Here, in the low, folded hills of Maryland, on the doorstep of our nation’s capitol, a dream is coming true. It is a dream in service to the future, a life-sustaining future where the land is restored and true community arises. Nourished by the vision and hard work of Harriett Crosby, along with the many colleagues who have joined her, its seeds are taking root now. The harvest they promise includes not only ecological practices reinvigorating soil and waterways and woodlands. It is to be reckoned as well in what happens to the men and women who come to Fox Haven, to look and learn. As they step aside from daily pressures, nature will speak to them, reminding them of their embeddedness in the web of life. Systems thinking will take on fresh, sensory, reality, as they discern and begin to trust the flowing cycles of the natural world. And as they choose to take part in the great adventure that is Fox haven, I believe they will find new hope for their lives and for our country. – Joanna Macy
By Harriett Crosby, steward
This land that we call Fox Haven (a collection of nine contiguous parcels of land which I purchased over the last 25 years) has come to shape me more than I have shaped the land. It’s been kind of like falling in love, entering into a relationship that makes me want to know everything about my beloved. Composed of many different ecosystems (forests, fields, creeks, bottom land) systems within systems, the abundance and diversity of life on this land is breathtaking. Evidence shows Indians using the rock shelter cave by the creek 8,000 years ago, probably for ceremony, initiation and rebirth rituals. Walking on paths through the forest, one feels the healing power of the land its sacredness, as if the reverence of the earliest inhabitants will resonates.
I’ve spent a lot of time walking the land, treading paths made by deer, observing the flow of water in the creek where the beaver build their dams and make burrows in the creek bank. I’ve marveled at the grace of red tailed hawks and great blue herons, at the percussive rhythms of pileated woodpeckers. I’ve discovered the hidden places where foxes make their dens, where a bear once hibernated under a big rock, and where crayfish and invertebrates hide under rocks in the creek. I’ve meditated on the intricate web of yellow and black garden spiders and the halting movement of praying mantis, and listened to the lonely cry of owls in the dark of night. Wanting to meet Fox haven’s neighbors, I’ve gotten to know the local farmers, potters, woodworkers, hunters, trappers, scholars, teachers, truck drivers, lawyers, bureaucrats and archeologists. Diversity seems to characterize our neighborhood as well as the larger watershed of which we are a part.
As I came to love this unique place and all its inhabitants, I wanted to protect it from the rapidly encroaching sprawl. It became apparent that simply buying and protecting the land wasn’t enough. It needed to be cared for and the effects of decades of inappropriate use needed to be halted and reversed. We began by addressing problems – soil erosion, bare hillsides that never should have been cleared of forests, overgrazing by cattle a wetland in danger of being filled in, eroding stream banks. We moved rocks in the creek to divert water away from where it was eating at the embankment. But the floods would undo and reverse our feeble efforts to act like little beavers because the real problem was upstream where clearing for farming and housing was reducing the land’s ability to act as a sponge and absorb and hold the rain in place. I began to wonder – if I could understand the intelligence of nature, what would she be asking of me? Wandering by the creek and listening to the gurgle of water, to the wind in the trees and the call of the birds, I learned to deeply appreciate and be nourished by this land. I made me want to better understand nature’s intelligence. Through the Institute of Noetic Sciences I learned about Regenesis and in 1999 commissioned them to do an ecological study and planning process that could help us learn how to understand and translate the voice of the land. Thus began a journey of discovery and deepening connection that continue today, engaging ever-wider circles of people.
During this time neighbors of Fox Haven and a few city folks created the board of Fox Haven Center. Study groups and task teams formed. Working and learning together, we are growing a vision of the potential of Fox haven and how we can help realize that potential. Together we have come to understand that our work here is more than environmental education and restoration of the land. If we are to truly reflect what we are learning from the land as a living system, then our work is about regeneration – building the capability to create and sustain life-giving and health-giving relationships between people and place that enhance the vitality of the whole.
This report, which introduces an ecological way of thinking about and seeing Fox haven based on living systems theory, reflects where we are in that ongoing journey. We have learned that, like changing the glasses we wear, we can change the way we see the world. Living systems theory gives us another lens with which to understand life processes. Our society is in transition form a mechanistic, reductionist view of the world to an ecological worldview and this report is both an educational tool and a guide for this transition.
Reading this report is challenging because the ideas are complex and very different from the conventional way of understand life. It tells us about eh land at Fox haven within its historic and geographic context. And it trains us in another way of thinking that enables us to engage in the life of the land as a partner in the dance of life. It lays out a framework for the next stages of our journey as we extend this life-giving way of thinking to how we might organize and govern ourselves at Fox Haven. We hope to create organizations and ecopreneurial businesses that are healthy diverse ecosystems, self-organizing, self-regulating, forever generating and regenerating new life.
Fox Haven Mission Statement (as written in Voices of the Land )
The purpose of Fox Haven is to create mutually beneficial partnerships between people and the living earth. It provides sanctuary for people seeking to reconnect with the land and learn from the wisdom of nature. Fox haven’s retreat and learning center is grounded in nature and contemplative practice and is dedicated to nurturing deep, creative dialogue among diverse people.
Fox haven provides an atmosphere that allows people to slow down, reflect and learn to hear their own inner voice, each other and the voice of the land. It is a gathering place for a community of people who are seeking innovative and systemic solutions to the complex social and environmental problems threatening our planet. Seeing patterns of relationship and movement in the natural world and learning to think systemically will provide new perspective on the challenging issues of our time.
Our intention is to do no harm as we discover how to balance the needs of the land: its water, soil, plant and animal life, including its human community. The entire farm is organic, practicing permaculture, working with the natural flows of energy; wind, water, sun, slopes, regenerating the life force of the land, using nature to heal nature. The farm fields, tree plantings, rain gardens, composting toilets, solar pumps, drip irrigation in the organic garden, chicken tractors, mixed forests and reeks are laboratories for learning the complex lessons of nature and discussing how to apply these learnings to our work lives.
Fox Haven serves the environmental community by offering a safe haven for meetings and solo retreats. Its meandering streams, nature trails, rolling hills, and spectacular mountain vistas provide a sanctuary for true dialogue and personal transformation.
“Tell me the story of the river and the valley and the streams and woodlands and wetlands, of the shellfish and finfish. Tell me a story. A story of where we are and how we got here and the characters and roles that we play. Tell me a story, a story that will be my story as well as the story of everyone and everything about me, the story that brings us together in a valley community, a story that brings together the human community with every living being in the valley, a story that brings us together under the arc of the great blue sky in the day and the starry heavens at night, a story that will drench us with rain and dry us in the wind, a story told by humans to one another that will also be the story that wood thrush sings in the thicket, the story that the river recites in its downward journey. . . “
—Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth