Blog

Honoring Mary Ryan

October 25, 2018

By Scott Chaskey

A Lifelong Friend and Member of the Farm

Mary Ryan found me in the fields of Quail Hill Farm over 25 years ago. “I admire the work you are doing,” she said, “and I own a field that is fallow now…would you care to farm it?”

After a visit to Fireplace Farm, at the far end of Springs-Fireplace Road, and further conversations with Mary, I needed no more convincing. So for 15 years or more we cultivated plant life at Mary’s place, and then passed on the pleasure to fellow farmers—all of us the recipients of Mary’s kindness and support. Each summer, to this day, following the harvest in July, we hang our garlic to dry in the Fireplace Farm barn.

In 1993 I received a call from the West Coast: would Quail Hill Farm and the Trust be open to hosting an annual two week outdoor camp for inner city children assigned to the foster care system? Camp Erutan (NATURE spelled backwards), founded by Lisa Tanzman and Elaine Mermelstein, had been serving children on the West Coast for several years, and they were looking for a suitable site on the East Coast. Knowing that Fireplace Farm was once a camp for children I called Mary. “I would be happy to meet with Lisa,” was Mary’s answer, and so began an intimate, familial relationship between Mary, Camp Erutan, and Quail Hill Farm—and Mary’s sons, Max and Oliver—a relationship still very much alive, as the campers can attest to

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Camp Erutan students at the Ladybug Workshop

After learning of the preservation work of the Trust Mary did not hesitate: she committed to placing a conservation easement on 12 of the acres that make up Fireplace Farm—now protected in perpetuity.

Dear Mary passed away, quietly at home, on September 21. She was an artist, she had an ethereal quality about her, but also an earthiness that attended her, a reserve full of grace and kindness. I always learned from our conversations, and I will always treasure our long friendship. At our annual long table dinner at Quail Hill, the day after she died, I read from a poem by Peggy Pond Church, “Sandhill Cranes,” to honor Mary:

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Mary Ryan Preserve Painted by Aubrey Grainger

“Sandhill Cranes”

by Peggy Pond Church


And on and on they came

through the pale afternoon,

long strands and ribbons,

arcs and curving wedges,

hieroglyphs in motion,

staves of music.


We looked upward again and again and saw them flying

and as they flew they called to one another;

the call sounded

through those myriad throats like the voice of a single being

half angel and half bird;

a wind sound, a water sound,

a sound as golden as honey.

We listened and felt ourselves enchanted

beyond our mortal sense.


All afternoon the sky was our dancing ground.

The long song rose and fell.

The convergent lines formed circles.

We were children again in a ring around a rosy

Immersed in a mystery.

In the end we must all fall down

and down

in a slow spiral out of heaven

and be ourselves again…