime farmland. It has been prime forestland, and from the persistent eruption of little trees on these hills, one almost gets the sense that they yearn to have their trees back. Conditions of soil and climate that had made this the beautiful and vital forest that it was will also favor the restoration of that forest. That is why, as farmer after farmer abandoned his small Raven Rocks farm operation forty or fifty years ago, the trees lost no time starting their come-back. By 1970, when the preservation effort was begun, much of the Raven Rocks land had already become wooded. By rough estimate, 820 acres are presently on their way back to the oak, maple, beech, poplar, hickory and hemlock woods they once were. Some of these acres will make a long transition from reforestation white pine to a predominantly hardwood forest.
To all the good old reasons why places like Raven Rocks should be preserved—for their beauty, for education, as examples of wilderness for future generations to see and appreciate, or for recreation—new reasons, some of them compelling, have been added. Concern that human activity has already begun to create a greenhouse effect that could lead to global warming has rumbled on the distant edges of public awareness for many years. Now, with mounting evidence, the storm is, so to speak, upon us, motivating individuals, organizations and governments everywhere to action. It becomes increasingly difficult to deny the potential threat to the climates of the Earth. Raven Rocks, Inc., for its part, is proceeding with its forest renewal plans with a new sense of urgency.
Though by no means the only cause, the major cause of the greenhouse effect is carbon dioxide, which our unrestrained use of fossil fuels has dumped and continues to dump into the atmosphere in excessive amounts. To reverse the already measurable trend toward global warming, scientists the world over are urging several measures. Prominent among them is protection of existing forests, and the expansion of the world's forested areas. That is because forests are able not only to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, but also to 'lock it up' for a time, first in the wood itself and then in the forest floor.