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Bird Tribe Sanctuary

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We moved to the current location of “the Bird Tribe Compound” in the summer of 2000, not long after Y2K caused chaos across the planet, when our firstborn child was almost 2, and the interior of Richmond started to feel more confining than we wanted. We knew we needed to live somewhere near Charlottesville at the time, came out one weekend, and got a Sunday paper (they were these things full of news and advertisements which used to come out daily, with an extra thick version on Sundays), and there were exactly two houses we could even afford, one of them in a small town we’d never heard of called Scottsville. We called the number at a pay phone (remember those?) at the downtown Scottsville gas station, and got directions to go look at the house. It was a two-story farmhouse ten miles up back roads from the aforementioned small town. The house was rough, but we loved it (despite it’s problems), and due to the owner being an old school guy, since we were the first people to call him, we got the place (once he had his deposit, cash money, in hand). We ended up renting the place for about a couple of years, with the owner owner-financing a sale of the property to us a few years afterward.
It’s 4-and-a-half acres of pasture, patch of pines, and yard, and we’ve come to love it. Neither Suzanna nor myself had really uncovered our own full stories back then, much less our shared one, but we both – in this space – started the work of healing from fractured beginnings. Additionally, we had two more children, one of which was born inside this house. I started my own business (which failed during the recession in 2008), and Suzanna began a clinical herb practice and outdoor herb school here. We’ve built a teaching pavilion, added chicken coops and goat pens, raised a few pigs (never again though), put a couple writing campers on it – very organically and naturally becoming intertwined with this space. The etymology of a “rambling” house is one which has grown in phases. Our home is that – the front two-story place built in 1905, with an addition built on the back end with second chimney and bathroom at some point (with hand dug well, which is still operational), and a back porch. That back porch was closed in during the 1970s, and is our kitchen area. The house is a literal rambling home, and the property itself echoes that philosophy.
We’d benefitted all along from an older couple living next to us who owned the woods between and behind our property (which according to the way the road twists is actually next door, but behind us), and I’ve built a number of paths back through there, scattering little Buddha statues as well as words, listening to the crows’ congress as often as possible. The old couple at the neighboring property fed all the animals and treated the land with respect. They didn’t talk to anybody much, the man was as close to an old wizard as you could get. Very hermitic, he had a long white beard and walked with a gnarly wooden staff.
Sadly, that old guy passed away recently. And sadly, due to medical debt accumulated over the course of the last decade of his life, she has to sell off the parcel of land between us, as well as her home. I’ve been helping her haul items away to Goodwill, and she is in good spirits, and has told me much about their time in this place, they also healing by being part of this area.
The land between us they purchased five years or so before we moved here, in order to protect it from development. They kept a “sacred circle” where they scattered food for all the animals, where they could eat free from predators (including hunters). Apparently years before I did, the old guy had cleared a few paths back in those woods as well, following the animal paths, just as I did. It is beautiful land still.

One of the largest lessons which has empowered both Suzanna and I to become more whole in our time at this place we call the Bird Tribe Compound is the land will always heal. Nature, Plants, Earth – however you want to phrase it to not feel weird, it has a healing power which our civilization overlooks all too often. We’ve found quartz arrowheads on this land as this used to be part of Monacan land. And one thing we’ve appreciated from that indigenous culture, and in fact most indigenous cultures, is that we as people are not owners of the land, with dominion over it, but caretakers of it. We help it how it needs us to, so that it can help us how we need it to.
The 10-acre plot of raw land next to us is being sold separately by the widow woman. In speaking to her, it being sold will help her immensely as there are liens against it due to the medical debt, so it will solve that problem for her once sold. I’ve beaten phones down the past month, trying to figure out a way to purchase it. Raw land loans are expensive though, because – according to the banks – they have no value unless they are developed. The land, to our current culture, is worth far more broken up and built upon than left as is.
At the same time, we’ve built a lot where we are.

