An Interview with Larry Rohan, the Whidbey Institute’s new Forest Steward

An Interview with Larry Rohan, the Whidbey Institute’s new Forest Steward

I recently had a chance to sit down with Larry Rohan, the Whidbey Institute’s new Forest Steward. Larry embodies a deep-rooted passion for the natural world, cultivated over a lifetime of exploration and study. With a BS in Forestry from Purdue University and experience with the US Forest Service and Alaska native tribes, Larry brings a wealth of knowledge to this new role at the Whidbey Institute. His work is driven by a profound understanding of the interconnectedness between forests, soil, and climate and his dedication to conservation and environmental stewardship is not only a testament to his commitment to creating a better world for future generations.

Please describe your role at the Whidbey Institute.

I am the Forest Steward at the Whidbey Institute. As far as I know, this is a new role for the organization. In the past, people have taken up bits and pieces of what I’m doing, but to my knowledge, this is the first time that the forest steward role exists.

A big part of my job is looking after the 106 acres of land, including the building envelopes, which contain the structures of the Institute and the Whidbey Island Waldorf School. Most of the forest land here is in a conservation easement managed by the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust (WCLT). The conservation easement contains specific rules as to what is allowed and what’s not allowed in the forest. Their role is to protect and enhance the conservation values of the forest, wetlands, and the diversity of native plants and wildlife.

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March 1, 2024

A Walk In The Woods by Bryan McGriff

This past February, as the Whidbey Institute’s Communication Manager, I had the good fortune to go for a walk in the Legacy Forest with Jessica Larson from the Whidbey Camano Land Trust (WCLT). Jessica is a Stewardship Director with the WCLT and helps to coordinate and monitor the Whidbey Institute’s Conservation Easement along with our Forest Stewardship Plan.

I was eager to learn more about the WCLT’s role in protecting the Whidbey Institute’s 106 acres of forest and wetlands and wanted to hear from her about some of the unique aspects of the land and features to look for when traveling the 4+ miles of trails.

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March 17, 2023

A Rooted Roof: Volunteers install living roof on Commons porch

A Rooted Roof: Volunteers install living roof on Commons porch

By Marnie Jackson
Photos courtesy Floyd|Snider

As I approached the Commons building on a recent morning, one thing stood out . . . the vibrancy of the living porch roof, still thick and green even under a coating of fresh snow. The sedum mix has been growing in place on the roof since it was installed during an Autumn 2021 workshop, and seems to be thriving despite this cold snap. Fulfilling its promise to add beauty, mitigate runoff, and support pollinator habitat, the living roof is a great addition to our new gathering space. Read More →

March 18, 2022

Taking Back Hope: A Conversation with the You Change Earth Team

By Marnie Jackson

A few months ago, I got an email from Daniel, a Duke University student, about a new nonprofit called You Change Earth. Its stated mission: “Millions of caring people could be making a difference for our environment, yet simply don’t know how. We are dedicated to helping every one of these people find their role in the climate solution.”Daniel wondered if I might be interested in learning more, or helping spread the word, about You Change Earth. Read More →

November 20, 2020

The Ecology of Immunity

By Westgarden Steward Jules LeDrew

Ecology is defined by the relationships among organisms, with one another and with their physical surroundings. If we view the immune system from an ecological perspective, we can see it as one of the primary means, along with the nervous and endocrine systems, by which we relate to the external world: physically, emotionally, spiritually, and naturally. Read More →

August 18, 2020

Knowing Our Kin | July Newsletter

Knowing Moss

Our friend Larry Daloz recounts a time when he explored the Whidbey Institute woods with ecofeminist scholar Joanna Macy. As I recall the story, Larry—who possesses an extensive knowledge of moss—said something to Joanna about his admiration of it. With her hand, she pushed his face into the plush green carpet and held it there. “Now you know moss,” she said. Read More →

July 27, 2020

Rose Medicine

This article by Westgarden Steward Jules LeDrew introduces rose medicine: Flower and Hips. Harvest is early June through Summer Solstice and fall.

This time of year most plants show their full identities and character through their unique and colorful displays of flowers. You will find our native wild rose, Nootka Rose, on beaches and holding up hillsides in sandier soils across the PNW. While she may be less eye popping with smaller light pink flowers, her medicine can be as significant as some of the most prized roses in the world. These include the Damask rose, at home in our own Westgarden. Rosa Damascena is native to the Valley of the Roses in Bulgaria, which is also the heart of the rose essential oil industry trade. Records of its huge popularity go back to the Ottoman Empire. Rose medicinal use stems from many cultures, including ancient Greece, and dates back thousands of years. Read More →

June 30, 2020

The Journey from Head to Heart

On Wednesday, June 3 we launched an Open Zoom series. These lightly facilitated, social calls are open to all and run from 10 am to 11 am weekly through the month of July.

