Waverly Oaks: Background information when reading Rescuing the Planet

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Rescuing the Planet

Protecting Half the Land to Heal the Earth

by Tony Hiss

Rescuing the Planet by Tony Hiss X
Rescuing the Planet by Tony Hiss
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2022, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

Waverly Oaks

This article relates to Rescuing the Planet

Print Review

Waverly Oaks by Winslow Homer When I picked up Tony Hiss's Rescuing the Planet, I expected to find stories about great forests and vulnerable wetlands and vast mountain landscapes. I definitely did not expect to encounter a story about my own town of Belmont, Massachusetts, an inner suburb of Boston. But that's exactly what happened when I started reading Hiss's narrative about the conservation success story of the Waverly Oaks (literally just down the street from my house) and the broader movement they inspired.

Located between Belmont and neighboring Waltham, Beaver Brook Reservation is home to a playground and a splash park, and is also a popular place to walk dogs. It was established as a state park in 1893, largely to protect a stand of 22 white oak trees known as the Waverly Oaks. The area was captured in a painting by artist Winslow Homer, created during the Civil War, that depicts two women walking among majestic oak trunks.

The magnificent trees also drew the attention of landscape architect Charles Eliot, who in 1890 wrote a letter advocating for the preservation of open spaces in the face of rapidly encroaching industrial and urban development. Eliot's letter reads, in part, "As Boston's lovers of art united to found the Art Museum, so her lovers of Nature should now rally to preserve for themselves and all the people as many as possible of these scenes of natural beauty which, by great good fortune, still exist near their doors."

Eliot's argument caught on, and resulted in the founding of what would eventually be called the Trustees of Reservations, the first nonprofit conservation organization in the United States, charged with "acquiring, holding, maintaining and opening to the public…beautiful and historic places…within the Commonwealth." Today, the Trustees' 100+ reservations across Massachusetts include a variety of properties such as historic homes, beaches, gardens and farms, as well as forests, wetlands and former industrial sites. The organization develops extensive educational programs for youth and adults, and is actively engaged in identifying new areas in Massachusetts that could benefit from conservation.

As for the Waverly Oaks, their story is told via plaques and medallions placed along a three-quarter-mile trail, denoted by a green painted line in the Beaver Brook Reservation, to remind residents and visitors of the neighborhood's history.

The story of the Waverly Oaks and the Trustees of Reservations just goes to show that you never know when there might be interesting history right under your nose—and that landscapes worth saving and contributing to are all around us, not just in a far-away somewhere else.

Waverly Oaks (1864) by Winslow Homer, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to Rescuing the Planet. It originally ran in April 2021 and has been updated for the March 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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