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, where we will be holding a poetry hike on June 1st. 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," below. Then, join us to hear it in-person, in the place that inspired it, at our poetry hike on June 1st!
A question for Erin: What’s your favorite part of the Driftless?
“Can I just say all of it?”
By Erin Schneider
Out of bedrock, I catch a glimpse of its Spirit flit and light up the sandstone,
Points of minerals scintillate under a soapstone sky.
Out of sediment, I admire the heft
that only water on rock can interpret.
Its body taking shape, flows in the veins,
of a century old oak root.
It treads light, not yet hardened,
So begins the outcrop of a creative life.
And now you are of the ground traversing
Boulder fields where maples and masonry
Somewhere, a cave
where isotopes reveal the jut of your rocky existence
I try to make sense of this russet decay.
I bent sky-ways
diving in with the intimacy of eroding stardust,
So others may climb, perch and dance,
Play with point of view,
see the scene by scene
And surface amongst deposits of change.
Now, titled in prayer, humbled by the river
Its ooze and outwash outstretched like alms, circle
and unspool sediments of a remnant sea.
I enter Its cool body, deposit prayers in passing
to the unidentified skulls and femurs
scattered along the trail.
I feel their last frost-filled breaths,
imagine a bridge for bones to merge
with the stratum of the stream.
With no tide to rest such weary words,
I pray for life’s continuity.
Give me a sign, a vein to interpret, the weathering of it all.
A fish jumps, catches a water boatman under a mackerel sky.
It’s a good day to sail
I pray for an animal way of death.
And holy hot damn the river is suddenly something different
She wears its rivulets of wet satin, awash in the intimacy
of the eternal. Her veins, change to
feed roots, polish rocks, carve caves, move arrowheads,
keep vigil for the boneyards of trees caught unaware.
Oh how she loves the splash and release
The making of curves, the bending of boulders,
the warmth of being captured in moss.
She hears the whisper of leaves
float their secrets to the sea.
She deciphers the calls of nuthatches
reflects on their read of the sky.
This precious light, the brix of sun, enough-ness.
She could answer all the eddies in the backwaters,
missed the beavers companionship,
Damn, how it could house strangers, bring life to the party.
She would need to go underground and perch before springs
surface at the base of bluffs, always the bluffs,
for a point of view and a chance to risk exposure,
All things I wished to be
Bless this power to move with Earth.
Black and white photos by Mark Hirsch