Beauty, Balance, Biodiversity – The 3 B’s of Values

A walk in the woods with the folks from the Arc of Appalachia is never just a walk in the woods, and this year’s experience at the annual donor gathering was no exception. Nancy Stranahan, director and founder of this grass-roots organization that protects over 5,000 acres (and counting) in the southern part of Ohio, began the gathering’s program, held at Fort Hill, with a lesson in values. As always, Nancy emphasized a common ground between those that attended the gathering and those that never will. Money was one of the value systems presented ever so briefly as a valid reason to conserve wild areas. But the values that really stole the show were the three B’s – biodiversity, beauty, and balance. No matter why we value trees and the land – for money, beauty, or any other reason, we must put the three B’s first, above all things, or the land and all that grows from it will cease to exist.

Several attendees of this year’s event shared their stories, including a couple who lived just down the road from Fort Hill. They spoke of the synergy that occurred with a man living on the west coast who owned the woods that surrounded their recently purchased homestead in Southern Ohio. Their story proves that the universe really does align. After numerous conversations with the owner on the phone, this couple initiated a string of events that eventually brought about the arc’s latest land acquisition, Brokaw Woods. And although the owner passed away before his land became a part of the arc, I’m pretty sure he had a hand in its final journey each step of the way.

After a hearty vegetarian chili and cornbread lunch, we set off for the woods. Well, we were actually already in the woods, but we set off for our destination. My friends and I chose one of the “strenuous” hikes (how we laughed at this term, we are Rock Run hikers, after all!) to a rarely seen circular earthworks on the far end of the property.

The area around the earthworks had been mapped the day prior by our guide, Jarrod Burks, an archaeologist who uses tools such as LiDAR and magnetometers to collect geophysical data. He runs the data through software and can detect outlines of what he believes to be the walls and ditches of earthworks and other features (like cooking pits) built by Hopewell Native Americans thousands of years ago. Sometimes these instruments can also detect remains of buildings. In these cases the tools that Jarrod uses are actually detecting the now-filled-in holes that were dug so poles could be placed in them. The poles were believed to be the support for the walls of these buildings.

Jarrod Burks is shown using a magnetometer.

The theories for what these buildings and earthworks were used for are plentiful, but most suggest ceremonial usage, pointing to some that are aligned with an astrological cycle schematic. However, Professor Ken Tankersley of the University of Cincinnati, discovered evidence in 2008 that supports the theory that the earthworks at Fort Miami may have been a part of an elaborate water system used to collect water, especially during times of draught. I find this theory to be compelling, but have to wonder, why not both? Could it have been that water was recognized as sacred substance, since it had both the power to sustain life and take it away, and that the Native Americans built the earthworks and buildings around the area, not only to collect and store water, but to perform water-based ceremonies as well?

As the sun dropped below Fort Hill and the celebration of our ancestors came to a close, I had the idea that the trees of Fort Hill knew the answers to what this site once was and so many more. It’s a good thing the Arc of Appalachia and those that came before them felt the same way, so now we only needed to listen.

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