Some time today, Larry Buell of Petersham, 70, will go alone to a spot in the Swift River Valley where he had an epiphany exactly 50 years ago. As he ponders the future, he will spend a day and a night commemorating the environmental awareness he acquired in his youth.
The Miriam Webster dictionary defines epiphany as "a moment in which you suddenly see or understand something in a new or very clear way."
The date was March 21, 1964, and for Buell, a quiet time in a beautiful part of Petersham, with clean water flowing in the Swift River, East Branch, helped him understand the way in which all life is connected.
Following several years of advanced education and work as a teacher, Buell established a non-profit called the Institute for Environmental Awareness Inc. The Institute soon created Earthlands on part of the old Buell farm on Glasheen Road. For several decades, Earthlands has offered workshops and a variety of gatherings focused on ecology, Native American culture, alternative energy and healing methods, growing of food, nature-oriented ritual, social justice and more. Some people made their home on the site and experienced intentional community living.
"For the Earth and all life." Those words, summing up his personal credo and world view, were chosen by Larry for the closing of a recent outreach letter about the future of Earthlands, which could be foreclosed if a buyer is not found. The property, with an off-the-grid lodge and 48 acres of land, could be listed soon with local Realtor Chuck Berube. Buell is hoping for a buyer that will pay $400,000 and will carry on Earthlands' mission and ethic.
Buell wants to start a new phase of his life, and seeks to transfer Earthlands to new ownership, leadership, and management. There are many people who have already been involved with this unique organization featuring an intentional community and extensive environmental education..
The property is adjacent to hundreds of acres of forested land, part of the original farm, which has been protected with the help of the Mount Grace Land Conservation Trust and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.
In his letter, Buell wrote: "My only role right now, is to search and welcome the next set of leaders and stewards who have the skills, passion, resources, and commitment to guide Earthlands to its next incarnation."
Buell, a native of the North Quabbin, refers often to the "sense of place" that colors his view of this unique region - and which I also embrace in my writing.
Following his graduation from Mahar Region School in 1961, Buell studied for a year at Kimball Union Academy, Meriden N.H., and made plans to attend the Wentworth Institute in Boston to learn carpentry. However, he shifted gears and attended Springfield College, where he played on a successful basketball team. In 1965, the team traveled around the world and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.
Attracted by the Civil Rights movement of the mid-1960s, Buell joined activists in North Carolina to help register voters.
With his focus more and more on the natural world, Buell obtained a master's degree at Pennsylvania State, and eventually earned a doctorate in education and environmental studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
He founded and directed the Outdoor Leadership Program at Greenfield Community College. The course he developed included the "24-hour experience," assigning students to spend 24 hours "in the wild." This was a precursor to the University of the Wild, an alternative higher education concept that Buell also developed. His travel to remote scenic parts of Siberia in 1991-92 ushered in a more global vision that has influenced Earthlands' outlook.
Buell is the son of the late Harry and Ruth (Beals) Buell, and experienced farm life in his youth. He married Carmen Buell in 1966, but they were divorced in 1987. Mrs. Buell served in the Massachusetts legislature as a state representative, where she became an expert in health policy, later moving to North Carolina and heading up the state's human services agency. She retired from the position of chief executive officer of the Milbank Memorial Fund and resides in Manteo, N.C.
Larry filled me in on their two daughters:
Jennifer Buell Horschman lives in Asheville, N.C. She had lived for five years in Costa Rica where she co-founded a Spanish Cultural Immersion Program. Jennifer is 47 and has two sons, Nicolas, 12, and Henry, 11. Cynthia Buell Christian, 43, lives in Wilmington, N.C., where she works as an art teacher and is studying art therapy.
Larry plans to retire with his second wife, Katja Esser, whom he wed in 2012, to the 18th century Buell farmhouse on Oliver Street near the center of Petersham. He will continue his work with the University of the Wild, finish writing several environmental and place-based related books and his own memoir, and engage in more research and programs on the history and landscapes of the North Quabbin region.