Volunteer Highlight: The Poetry of Place
Erin Schneider is a self-described “people, plants, and dirt lover.” Growing up in Boscobel and Reedsburg, she’s always had a deep love of the Driftless. Today, as a conservationist, farmer, and poet, Erin brings a wealth of thoughtfulness and insight to her efforts to connect people with the land. DALC is delighted to have Erin volunteering her time, energy, and creativity to create poems that highlight the beauty of our preserved lands.
In college, Erin studied soil science and botany and later science education which took her out to the Pacific Northwest for six years. But Wisconsin kept beckoning. “I have a Midwest soul,” Erin says. When she came back to the state, she found a job with the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust. Currently, she works for North Central SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education) and runs Hilltop Community Farm alongside her husband Rob.
“Through all this, I’ve always loved to write,” Erin says. “As a scientist, you’re drawn to truth-seeking and curiosity, but there’s so much mystery, so many unknowns to figure out. In poetry, I can look across space and make leaps. I could probably write a poem explaining nuclear fission more easily than I could describe it!”
With her love of both place and poetry, Erin was thrilled when she came across a project called Writing the Land. Created in New England, this project helps poets “adopt” a property conserved by a land trust. The poets interact with and get to know the land, then create a poem about it, which is published in an anthology. As Writing the Land expanded into the Midwest, Erin eagerly adopted not just one property, but Driftless Area Land Conservancy as a whole.
“I love for my writing to be in conversation with places, to celebrate kinship,” Erin says. “How do people connect and fall in love with the earth? Can we love it as it is? Can we love it back to life?”
Several poems about DALC’s conserved lands, including Morrison Preserve and one of our conservation easement properties, will be published in an upcoming Writing the Land anthology. Erin also wrote a poem for Sardeson Preserve. Although Sardeson is our smallest preserve, at only twelve acres, Erin spent the whole day there, observing its intricacies—and, she notes, “There’s so much more to be revealed!”
Knowing that Roland Sardeson was a stone mason, Erin chose to focus on the rocky outcroppings dotted throughout the Sardeson Preserve. Erin describes her process as allurement jotting down notes, paying attention to her senses, and seeing what shows up. But the field day is just the first step in the process of creating a poem. “Then I write, and rewrite, and rewrite again,” Erin laughs.
Erin’s advice for aspiring nature writers centers on mindfulness and connection. “Go where you’re drawn to—to what’s alive for you. Try to pause along the way. Don’t try to force things. Just notice.”
You can read Erin’s Sardeson Preserve poem, "Outcrops," here.
A question for Erin: What’s your favorite part of the Driftless?
“Can I just say all of it?”