2 Essays by Martha Teichner about Teichner Preserve

From our 2006 Spring Newsletter

For Hans and Miriam G. Teichner
by Martha Teichner

It was the wildness of the land my parents learned to love when they found themselves in northern Michigan after World War II, and it is that love I would like to honor with my gift to the Leelanau Conservancy.

Once, not long before she died, I asked my mother if she remembered anything hopelessly romantic..the most romantic thing she and my father used to do together. my father died when I was nine, so in all of my memories of them together, they were young and strong and wonderful to watch. She sat for a long time without responding, and then she said, very quietly, very simply, “In the summer, when the moon was full, sometimes at night when you were in bed asleep, we would go down to Lime Lake. We would push out the raft and swim in the moonlight.”

It had been her secret all those years after he died, a small, special treasure, so precious she only allowed me a glimpse of it as she, herself was dying.

In my mind I could see..the depth of the woods closing in on them as they descended the path from the house to the lake..the sound of their breathing, their footsteps on the soft earth..a full chorus, an orchestra of insects and birds and small animals in the velvet darkness…whippoorwills calling out.

And then the water, cool and smooth and silvery in the night stillness..rippling softly, lapping their bodies as they moved through it bathed the moonlight…the sky alive with stars..and the mystery of being there utterly alone filling their hearts.

My mother’s gift to me of a silver, moonlit memory, I pass on now, along with all I have left on the land that made this memory of hers possible. It occurs to me that memories can end up like so many plowed-under tree stumps when a beautiful piece of woods has been violated. I hope that mine will be the fisrt, not the only donation of land around the lake, because I cannot imagine Lime Lake any way but wild.

On November 1st, 1996, Martha Teichner donated her family’s 20 acres to the Leelanau Conservancy. We are deeply honored by her gift.

-November 1996

– – –

Martha wrote this second essay after we began work on the our expansion of the Teichner Preserve in 2005

If, if, if….If it hadn’t been for a bunch of bizarre what if’s, a collection of seemingly unconnected events, none of this would have happened.

What if I hadn’t been introduced, by someone who lives at Kiawah Island, South Carolina to friends of his, also South Carolinians, who happen to own an old summer camp on Lake Arbutus.,,and what if we all hadn’t been there in August for a birthday party? What if we hadn’t killed time in Cedar waiting for Pleva’s to open and then the market next door and finally meandered over to Lime Lake after that? We had planned to make the trip on Monday, but changed our minds. If we’d gone on Monday, Janna and Eric Blakely, who now own my childhood home, would have been at work.

As my friends and I pulled into the driveway, Janna Blakely was sitting outside in a lawn chair, talking on the telephone. I could see her mouth the words, “I’ll call you back,” as we got out of the car. She stood up and called out, “Are you Martha Teichner?”

“Yes,” I called back. She flung open her arms and beamed. “I’ve been waiting all these years for you to come.” My friends later told me it was like watching a scene from an opera.

The last time I’d been in the house and walked through the woods and anchored my feet in the water, under the slippery pile-up of worn boards that line the bottom of that part of Lime Lake, was in 1958. The boards have been there for well over a century, ever since the saw mill that was there closed, and the people who ran it shoved tons of lumber into the lake. Every spring, my father hired somebody to come in and dredge. Our little sliver of a beach would be transformed into a board fortress ten feet high, crawling with snapping turtles until they scrambled back into the water.

A road has replaced the path my family cut through the cedars from the house to the lake. I remember it being narrow and dark and always moist, spooky to a child, romantic to my parents as they went to swim on moonlit summer nights. Now it’s wide and light and dry. There are culverts under gravel and a metal gate that seem, at least to me, an intrusion on the fragrant swampiness I remember about the place. But the trees still whisper, and wildflowers still grow alongside the streams that have now taken another route.

The first thing I noticed in the house was the floors, bird’s eye maple in the dining room, oak in the living room, wide pine planks in the den and the hallway, the kind of floors a lumberman would have in his home. It was built by a man named Fisher, one of the first lumbermen in the area. When my family lived there, we called it Deer Trail Cottage.

The Blakelys wanted to know about how we lived in their house, a house they’ve lived in far longer than the Teichners did. They marveled that we arranged the living room the same way they did. We put our Christmas tree in the exact spot they put theirs. They wanted to know which bedroom was mine; were all the old license plates lined up in the garage when we lived there? We figured out that the ancient Servel refrigerator they found in the basement had been ours, and at some point during the three and a half hours we told each other stories, I guess I said that it had always been my dream to buy back the land, and they said that a significant piece of it was for sale, at least it had been the year before.

From that moment on, I could think of nothing else. I’ve only been to Leelanau County twice since I buried my mother in 1992, next to my father under a big pine tree in the Leland cemetery. During the first of those visits, in 1996, on a sentimental drive around Lime Lake, as I passed the twenty acres I had inherited, down the road from Deer Trail Cottage, I saw bulldozers through MY trees, clearing the land that is now the golf course at Sugar Loaf. I have nothing against golf courses, but those growling, tooting, beeping machines seemed to be harbingers of things to come, and I was scared.

Somebody told me about the Leelanau Conservancy. As soon as I got back to New York City, I called and offered to donate my property.

After this last visit, I called because the asking price for the land I wanted so desperately to buy was too high for me to manage alone. I fully expected to be told nothing could be done, but instead, the Conservancy offered to help. It was agreed my share would be $200,000, money that would come ultimately from refinancing my New York apartment. The Conservancy would provide the rest from its own resources and from fund-raising.

Borrowing $200,000 just to give it away is frightening, but I did it with great joy and no hesitation. If I had turned my back on the opportunity to preserve land that is as much a part of me as my name, my face, my blood, I don’t know how I would have been able to live with myself. We had to act quickly or the property would have been developed in a matter of weeks.

During the negotiations, it was not clear to me that we would succeed, but then I got the call that there was a signed agreement. I can honestly say it was one of the happiest moments of my life. In the article I wrote in 1996, I said I hoped my twenty acres wouldn’t be the last donation of land around Lime Lake. For years nothing happened. When I heard that if we could pull off this purchase, Jean Raymond was going to give her land to the Conservancy, I was ecstatic. My dream was finally coming true.

I’ve only ever envied the rich for one thing, and that is their ability to marshal sufficient resources to do good. I feel lucky to have been the catalyst, so that the resources of many could be marshaled for the good of Lime Lake.

It’s almost as if some knowing hand aligned the stars so this purchase could happen. Not being particularly religious, I’d like to think that somehow my parents, together again under their pine tree in the cemetery, conspired to make sure I was where I needed to be at just the right moment. This particular piece of land was the backdrop for their life together. It gave them great happiness. It gave me an important part of my identity, my sense of the world; so it was time to repay the favor in kind.

I guess I ought to believe in Fate.

– November 2005

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *