To celebrate the month of love, we’re sharing stories of Better Place Forests customers that have chosen to live Together Forever in one of our forests. Susan is the former landowner and first customer of our Litchfield Hills forest with a stunning white oak tree. Having spent decades in the forest, no one knows it quite like her. We sat down with Susan to talk about what the forest means to her and how she chose her tree with her sister.
Growing up amongst the trees
Susan is no stranger to our Litchfield Hills forest. The Litchfield Hills forest has been part of her life since 1982 when her husband, Berkley, first bought the property. Berkley, an arborist at the time, purchased the plot of land to build a shop, but the forest quickly evolved into their home for close to forty years. What began as a side project turned into decades of memories in the present-day Better Place Forests Litchfield Hills.
Susan spent her childhood playing in the Connecticut wilderness — climbing trees and running through the woods with her four siblings. “We grew up in a very small house. I think it was like 900 square feet for all seven of us. Needless to say, most of our time was spent outside where we didn’t feel the constraints of a tiny 10×10 bedroom,” said Susan.
“When I have memories of climbing trees they are so poignant.”
Susan and her siblings playing in a tree as children
Susan and her siblings had an immediate affinity for trees and the woods that surrounded their childhood home. “Trees were involved in a lot of our childhood,” Susan said. “We did a lot of tree climbing just because the trees were there.” As the siblings got older, their love of nature and trees followed them. One of Susan’s brothers became a woodworker, the other a logger, and Susan herself became a forester. “We all have a connection to the woods and to nature. It’s just a natural course of events that we became very respectful of our environment,” Susan said.
A lifetime in the forest
As Susan and her siblings got older, they went their separate ways for college and chosen trades. Susan’s older sister Mary went to Georgia to become a medical assistant and Susan pursued her dreams of becoming an ornithologist. Eventually, the two came back to Falls Village to start families and in Susan’s case — purchase the Litchfield Hills forest.
Susan has spent the last 40 years stewarding the land in the Litchfield Hills forest. When asked what she loves most about the charming forestland, she said. “Actually what I love most about it is its isolation. I’m probably more of an introvert than anything, and so I just love being up there. And truly being a part of the forest. You do really feel that you are a part of it.” The forest was the backdrop of many of Susan’s most important memories, including her elopement with Berkley.
Susan and Berkley’s wedding in present-day Better Place Forests Litchfield Hills
Sisterhood in this life and the next
When Susan found Better Place Forests to take over the property, she was elated. Susan had long feared that the property would be developed and hoped to find an organization as passionate about conservation as herself. “I firmly believe people can use their land as long as it’s done wisely,” said Susan. When given the opportunity to choose a memorial tree in the forest that she had fostered for most of her life, she called the experience “life-changing.”
“When this opportunity came up, when I was told that I could go pick a tree, it was a totally different experience. It was really life-changing. It was a life-changing experience, versus going out and buying a plot in a regular cemetery. You envision yourself becoming a part of nature, you really do. It’s just such a different feeling. When you know that you’re going to become a part of that ecosystem, you’re going to become a part of that tree,” said Susan.
Susan and her sister Mary decided to choose a tree together. The two couldn’t think of a better way to spend eternity than with the one person that had been there through everything. “By doing it with Mary, it just gave the idea of dying a new dimension. Eventually, our ashes could become combined and we could become part of the same leaf of that tree. It’s just such a nice way of thinking of life after death,” Susan said. “We actually got excited. Now when I think of dying it just adds another level of peacefulness to the whole experience.”
“We went out one day and just walked from tree to tree. At first, we gravitated toward the most majestic Red Oaks, but even though they were probably the biggest and most perfectly formed trees in the woods they didn’t really strike a chord with us.” Susan said. Finally, the two found their perfect match in a flat meadow where friends and family could visit them for generations to come. “It was almost like a picnic area. So it was like, yeah, we can imagine people coming to visit us after we’re gone and just sitting here. You know when it’s the right one.”
“We came across this double-wide oak tree, which we thought was just perfect — one for each of us.”
Susan and Mary with their white oak memorial tree
“It doesn’t lighten the concept of dying, but it gives it a whole new positive dimension. A part of you will be a part of something that is alive — still after you die. It’s undeniable. So just focusing on that, it turns the whole circle of life into something more acceptable.”
When you’re ready to create a meaningful legacy, book a free online forest tour. We’re here to help you make end-of-life plans that protect the planet and the people you love.