My True Home
by Susan Whalton, LTEP
“The Mark Eddy story”
Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon and Sixpence “I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place. Accident has cast them amid certain surroundings, but they have always a nostalgia for a home they know not. They are strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have known from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage.”
Mark Eddy’s passage from sunny pre-war Los Angeles, where he was born, wound through a fascinating career in social justice and humanistic psychology, civil rights and criminal justice, the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service, where he spent his career as a policy analyst. Hot, humid summers in Washington DC and boundless curiosity to know and experience nature brought him to West Virginia.
What led him here, to an untamed and densely forested bluff high above the Opequon where he has put down roots, were a lifelong search for wilderness and a love for nature that has burned in his heart since he was a boy. It took him to Harpers Ferry where he was inspired by seeing the great confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, and motivated him to take up spelunking, where he “discovered a true wilderness experience underground.”
He was also open to the parts of his life that can only be explained as serendipity. A friendship with libertarian Karl Hess and his wife Therese resulted in an invitation to visit them in their home on Horseshoe Bend. And looking out over the vista,Mr. Eddy was stirred by a recognition of place, and belonging.
Like the great confluence in Harpers Ferry, Mr. Eddy’s 30.61 acre property on Horseshoe Bend is also a confluence of significant bodies of water. It sits atop a system of unexplored caves, sinkholes, underground streams, and breathing holes. Walking fern cling to the sheer limestone walls.
It is a property that he painstakingly and patiently reassembled. Had he not, this piece of living wilderness would not exist. The property had already been subdivided into parcels when he discovered his first piece of land there and walked it with Therese Hess. “It was beautiful – amazing – lush”. Mr. Eddy learned that the lot belonged to a couple who had purchased it many years prior as a retirement destination. He reached out to them and as fortune would have it, they had just decided to retire in Colorado instead and were happy to sell it to him.
And so began his determined quest to reassemble a patchwork of different pieces back into a whole so “it could be preserved”. This accomplishment of which he is deservedly proud involved the purchases over a matter of years of six additional adjoining parcels of land around the bend including a long, narrow piece of woodland along the river that had been slated to be bulldozed. What drove him on was his recognition that the threat of the riverbend being bulldozed was real. “In order to preserve it, I had to expand. I realized from 1986 on that I had to acquire more land to save the bend.”
Mr. Eddy pondered his journey to West Virginia with us – and his determination not only to conserve but to preserve land in its natural state.
He was steeped in an appreciation for nature when he was growing up, an appreciation that was nurtured by his parents and great uncle, who took him camping and backpacking throughout the West. But he had never even seen “real woods” until his two great aunts took him on a Greyhound bus trip around the country when he was 10 years old. “When I saw my first woods – big, dark, woods – I was so scared.” The towering forests of the east both frightened and fascinated him.
It was only after he had transplanted here that Mr. Eddy discovered his own historic ties to this region – family ties he never knew existed. He is directly related to the Sturm family (for whom Mount Storm is named) and a distant grandfather Sturm was married in Martinsburg in 1754. Other ancestors settled in nearby Hillsboro, Virginia, and Frederick, Maryland, in the 1700s.
His deep respect for this beautiful region is matched by his strong commitment to protect it. He knows first-hand how quickly, and irrevocably, nature can be demolished. “I saw the natural beauty of Southern California be destroyed before my eyes as I was growing up there.”
His message to others who are considering conserving their land?
“Think it through, because it’s forever. Give it a lot of thought. Then, definitely do it.”
By purchasing and then placing his property under conservation easement, Mark Eddy effectively redeemed and protected an entire ecosystem, above and below ground. His easement assures safe access for wildlife to drinking water. It further ensures protection of water itself. And, after nearly three decades of only visiting his property on weekends, he has, since last March, finally seized the opportunity to live on it full time. “For the first time in my life, I’ve found my true home.”
It continues to be a privilege to recount the stories of those who have conserved and preserved their land. Mr. Eddy’s is a story of serendipity, tenacity and vision, of willingness and resolve to embrace and protect a home he had not expected to find. It is also a cautionary tale. We are not immune to the relentless drive that would subsume nature or bulldoze for profit today what will prevent us in the future from ever knowing the majesty and mystery of nature undisturbed. We at the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle thank Mr. Eddy for sharing not only his story, but for ensuring that one bend of the Opequon will continue to exist unharmed.