What is Sourwood Forest?

It is the name I’ve given to a part of the woods on the property where I have lived with my husband Scott since 1992. Large Beech, various Oaks and White Pines form the highest canopy and a diversity of other beings make up the rest, from high above our heads to down deep into the forest floor duff. Sourwood Forest is the part of our woods where you’ll find a couple of meditation benches in places we love to visit from season to season. It is where we walk and wonder at how the forest is growing more engaging as it ages, where we recognize how fortunate we are that our property happens to be home to a diverse natural community of beings living and thriving because we don’t interfere. All logging stopped here in the late 1970s. The only trees felled in Sourwood Forest since then are the pines that are now part of our house. I named Sourwood Forest after the tree species who has become my favorite. Sourwoods are mid canopy species. They have subtle beauty to offer at every season, from their lovely bark, arching trunks, and delicate flower sprays to their glorious range of fall colors.

The Mission of Sourwood Forest is to encourage creative inquiry and artistic expression in connection with nature, but in a larger sense, it’s about helping people envision the changes humans must make in order for any of us to survive anywhere. Art, in the largest sense of the term, has always provided insight into a bigger picture. In this case, I’m hoping it can help nurture awareness that the human animal is part of nature. That understanding is key to our making wise choices as we live from day to day within the climate crisis and ecological peril that is our time.

I am seeking a few creative people to come here each fall and spring to stay in the house for a week or two, spend time in Sourwood Forest, and translate their experiences into art, writing, scientific inquiry, or improving the well being of themselves and others. It is an experiment in the beginning stages, having started in May of 2022. And as more people come here, the forest will grow, change, and nurture the humans who spend time there.

Judy Strang and Grandmama Oak, May 2022

The first Sourwood Forest Residency took place in May 2022. During their time here, residents engage in art-making, reflection, and observation in the yard, gardens, and woods, a setting where humans are very much dwarfed by a diverse, thriving community of animals and plants. The Appalachian Trail, the James River, and hiking trails in the George Washington National Forest are also an easy drive away.

Housing is in the Strang home, built by Scott and made in part from logs harvested from the property. Or residents are welcome to camp in the field east of the house (which is part of the pasture for the four resident goats when residents aren’t here). The idea is for residents to spend time outdoors and in the forest as much as possible. Since recognizing nature’s relationship webs requires meeting nature on its own terms, there are few trails in the woods and landscaping is wild and diverse. Exploring may require bushwacking, and it may even lead to a deep sense of belonging.

The Covid epidemic was a time of great change everywhere, but mostly inside of us. Or at least me. I walked in the woods more often than I had ever done, and I also visited many parts of the George Washington National Forest because several 100+ year old tracts in the Pedlar River watershed had been slated for logging, and I wanted to say goodbye. I’d always wanted to protect our woods for the beings who will be living in the world after I’m gone. But the experience of saying goodbye to those “public” forests about to be “managed” by being logged made me even more committed to letting nature be in charge on our property. What I also witnessed in myself and those hiking with me was the value of simply spending time inside forests of a certain age and character. Old trees and the forests that support them have wisdom and presence, regardless of how big the trees there are or how beautiful. That’s why I want people to come to Sourwood Forest. We need to learn what forests teach.

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