Planting a Legacy

The Mountain Farmgirl is thinking about ‘legacies’ today …  the kind that you leave behind that tells others that you were here and tried to make the world a better place. Join her as she introduces you to a very special couple who has planted a beautiful legacy in YOUR state … and in every Farmgirl state from from sea to shining sea!

My sweet friend Deb, the Beach Farmgirl, sent me an email link this past week that I found so interesting. It was a story about a woman named Nancy Luce who lived a solitary life (with her chickens!) out on Martha’s Vineyard from 1814-1890. It was a charming (true) story about a decidedly eccentric poet with an artistic bent and a love for hens.  Nancy was most definitely her own brand of  ‘Farmgirl’ but frankly, people thought she was more than a bit ‘odd’… (Although you and I would probably have applauded her character).  Though she has become something of a folk hero in modern times, her ‘uniqueness’, sadly, brought her much ridicule and unkindness from others in her own day.  Her story fascinated me, sad though parts of it were … and it started me thinking about all the other interesting souls who have shared our earth from the beginning of time to the present day … only a tiny fraction of whom we will ever know anything about. Each of us is so uniquely special … we’re like God’s fingerprints, no two of us alike. But once in a while, as in the case of Nancy Luce, we are fortunate to catch a brief glimpse into their lives, thanks to the legacies which live on through their writings, personal artifacts and the contributions they left behind. 










Nancy Luce's grave on Martha's Vineyard. Fans leave chickens there in her memory.

Once, many years ago, I was walking through a field in upstate New York when I accidentally stumbled upon a rough piece of field stone with the name ‘Mary’, crudely-but-lovingly carved into its surface. It marked an old grave. There may be no one left on the face of the earth today who remembers this particular ‘Mary’ … who she was, what she thought about, how she lived … but her grave marker tells us that for a brief time – she, like us, was once here and that someone loved her enough to carve her name in a tough old piece of stone so that she would not be forgotten. I know nothing about her, but thanks to the presence of that long-forgotten little monument I have often thought and wondered about her … and in that way, at least, Mary lives on still.

So … today I am thinking about ‘legacies’. How do we choose to make our small part of the world a better place? What do we want to leave behind when we depart this earthly home?  What things would we want to be remembered for after we’re gone?  Coincidentally, just as I was thinking about these things, an extraordinary opportunity presented itself to me on this very subject!  Serendipity!  Isn’t life amazing that way?!  Here’s how it happened:  I noticed a tiny article in our local paper about a retired couple from Ohio, who were coming to my small village of Jackson, NH at the end of July.  Their names, not coincidentally, are John and Joyce Jackson, and they call their project the “Jackson Legacy”. They wrote a book called “Trail of Trees”, and intrigued by what I read in the article, I looked them up on the internet. I also sent them an email telling them I would love to meet them when they came to my neck of the woods.  Long story short, they got my message (isn’t email great?!) and they stopped by for a visit at my Lodge today! Talk about ‘legacies’…  I’d love to introduce them to you and tell you their amazing story!
Joyce and John Jackson pulled into my parking lot in their adorable little travel trailer, which they have used to traverse the US on their quest to plant trees from coast to coast.  We had an instant connection! I noticed immediately that their trailer had a decal that Joyce had put across the back which said “Little House”.  Now, not only am I an avid Laura Ingalls Wilder fan, but I am also wildly in love with the ‘Tiny House’ movement and two weeks ago I was interviewed on National Public Radio about it.  So right from the first, the Jacksons and I were off to a good start!  It was instantly clear as we went through introductions that John and Joyce were as ‘American’ as you can get! They were the down-to-earth, look-you-in-the-eye, hearty handshake sort of folks who love God, family and country … and who have a sense of adventure, a love of people and a mission for making the world a better place not only while they are here but for generations to come.
Sitting in our living room at The Lodge, I poured them each a glass of lemonade and listened to their inspiring story. Little did I know what an appropriate choice my lemonade would be … but it seems that the Jacksons are the type of people who just naturally take life’s lemons and make them into lemonade. Today Joyce is  a 23-year survivor of breast cancer and doing fine, but while she was recuperating back in 1987-88, she was looking for a project that would keep her mind off the ill effects of chemotherapy … and find one she did! The concept she came up with of planting trees at a place named Jackson in every state of the union served her on several levels: it commemorated the name of ‘Jackson’ throughout the country, thereby establishing ‘The Jackson Legacy’; it provided opportunities for pursuing one of her favorite hobbies – traveling; and  the extensive research the project required, as well as the subsequent book which came out last year, had the added bonus of taking her mind off her illness.  Her advice for anyone going through any serious health challenges? Have faith in God, love life and listen to music, which she says soothes the soul on those ‘not-so-good’ days.
Planting trees was a natural choice for the Jacksons, as they had always celebrated the birth of a child, a new home or an anniversary with the planting of a tree.  Drawing from this inspiration, they decided to plant 5 trees, one for every member of their immediate family, in all 50 states. Research revealed that 40 of our US states have a town named Jackson. To account for the remaining ten, they used the first name of each family member, which resulted in such selections as Joyce, Washington; St. Johns, Arizona; Roberts, Idaho; Christine, North Dakota, and Stevens Village, Alaska.