Suzanna here!  I want to share a little about how this land has informed and shaped the work I offer as a teacher and clinician. I started seeing clients first in an office in our nearby town about eleven years ago. I quickly realized that without the presence of the gardens and being on the land where the medicine is growing meant there was a component of healing missing. I have seen the deep relaxation in clients as they really feel that land connection and that connection becomes a profound part of their healing process as it has been for Raven and I. I started Owlcraft Healing Ways my all-outdoor herb school seven years ago. I offer camps and classes for kids and have led 9-month apprenticeships for adults and am actually starting a second year program that will have a deeper focus on clinical skills. What I feel makes the school really special is the land and the wildness we are blessed to be part of. Being able to facilitate that connection for those who come here to learn is the foundation of my teachings. It truly makes my heart hurt to think of the land adjoining ours being built on and subsequently altering what I am able to offer as a teacher

Suzanna’s herb school has run a 9-month herbal apprenticeship school for a number of years, with students coming from around Virginia as well as neighboring states once a week to attend. She’s in fact opened a second-year program on a second day in this year.
And since I (Raven) quit self-medicating six years ago, I’ve realized the healing power of writing in ways I never did before, yet not in a sanctimonious way (at least I hope). This was seen publicly at the haiku events we did for a number of years in Charlottesville and Richmond, but I’ve tinkered with the idea of a writing program for teens being run from our space as well.
So we sit at a crossroads with this neighboring plot of land suddenly being offered for sale. Our work will continue, regardless, but it would be altered heavily depending on how that land was treated after purchase. If someone bought it and left it, status quo as raw land, no problem really. But if somebody bought it and put up a house, or bought it to develop and put up a couple houses, it would alter our environment, and work, fairly prominently in a negative way.
But if we could find a way to purchase that land, we could expand what we are doing here, and be able to hold more events along the lines of what this land has taught us is helpful for people. We don’t have the means right now though.
The land is being marketed right now at $69K. I’ve found a place that specializes in rural land loans, which we could get a 20-year fixed rate loan on, and work hard to maintain. Even that would be tough for us given current lack of financial equity in our current place, but we could do it. But we need to get a 20% down payment plus closing costs together, which is $17K (roughly).

So we’re sending this out there, asking if you are able to help enable what we are doing at this place. Our vision for that land is to make it a botanical sanctuary, where endangered plants are cultivated and allowed to grow. Over time, we’d like to build a labyrinth on that parcel (there is one cleared spot on the 10 acres), as well as further lay out paths through the foothills and woods which is the majority of that parcel. Being recognized as a botanical sanctuary requires the land be accessible to the public from time to time and be used for education, which expanding Suzanna’s already existent Herb Camp for Kids and apprenticeships onto that land would help achieve. Raven would like to hold writing and reading events there as well, in the wild, so to speak. And having this additional space for these purposes will allow us to further medicinal herbs and plants at a more productive level on our original land.
We offer two levels of thanks for potential supporters. At the base level, anyone who supports the effort, once we purchase the land, would be invited twice a year to a scheduled community day in the sanctuary. On these days, Suzanna would offer plant walks, you could taste teas made from the medicines grown on the land and walk the labyrinth and hopefully be inspired by the healing of the land that we have found so profoundly beneficial in our own paths.
But realizing we are far off from our goal of getting this property we offer a higher level. ]Anyone able to give at least $500 would be invited to a Saturday/Sunday workshop/retreat thing one weekend later this year, so those who helped could see our place, and see what we’re doing firsthand. And then we’d have a reunion workshop/retreat in five years time so all those who contributed could see where we’ve gone in that time. (The details of this are obviously very much in the air, but that is the plan.)
We do not take anyone’s finance lightly. We know everyone is struggling to one extent or another. We know times are tough in more ways than one for many people right now on this Earth. But we are in what feels like a desperate situation, where what we have been building and working at for the past 17 years feels jeopardized. So we are humbly asking.
If you are able and interested in contributing, please let us know. The fractured existences both Suzanna and I have worked so hard to heal from over the years means neither of us has financial support through our families of origin. But we do have all of you, our families of choice. If you, by any chance whatsoever, do have a level of support that you could work something out with us, please let us know. We are not going anywhere, and if we could expand the Bird Tribe Compound, our roots would dig in even deeper. Please reach out to either of us with any ideas you have, or arrangements that could be made.
If we aren’t able to do this, of course we will survive. This is not life or death. But it is important to us to keep this land whole, and not fragmented and fractured. That is the lesson this land taught us – that becoming whole is possible, and you can heal from the fractures this civilization puts on you. It just takes time, it takes space, and it takes a whole lot of effort.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring, regardless of your response.

Raven & Suzanna


Raven Mack
Scottsville, VA

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