By Molly Moore
Susan Tyree and Kent Walton’s home is nestled in Franklin County, Va., with a view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from one window and Cahas Mountain, the county’s highest point, from another.
The couple share a deep and sincere appreciation for trees, nature and Appalachia’s environment as a whole. “Nature is not something outside of us, we are nature,” Kent says.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that with their strong environmental and activist ethic, Kent and Susan are among the longest-running Appalachian Voices members. Kent was living at the Light Morning intentional community near Floyd, Va., in the ‘90s when he met Appalachian Voices founder Harvard Ayers, and Kent became an early subscriber to The Appalachian Voice.
The couple are both Quakers and are involved with the Quaker Earthcare Witness network, which addresses ecological and social issues. As part of that network, Kent is working to develop ways for people who have investments in stocks and mutual funds identify and screen out fossil fuel companies.
“They say, ‘think globally, act locally.’ We can certainly apply that to climate change,” Kent says.
He and Susan are also firmly opposed to the Mountain Valley Pipeline and others like it — not only for the climate impacts, but for the effects they would have on the land and waterways.
Forest fragmentation and water quality are among Susan’s top concerns.
“We all need to remember that if we keep the water healthy it’s for everyone, it’s for the children and the future generations,” she says.
Susan grew up in the mountains outside of Roanoke, Va. Her parents planted hundreds of trees on their steep parcel of land, including roughly 30 species of apples and peaches that were all raised organically. She describes her mother as an activist, and Susan herself became passionate about nature at a young age. “It just seemed the only logical thing to try to preserve nature and therefore the diversity and all the beneficial things that come from being able to walk in nature,” Susan says.
She is an artist and focuses on natural themes in her pottery. Susan also serves as an interpreter at the Blue Ridge Institute Farm Museum in Ferrum, Va., where she reenacts daily life on an 1800s farm and teaches kids about traditional homestead games.
Kent also traces his connection to the natural world to childhood and recalls his father walking the field and crumbling the soil between his hands. As a child, Kent would run outside when he was distressed and find solace by finding a tree to climb or sit beneath.
For the past 28 years he’s worked as an arborist in the Roanoke Valley and Smith Mountain Lake area. In addition to addressing practical concerns with trees, he says, “I’m trying to take care of [the trees] like they took care of me.”
“You need to get out in nature and let nature heal you from all the cynicism,” he continues. “It’s the antidote to the knowledge of what we’re doing to the environment.”