Care of the Land
Celebrating over 100 years in Idaho, the Sisters reflect with awe and gratitude on what our pioneer Sisters accomplished, including their determination to build a future based firmly on a solid land base. Today, the Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude owns – or as the Sisters prefer to say, is responsible for – approximately 1,400 acres of land. Most of the land is forested, but also includes farm and grazing land, gardens and orchards. This land provides us with fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, which is shared with guests. It also provides contemplative space for all those welcomed to the property.
The Benedictine Sisters settled here in 1910, and many of the stories of our early history revolve around the land. Pioneer Sisters talked about tramping through the woods looking for the cows, pinning up their habits and helping to bring in the hay, and spending much of the summer hoeing the orchard and garden.
When the present monastery was built in the 1920s, the stone used in its construction was quarried from the nearby hillside. Many quiet walks, prayerful moments and happy picnics have taken place on these grounds. The Center for Benedictine Life sees itself intimately related to this land and has made a corporate commitment to its care.
Our Philosophy of Land Use
In 1993, the Sisters finalized a Philosophy of Land Use as a way to articulate a common understanding of what it means to own land. The Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude promotes an interconnectedness with the land, recognizing a responsibility to reverence and care for the resources it provides. All decisions made concerning the land flow from this philosophy:
We, the Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, have been entrusted with the gift of land by our loving God and Creator. Through the years our community and this land have been bonded together. With humility we recognize the earth (humus) as the source from which we (humanity) receive our life and sustenance. Our inner spirits are renewed by the contemplative environment it provides. Listening with the ear of our heart to the wisdom expressed through creation, opens us to the deeper reality of God in our lives. As a source of food, water and firewood, the land has nourished and healed our bodies even providing the stone for the building which shelters us and the flowers and trees that decorate our home. This interconnectedness is ultimately realized at the time of death when our bodies return to the earth.
“A spirit of reverence for all creation permeates the Rule [of Benedict], together with a sense of oneness with the land, the days, and the seasons. Such conscious respect for all created goods makes it impossible to pollute land, water or air, to waste resources or to forget about the children who will one day inhabit the earth.” (All Good Gifts) This challenge of the American Benedictine Prioresses is a call to inner conversion so we might become leaven for change in our world.
In order to live in harmony with the earth and to promote responsible stewardship, the Center for Benedictine Life encourages a commitment to:
- choosing a life-style that will give witness to love of the earth;
- joining with other people who are endeavoring to heal the wounds that have been inflicted upon our planet;
- providing on-going education in ecology so that decisions regarding the use of the land will respect the balance and interdependence found in nature;
- using the land for financial profit in a responsible manner, always seeking to maintain the quality of soil, air and water and the healthy balance of animal and plant life;
- keeping in mind that the atmosphere of peace and prayerfulness provided by these surroundings is to be shared with all who come to seek God.
Forest and Farm
The largest portion of our landholding — 1,000 acres — is in timber with stands of ponderosa pine, fir and larch. The forest land adjacent to the Monastery is a favorite area for retreatants to use for walking and relaxing. Every effort is made to keep it peaceful, attractive and quiet. Wildflowers and song birds are important parts of this particular environment.
The remaining forest land is managed for timber and provides a source of income for the Monastery. In addition to timber income, the land provides a place to walk, gather wild berries and harvest Christmas trees. Present forestry activities include: selective harvesting to remove inferior trees, pre-commercial thinning of overcrowded areas and pruning to improve timber quality.
In 1994 our woodlands were accepted into the Forest Stewardship Program of Idaho. We are following a management plan that was specifically written for our woods and approved by the Idaho Department of Lands. This plan identifies our goals for the property and lists the steps needed to achieve these goals. In 2001 the Monastery was awarded Idaho’s Tree Farm of the Year.
Planting for the Future
The forest land at the Center for Benedictine Life at the Monastery of St. Gertrude is managed under the guidance of a professional Forest Management Plan. An exciting part of this plan is the reforestation work done in recent years. Dying fir trees are being replaced with pine and larch trees, which are hardier species more adapted to this habitat. A professional forest consultant helps determine how many seedlings a given area will sustain. The seedlings are ordered from the nursery two years in advance and planted in the spring after the snow has melted, but while the ground is still moist. Experienced crew members each plant 1,000 seedlings per day. Since implementation of this program, 175,000 seedlings have been planted. Observing their growth is fulfilling and heart warming.
For further information contact:
Sr. Carol Ann Wassmuth, OSB
465 Keuterville Road
Cottonwood, Idaho 83522-5183