I don’t even remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.
― Stephen Chbosky
Do you recall the first time it hit you—really hit you—that you belonged? When you experienced a deep sense of well-being, a lightness of being, and all was right with the world? For me, it came as a child, in the woods, having an adventure with my closest friends. I still feel it all the time here in Leelanau. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you feel it too.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but whether you care about Leelanau depends in large part on whether you believe you belong. Can you recall a time when you felt out of place? I can. And because I felt I didn’t belong it was personally challenging for me to feel engaged. If we want people to care about Leelanau and our mission, we must do our utmost to provide good reasons for people to feel they belong.
Let’s zoom out a bit. Over the last several years, many people have shared with me their apprehension about a world that is in crisis. It’s an “in-between season” nearly everywhere. There’s much uncertainty and anxiety because the connections that used to bring our society together seem to be waning. Yet I can see every day there is one thing that continues to bring people together—a shared love of our lands and waters. This love and concern for protecting our precious natural resources remains, gratefully, a tie that binds—one that invites a real sense of belonging.
At the Leelanau Conservancy, we believe the outdoors is for everyone. No exceptions. Everybody is included and empowered. We roll out our welcome mat for all people. It’s the right way to be. It’s the right way to do what we do. Because we recognize and celebrate that the well-being of all people and nature cannot be separated.
And if ever there was a time we needed everyone to care for the Leelanau they love, it is now. Leelanau has never faced greater threats than it does today. Consider the persistent efforts to remove local governmental control of sand and gravel mining—Leelanau rests on a vast bed of it. Think about overdevelopment, the degradation of cherished natural resources—our rivers, lakes, forests, and farms. There is a proliferation of invasive plants on our lands and in our waters. We see the diminishing opportunities to live and work in Leelanau. And we are witnesses to the ultimate gamechanger—climate volatility.
The more people who can act on their love of Leelanau, the greater our chances that one hundred years from now, Leelanau will still possess its wild spaces that have been here for thousands of years—our forests, our wetlands teeming with life, our rivers and lakes. These lands and waters may look and feel a little different in 2123, but if we pull together today Leelanau will still have clean, fresh water to swim in, fish, and drink. Family farms will still grow and provide local food. Forests will continue to be wild. Our communities will still be vibrant yet retain their rural charm and character.
I’ll say it again, people care when they feel they belong. We—all of us—must continue to foster opportunities for all to experience a sense of belonging to Leelanau. No matter what the season, literally or metaphorically, let’s extend a welcome hand that says, “We all belong.”