Their research also revealed that most ‘Jackson’ locales were named after Andrew Jackson, seventh President of the United States, Hero of the War of 1812, renowned Indian fighter, and, as it turns out, the one responsible for a good deal of anti-Indian legislation during his time in Washington, DC.   It wasn’t until much of their tree-planting mission had been accomplished, however, that the Jacksons discovered many, many connections in their story to Native Americans as well, starting with the fact that more than half of all state names are derived from Indian words.  And so, along with their tree-planting tribute to “Jackson”, they decided to weave these Native American connections into their state-by-state story in appreciation for the deep reverence and stewardship that Native Americans have always felt for the land. It is so fitting that they chose “Trail of Trees”for the name of their book. It is perhaps a tiny antidote, an offering, to the Cherokee Nation’s  ‘Trail of Tears’, which the Jacksons literally followed on their trek through those southern states. Though nothing can right the wrongs that were done to Native Americans, in a small but meaningful way their tree-planting effort was an offering to honor them.
Their journey, which started in 1991, began during one of their darkest personal  hours. Having cancer has a way of putting us in touch with our mortality, but instead of despairing over Joyce’s uncertain future, the Jacksons wanted to mark their existence on earth with a personal testimony and legacy.  Their trek took ten years to complete, many legs of which were shared with their three children and many grandchildren. All in all they covered more than 64,000 miles and planted 252 indigenous trees (5 in each state and 2 in Washington DC). The DC trees represent all the people who are living in these fifty states. They also symbolize the debt we all owe to Native Americans  and our gratitude for the wisdom and reverence for Mother Earth which they have passed down to us. 


The Jackson’s journey is done, but their living legacy lives on.  They are currently re-visiting the trees they planted along the way, where they met and inspired so many wonderful people. They have been a guiding light to many on the importance of environmentalism and conservation efforts, and are thankful for their past trials, tribulations and the courageous love they found all across America.  Their hope is that their personal legacy inspires others to discover legacies of their own which will bless future generations.
The Jackson’s upcoming book-signing, tree-revisiting schedule can be viewed on their website at:  They may be coming soon to a ‘Jackson’ near you! Everyone reading this will be able to find the five trees the Jacksons planted in your own home state! Get out the atlases, gals!

So how about it, Farmgirls … have YOU ever thought about, or created a legacy of your own?  Have you ever been inspired by someone who has?  If there were no obstacles in your way, what kind of legacy would you like to leave on this earth before you die? I know there are some truly  awesome stories out there!!

Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl



By: B Lamotte
On: 08/08/2011 11:01:45
What amazing artwork regarding Nancy Luce!
By: Lynn
On: 08/08/2011 11:05:08
I named our little school at one time..."Heritage School" because I felt we were leaving a heritage to our own.

My father passed away not too long ago and the conversation came up of what to put on his tombstone and immediately two words came to my mind and that is what we all agreed it should say, "Selfless and Giving" sums my Dad's legacy to his children and to all he met.

Thank you for a thoughtful article.
By: dawn mariename
On: 08/08/2011 11:30:04
What a great store. It made my day!
By: Linda D Bartholomew
On: 08/09/2011 05:35:33
What an inspiration these people are! My heart is in my community. I recently have been elected to serve on our Town Board. I intend to connect our little town and community through a newly established town website and our second annual town picnic.

Thank you for sharing this story with your readers,
By: Peggy Smith
On: 08/09/2011 06:44:42
I really loved your story, leaving a legacy for my children and grandkids have been on my mind so much in the past year. The feeling that I need to accomplish something special for them for after I am gone.
I haven't figured it out yet, except for my Journals that will tell them who I was and my feelings. so they will know the real me.
Your story was an inspiration.
By: Janice K.
On: 08/09/2011 07:16:12
I loved the story about Nancy Luce and her chicken family. If she lived next door to me, we would have been fine friends! When I was a child I was given a pair of bantam chickens and that started my love affair. I used to sit in the barn on a bail of straw, stroking and hand feeding my flock. Very therapeutic...
I often think of creating a legacy. Thank you for reminding me of the importance.
By: Marcia
On: 08/09/2011 08:01:06
I came across a beautiful quote which I have written on my mini chalkboard outside my front porch door~~~Trees are your best antiques~~~I agree!
By: Shery
On: 08/15/2011 10:17:45
My grandfather served as Mayor of our little cowpoke hamlet for several years. To this day, his portrait hangs in the city office. He was a believer in supporting the community in word and deed. Anonymously, he paid the utility bills for all the churches in town (for many years) even though he did not attend any of them. Only he and the banker knew who made those payments. He also planted trees allllllllll over town and watered them for years with a bucket and his pickup. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke he had something to say. 99% of the people in this town know of anything of my "Grampa" today. But, the few who do saw him as a role model and one of the finest people they ever knew. I thought he was mine alone, but as it turned out he was a big enough man to impact the lives of many.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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