Thursday, April 20, 2006

A quiet journey into nature from an Orland area writer


Quite a few years ago, Daniel Thomas and his wife, Marilyn, moved from Sonoma County to a 10-acre parcel of land near Orland and staked their future.

Raised in Willows, Daniel Thomas returned to the Sacramento Valley after a series of heart ailments eventually forced his retirement from the public school system in the Bay Area. "The Ten," as the couple called it, was to become a refuge for creatures of every variety, from birds to black widows, from raccoons to opossums, and many cats.

But it took a lot of work. "When we first saw this piece of land," he writes in "Essays From the Ten" ($8.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing in Chico), "it was almost treeless. The house itself was in awful condition and a nearby shed was jammed with broken bottles, old tires, discarded tiles, slabs of concrete, rusty cans and rotting lumber. ... The property was littered with mounds of garbage. ... Its most endearing quality at the time was a seasonal creek which sliced through the northern edge of the property. In every other way the property was a disaster. It was love at first sight."

At least for Daniel. But the prospects of solitude worked their way into Marilyn's heart, too, and the couple began to transform The Ten.

In almost two dozen short chapters, Daniel reflects on his experiences. His writing is clear, engaging, humble. In the early days at The Ten he dug pond after pond, but then the work began to take its toll and pond digging stopped. It took years for the rhythm of the natural order to get into his bones.

"There was a time, for example, when I felt the need to count, name and record every bird I'd observe on the property. ... Now I make pleasant note of the egrets that visit my pond, or pause to admire the flitting about of a ruby-crowned kinglet, but I feel no need to jot down my sightings. Have I gotten lazy, or just content to enjoy the moment? A little of both I suppose."

Life on The Ten has meant coming to terms with the competition and violence of the natural world. Beavers return to Jewell Creek and proceed to fell Daniel's carefully planted poplars. Shielding the trees and putting out special Havahart traps are to no avail.

Daniel takes out a deprivation permit and the former hunter takes up the gun again. "The irony was only too clear. I had wanted to create an environment hospitable to a wide range of wildlife. And I had succeeded. Now I was about to violate one of my most sacred principles: on The Ten all life is sacred."

But then there's the story of Lucy and Anna, among 128 pigs from a farm in southwestern New York suffering from neglect and frostbite. An organization called Farm Sanctuary requested new homes for the animals, and the Orland chapter helped place Lucy and Anna on The Ten. They prospered.

"The other day we watched in amazement as the pigs trotted, cantered and then broke into a full trot across the field. Again I thought of Lucy's big chunk of missing ear. Surely, on their best days these pigs could not have dreamed of the splendid life they now enjoy. My wife and I touched hands, shared a loving glance ... and cantered all the way home."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2006 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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