The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 23, 2004


One family can make a big difference

The Benfield family is once again demonstrating their commitment to Carlisle's environment. Many years ago Ben Benfield placed conservation restrictions on 28 acres of his property. Now the family has outlined a plan for their remaining 150 acres on West and South Streets, which will allow the construction of no more than a dozen new houses, and the permanent protection of most of the land. The non-profit Carlisle Conservation Foundation (CCF) is working with the Benfields to provide the town with an opportunity to buy a 45-acre section, to be used for affordable housing, recreation and conservation. (For map and related articles, see page 1 of the 1/16/04 Mosquito and page 1 of this issue.)

The town owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Benfield family. They undertook a difficult and time-consuming process to devise a land plan that would protect conservation values while allowing them to recoup economic value from their property. It would have been much easier to sell the entire property to a developer. We are very fortunate that the family cares about the future of Carlisle's natural environment. Their record in conservation is amazing.

Carlisle's 1987 Honored Citizen, Ben Benfield has lived on West Street since 1946, when he began teaching geophysics at Harvard University. He was one of the founders of the CCF, and served on our Conservation Commission (ConsCom) during the 1960s and '70s. Ben Benfield was chair of the ConsCom when the town acquired the Towle and Greenough Lands, Foss Farm and Davis Corridor for conservation. In each case, he successfully sought out state and federal grants to minimize the amount paid by the town. Also, along with fellow commissioner Ken Harte, Benfield helped interest the state in purchasing the 850-acre Farnham Smith property to create Great Brook Farm State Park.

Would Carlisle be recognizable today if all those parcels had instead been converted to housing developments? What if Benfield hadn't vigorously opposed the construction of a Tenneco gas pipeline through the center of town during the 1960s? Thanks in large part to him, the pipeline was rerouted along the northern edge of town.

Benfield's sons, Michael and Peter, no longer live in Carlisle, though Michael lived in town during the 1990s. While here, Michael took a turn serving on our Conservation Commission, and his wife, Tara Hengeveld, volunteered on the Planning Board. Those who treasure Carlisle's rural beauty will long appreciate this family's remarkable stewardship of the land.

What is a CR?
A conservation restriction is a legal agreement made by a landowner not to change the use of a parcel of open space. Typically, the landowner can maintain trails and existing buildings, but is prohibited from constructing new buildings or roads. The CR is given by the landowner to an organization that agrees to monitor the land to assure long-term compliance.

In most cases, a CR is used to protect land which is privately owned, and the CR is often given to a town. In this way, the town's conservation commission can monitor the land and make sure that future owners of the parcel understand their responsibility to keep the land undeveloped.

I'm sorry, deer

Something wasn't right. The scene outside my window was familiar, but somehow different.

I looked again, and saw that the deer was inside the fence. I have no idea how he got there.

I went outside to confirm my observation, but was unable to improve the situation. The young buck sensed my presence and ran one way, then another, trying in vain in each direction to throw himself through the fence. I went back inside to call for help. The buck seemed to calm.

It was Sunday morning, so the animal control officer was off duty. My call went to the police. They responded promptly, and congenially. The three of us consulted briefly, but could not devise a particular plan. We left the gate open, and walked slowly into the yard.

Our plan, to the extent it had developed, had us chasing the young buck toward the open gate. We did so, and he ran. But, inexplicably, he stopped just before the opening and reversed direction. He ran even faster, and leapt in a final but unsuccessful attempt to vault the fence.

His legs offered instinctive efforts to right himself for another run. But after a minute or so we realized he could not get up. One officer prepared to put him down; I suggested, as the twitching stopped, that a shot was unnecessary. The young buck's last leap had broken his neck.

The officers asked if I wanted the carcass.

I declined the carcass, and the officers said that someone would come to take it away. They departed, and I was left to reflect on this odd sequence of events.

Based on my estimate, the buck had been alive only a small fraction of the time I have lived in my house. There can be no suggestion that he was here first, or held a prior entitlement to romp unimpeded through my backyard. And yet his presence, and demise, in my yard illustrates the tension that attends the increasing populations of both people and wildlife, and the increasingly disconsonant terms of encounters between the two.

We are accustomed to seeing deer in the unfenced portions of our yard. Our neighborhood (as most in Carlisle) has seen wildlife of many types, the most exotic probably being the black bear, a few years back, who developed a special fondness for bird feeders. The presence of wildlife (though not the bear) on the fringes of our space is at some level a very pleasant aesthetic. But it is an inherently uneasy relationship. Wildlife is, well, wild.

In an earlier time, perhaps, the officers would not have needed to ask if I wanted the deer's carcass, and I would not have paused to wonder what I might do with it. In our time, I don't expect to harvest my meals from the land. Conversely, when coyotes prey on house pets, or when mountain lions pounce on joggers, they remind us that wild means untamed.

Beyond puzzling over broad tensions between domesticity and wildlife, though, I am left in this instance with more particularized questions about whether I could somehow have extricated this animal from his predicament. He didn't want to be trapped in my yard, any more than I wanted his visit to end as it did. I'm left with a sadness that our attempts to direct the deer to safety failed. Most of all, I'm just sorry.


2004 The Carlisle Mosquito