In Peterborough NH lies a forested property named Shieling State Forest. These 45 or so acres are cared for by numerous conservation organizations, including NH Division of Forest and Lands and the Society for the Protection of NH Forests. In 1980, Elizabeth Yates McGreal donated the land and buildings into a trust, with monies encumbered towards its care.
Mrs McGreal is a noted author who wrote many biographies geared toward youth, including the iconic Amos Fortune, Free Man, about a former slave who came to live in Jaffrey, NH in the early 1700’s. She devoted herself to writing and public service, with strong religious convictions, and left a legacy in both her writings and conservation.
My husband and I chose this forest for a late afternoon walk in late October. We have been celebrating our 25th anniversary, and stopped here on our way to a movie. The forest was darkening, and romantic, with brooks and boulders and winding paths. There is even a wildflower garden along the brook, dedicated to Mrs. McGreal, and bordered by simple bridges to wander over.
At the entrance to the forest is a nursery for American Chestnut trees at different stages of growth. There is an informational kiosk describing the blight which has overtaken this species, and the efforts to protect and re-establish this once prolific tree.
Shieling forest stands within sight of Monadnock Community Hospital, and has easy access from Rt. 202. It welcomes dogs on leashes, and prohibits hunting. All of these make it extremely popular for comfortable rambles through the woods year-round.
As Jim and I walked, we had the place nearly to ourselves. This brick path leads to the brook and a myriad of well-groomed paths.
There is a term I grew up with, from my days of reading Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Anne talks of meeting “Kindred Spirits”. I have long been familiar with the writings of Elizabeth Yates McGreal, and always felt we were kindred spirits. Her passion for educating children, love of libraries, appreciation for the natural world, and devotion to her family and God inspire me. I wish I could have met her, as some of my local friends have, but walking in her woods is the next best thing.
In the mid-1970’s, Yates wrote A Book of Hours, which I will share in a small way as you pass through this forest in the following images….
“It was the custom of the voyageurs, those hardy canoe men of the seventeenth century paddling through the waters of the Canadian wilderness, to pray often: at the beginning of a hazardous day, at its safe conclusion, and on the journey itself. Each made his supplication ,but it was never for himself. It was for the man who sat beside him in the canoe, or behind him, or before him. Free to devote himself to others, the voyageur knew that there was always someone who would be praying for him.”
“Caught up in the movement of the day, I have listened to many voices, heard many words, been a part of many conversations. Now, I would take part in a silent conversation, something that can only be when listening is done without interruption, when listening is total. What I hear may fill me so that there will be no need to answer in words, but in action.
So I have taken myself in my imagination to a hilltop where I see things in a different light…”
“It does not matter how small our deeds may be, or how insignificant the part may seem that we are given to play. The fine line of cement that holds together the bricks in a wall is scarcely discernible, but without it there would be no wall.”
“Time has been filled in the busyness of the day, and it has often been hurried. We have felt ourselves to be small parts of a large multitude embarked on the adventure of living. As such, we are one with all creation- people, animals, plants, stars-‘bound in the bundle of life’ and responding in our various ways.”
“It is too early to have a full accounting, for there are still sands of time to run through the hourglass of the day, but it is not too early to look ahead. Another day will offer another opportunity. There is comfort in the ancient Irish charm which names three holy things against which evil has no power: the merciful word, the singing word, the good word.”
“This is what quietness is saying in itself: the dawn cannot be hurried, nor can the seasons. A seed stirs, a bud unfolds, a leaf falls, each in a sequence long established and in its own time. As we move with the order of events we are part of the great ongoing progression of mankind; one step, one hour, one year, one decade, moving from birth to death, with life the means to the end.”
“There is an old saying that a good man greets every day as if it were a holiday….The day may be no different from any other, or it may be very different. Whatever it brings, it comes with the dawn, and it is mine.”
Text from A Book of Hours by Elizabeth Yates, 1976