In the months before his death in February, 2020, Carl Wallman shepherded Graylag to its current incarnation as the non-profit Graylag Nature Preserve, Inc. In his own words, here is Carl’s vision for Graylag’s future:
Graylag Nature Preserve Vision Statement
For the past 20 years, a major part of my life’s work has been, with the companionship of my family, friends and neighbors, to assemble and create Graylag, a 300-acre nature-based retreat center on Wild Goose Pond, located in the town of Pittsfield and draining to the Merrimack River. The campus includes six residential cabins and various facilities that can presently accommodate groups of up to 35-40 people. Graylag, with its land, water and buildings, provides a place to actively practice stewardship, learn from nature, inspire and teach others, and bring people together to discover their own connections to the land.
My passion for Graylag is driven by a Land Ethic inspired by Aldo Leopold, and by the belief that communities are more resilient, happier and healthier when people are connected both to the land and to each other.
My intention is that Graylag—its land, buildings, and infrastructure and a significant endowment to ensure its future success—will be used as a gathering place for education, experience and connection, to deepen peoples’ relationship to nature and their understanding of the natural world.
Since I came to Wild Goose Pond, Graylag has been used for a variety of purposes consistent with this intent. These include serving as a retreat center for non-profits; a classroom to educate children and young adults about nature; and a nature-based lodging facility. I would like these uses of Graylag to continue into the future, but I also understand there will be a continuous evolution of uses to meet the changing needs of society at large, the community surrounding Graylag, and our mission of environmental conservation, while staying true to our overriding intentions.
Toward that end, I will attempt to articulate here the values and vision I have for Graylag, to serve as a reference point for its board of directors, participants, guests, and the general public as they take responsibility for the management and use of this extraordinary place. I offer these not as an essay or as binding legal restrictions, but as a series of wishes and reflections—some general, some specific regarding Graylag’s future—which I trust Graylag’s stewards will find meaningful and helpful in the coming years.
Prior to moving to Graylag, I was raising Angus cattle on Harmony Hill Farm in Northwood, NH, 250 acres of protected land within the headwaters of the Lamprey River/Piscataqua and Great Bay watershed. I recently donated this farm to the Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire. The farmland easement, which offers farmers the option to purchase at agricultural value (OPAV), could accommodate four individual or collective farming operations, as well as other agricultural and educational activities. This will also ensure that the land will always be used for agricultural endeavors.
In addition, I was deeply involved in envisioning and establishing the Northwood Area Land Management Collaborative (NALMC) as a way for individuals within the Northwood community to connect their own personal land ethic into a form of collective community wisdom. NALMC has a diverse and inclusive leadership. The decisions and actions of NALMC over the past thirteen years are radical, and they are changing the paradigm of conservation biology, land stewardship and community engagement.
I believe in a regional community culture. A celebrated land ethic, its citizens all having deep connections to and respect for the land, will continually make choices that will ensure the land and its human needs remain in harmony for generations to come.
Harmony Hill Farm, NALMC and Graylag are committed to seeking ways to align their operations in order to serve as places of experimentation, learning, and sound business operations. These can in turn serve as models for the larger regional community land ethic vision, inspiring others and teaching the transformative power of nature. Each person touched by these activities will have a stake in the larger vision of a regional land ethic culture. Rather than working separately, by collaboration we can more strategically inspire a wider regional community to embrace a culture of land stewardship.
A vision for a broad regional community needs a roadmap to provide direction along with the expectation that much learning and adaptation occur along the way. So many good ideas come from a blend of different points of view, and any community engagement is really a team, experimenting and adapting its way toward a shared vision!
Graylag should maintain a healthy forest, native gardens, other habitats and good water quality. It should not allow invasive plants to flourish. Graylag managers should be mindful of the stewardship principles of the NALMC “neighborhood” and how Graylag lies within the Wild Goose Pond watershed and the “Big Woods.” Graylag should be a good neighbor.
Principles to Help Guide Thinking
- Decisions and activities are grounded in the land and its ecological system. When in doubt, ask the land for answers.
- Respect and blend different points of view.
- Try new things/experiment, reflect and adapt.
- Test assumptions.
- Use simple solutions based on sound science.
- Take the long view.
- Redefine the mission as a nature retreat center focused on good land stewardship, land health and interpersonal discovery of our connection to the land.
- Create a set of program offerings with outside partners that link to Harmony Hill and to the larger regional vision of a shared land ethic.
- Design new and expanded facilities that will support new programs as well as sustainable operations.
- Create a three-season operation schedule.
- Design and recruit a manager position that will support the goal of linking Graylag to Harmony Hill and aligning with NALMC.
Wilderness is scary to many city-dwellers; many people are afraid of nature. Often in horror movies, nature is the setting for human evil. At Graylag, we want to make it possible for our program participants and guests to have direct contact with the woods, the water, insects, plants, mammals, birds, clouds, the sky… to keep the land as pristine as possible, but also accessible. Nature trails are well-marked and inviting, and our signs and organized activities aim to demystify the natural world.
Beauty of Rock
Ledge formations tell the story of New Hampshire. Seeing and touching the stone gives us direct experience of nature (not mitigated by phone or computer screens). Screens use our eyes in just one direction, and give us just small-speaker sound. Unless we are right there, we miss the senses of smell, of ambient space, reach, distance, depth and skin-impressions. At Graylag, we discourage the use of screens and want to experience nature immediately—the presence of the woods taking the veils away from our eyes. As our culture becomes increasingly technological, this direct experience of nature will become increasingly important and precious. It’s true to human nature as human nature evolved!
Graylag is a place of social interactions. Each cabin is a world unto itself, set down by the lake, under the trees and sky. The spread-out community of the cabins is a larger community. Graylag is a place where a family, group, or couple (or a solo person alone with herself) can be with each other in nature… and can interact as much or as little as they wish with others there.
Aldo Leopold Land Ethic
Like so many others, we are inspired by Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic: “The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land…. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for [our] fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”
Uses, Restrictions and Other Ideas
I realize that my preferences, and the ways that I have operated the business, may not always be productive or preferred. I believe in flexibility. That said, I hope that these ideas and thoughts—offered in no particular order—may be helpful in framing our understanding and vision for Graylag in the future.
The number “50” is arbitrary, but I can envision as many as 50 overnight program participants and guests being accommodated on the property in the future, while still maintaining a sense of privacy and serenity. There could be a larger number of day visitors.
There are 22 acres of land that could be built upon that are excluded from the restrictions of the conservation easement that protects the remainder of the Graylag property. Such new structures could include common and maintenance buildings as well as additional cabins. The important elements are privacy and serenity. Too many cabins side by side would seriously compromise the essential nature of the retreat.
Types of Events
Graylag is an oasis of calm on the pond. Graylag is mindful of its neighbors. With that in mind, anything that is invasive, noisy or chaotic would not be appropriate. Graylag has hosted retreats of many kinds, such as yoga, meditation and nature-based activities. It has also hosted reasonably sized weddings, other types of ceremonies and day events.
Graylag is for those who need nature or need to get to know more about nature. These could be city dwellers, adults or children who, due to socioeconomic, cultural or other factors, do not have access to nature. I want to ensure that those who have a connection to the legacy of the property in the past continue to have access to Graylag in ways that are compatible with the larger intentions. I would not like to see Graylag become so expensive that participants and guests of the middle class and more modest means are excluded.
The Graylag Team
Many of Graylag’s projects originated with artistic and highly motivated artisans who have worked at Graylag for many years. They understand the beauty of Graylag and are highly motivated to continue to make Graylag a more beautiful and comfortable place where our guests can connect with nature and one another. This is a growth experience for all of us and would not be possible without the shared vision of Graylag among the wonderful folks that work here. They should continue to be deeply involved in the evolution of Graylag and its mission.
It is wonderful to know that Graylag will be here for you and for untold new visitors. We hope you continue to enjoy its beauty and peace for many years.
August 13, 2019