Three folks attended our first Zoom call, and conversation focused primarily on racism. As white people we discussed how to overcome our own internalized white privilege, how to help other white folks be less harmful, and how to be authentic, repair, and heal. We talked about the role of trauma as a root cause of so much violence, and we talked about the death of the illusion of individuality and the myth of American exceptionalism.

A quote from the call:

“We need to make the journey from head to heart.”

A resource mentioned during the call: The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture

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June 11, 2020

The land welcomes you

I don’t know about you, but I entered this week with a surreal feeling. Anxiety and hope are both present in me—anxiety for the health and safety of the many, and especially those who are especially vulnerable to illness or to food and shelter insecurity in the days and months to come. Hope for what is possible when we awaken and live into our interdependence with one another and with Earth. In this spirit, I spent part of my weekend planting seeds. Read More →

March 16, 2020

Hilltop Reflections: Greeting the new year in Legacy Forest

by Marnie Jackson

I welcomed the new year with a day of rest, reflection, and solitude in Hilltop Cabin. The cabin, owned and offered by Whidbey Institute founders Fritz and Vivienne Hull, is nestled in the center of our 106 acre conservation forest near Storyhouse Meadow.  I arrived in the cozy, bright space and had a quick orientation from Fritz, who showed me the amenities—heaters and a wood stove, a little kitchen for making tea and warming up my lunch, and a fantastic library of works from poets, philosophers, naturalists, and eco-theologians. When I asked him if he had any particular advice for me to make the best use of my day, he encouraged me to spend time among the trees. 

My day began simply enough, and I spent my first hour riffing through the notebooks that Fritz and Vivienne have compiled on subjects like Celtic Spirituality, the Life Wheel, and the life and work of Thomas Berry. In that reading, I was struck by a profound sense of continuity. The Chinook Learning Community, founded by Fritz and Vivienne in 1972, didn’t just give way to the Whidbey Institute—it became it. Thomas Berry Hall was not named by accident, but as an entreaty to remember and carry forward the work of this man who wrote, “the natural world is the larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this community is to diminish our own existence.” The Hilltop Cabin itself has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

The Hilltop Cabin has a clear purpose and its construction and siting was sincerely intentional: it is a place for immersion in nature, for reflection on Self and Earth, and for rediscovering how to be human in these times. 

I had come prepared, with colored ink pens, a blank journal, washi tape, and dozens of year-end journaling prompts. Fritz and Vivienne had provided even more resources, including a wicker basket of art supplies and reams of blank paper. I was ready to sit and reflect, making a fresh start for a new decade with clarity of purpose and power of intention. Then, a funny thing happened. After sitting and doodling for half an hour, I felt complete with my journaling. 

As a professional writer, I spend most of every day putting words to paper. As a mother and partner, I had spent the week between Solstice and Christmas drawing, painting, and creating vision board collages with my family. I was all journaled out, and therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most. I didn’t need a colorful calendar, a cheerful goal list, or a revised personal purpose statement. I needed to be quiet—in body, mind, and heart. I needed to be alone in the woods.

I took my camera and my coat and made my way down the forest path to a stone circle, ringed with trees and lying just a few dozen yards from the Hilltop Cabin. A weed-suppressing barrier had been laid down, and white stones had been placed atop it. I noticed the persistence of new plant life, pushing up between the stones and reaching little green needles toward the light. 

Plants are agents in their own lives. I once read that the compounds released by plants into the atmosphere actually change the quality of the light those plants receive, increasing photosynthesis by diffusing light in the forest. A Guardian author summarizing these findings wrote, “plants have evolved a clever trick to redirect sunlight and bring the weather they want down into the forest understory.” These trees are not inanimate features of my habitat, but co-creators of ours

Therein lay another gift of Hilltop Cabin—the freedom to discover what I needed most.

I sat on the Earth in the center of the circle, contemplating the coolness under my seat and the vastness of the forest canopy. I listened for birds, close in and far off, and for the tiptoe of who-knows-who—Doe? Squirrel?—through the underbrush. 

After some time, I stood and continued my walk, eventually finding myself back at the cabin. It was now midday, and I warmed up tea and soup before settling on the couch with a novel I’d been longing to reread for years. I made it through 75% of the book, then dozed off for my first nap in at least a decade. I woke up refreshed, to the sound of a woodpecker knocking nearby. 

By the end of my 9 hour stay in the Hilltop Cabin, I felt like a human BEing—just being. No doing, planning, producing, delivering, or performing. It was not what I’d set out to achieve during this one precious day alone, and yet it felt like the most important possible work.

After a day of solitude in nature, it felt right that I got on my bicycle to return home. I couldn’t imagine climbing into a car, closing the door to the forest, and turning on a gasoline engine at the close of such a day. If my day alone taught me anything, it is that the patterns of human activity that are at odds with nature are at odds with our own being, and that what is healthy for my planet is indistinguishable from what is healthy for me. 

Hilltop Retreats are offered to the public. Visit the website to learn more and book your day-long retreat.

January 9, 2020