Karin and Bob Cook
The land provides for Karin and Bob Cook of Worthington—and they provide for the land. Moving to their 200-plus acres straddling the Worthington-Peru border in 1973, the Cooks worked long days in the woods for over 25 years. First, they renovated the old house and built a sugarhouse. Having no electricity meant using hand tools for early building projects. They tapped their trees and operated a mail-order maple syrup business for 25 years. In the early 1980s, they bought a Mobile Dimension sawmill to cut boards from logs on their own property as well as others. Their own outbuildings and a house in Worthington were built with that wood.
Cutting lumber and 27 cords of firewood a year to heat their house and boil syrup wasn’t all they did. They grew, pruned and sold Christmas trees and maintained a large vegetable garden. Karin crafted and sold wreaths. Karin and Bob were so hardworking that they had no problem falling asleep at night!
Ten years ago, the Cooks decided to cut back on physical work. Bob went back to school, earned a law degree, and recently retired from seven years as a lawyer. They brought the syrup and wreath businesses to a close. After years focused on creating a livelihood from the forest, the Cooks shifted their emphasis to maintaining and protecting it. They enrolled their land in Chapter 61 to reduce their tax burden, but they also wanted it to be a permanent home for wildlife, and a site for skiing, hiking, hunting and snowmobiling. To ensure that their land would be preserved forever, they worked with the Hilltown Land Trust to place a conservation easement on 110 acres. Their woods can still be used as a working forest, and they took advantage of the state’s Landowner Incentive Program to clear 5 ½ acres of poplar to regenerate an area for woodcock and grouse habitat.
“Less physical work” doesn’t mean no work. The Cooks still cut seven cords of firewood a year and grow a lot of their own food.
The Cook’s forests provide intangible benefits as well as tangible products. Karin speaks of the peace she found sitting on a rock next to a vernal pool she wanted to certify. She sat for a long time, tape recorder in hand, waiting for the wood frogs to begin croaking, happy to savor the quiet. Sunset views and the ever-changing cycle of the seasons provide inspiration for Karin’s watercolor paintings.
Karin and Bob’s son, Ben, loves his parents’ land. Living in Albuquerque, Ben brings his children home to experience their grandparents’ world. Karin and Bob took nine-year old Mackye and 2 ½ year old Josh to a special place on the land, an old Christmas tree plantation. 50-year old Fraser Firs and Douglas Firs block the sun from the forest floor and under the firs grows a deep blanket of moss. Ben, Mackye and Josh sprawled out on the moss, shouting with delight, “Oh, feel this! It’s so soft!”
Because of the Cook’s stewardship, their land will continue to provide such wonder and the fruits of hard work for generations to come.
Essays and Landowner Interviews by Mary McClintock
From The Highland Communities Initiative My Place is the Highlands series. Reprinted with permission.