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Chester County Press

Editorial: Man of the earth

07/03/2023 12:49PM ● By Richard Gaw

When the Chester County Press reports on the progressive achievements of The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County -- now the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance after a 2022 merger combined the two agencies -- it is typically written in chunks, in accordance with each parcel of property the agency acquires as one of the premiere institutions of conservation in the county. As seen on a map, the organization’s record of progress unfurls to reveal a luscious canopy of open space, natural resources and conservation centers that now totals more than 1,000 acres of preserves in Chester and Elk counties, and nearly 50 conservation easements on an additional 1,200 acres.

Several years ago, as negotiations quietly began, members of TLC began to talk in hushed tones to this newspaper about a private landowner in Kennett Township who wished to see the 297-acre property he and his wife owned and cherished remain privately held and in pristine condition. As the deal began to be finalized, the newspaper reached out repeatedly with TLC to arrange an interview with the landowner. Newspapers crave big stories, and a story like this – Kennett Township residents dedicate 297 acres for conservation -- would create local heroes. Each time, the request was respectfully turned down.

“The owners wish to be as anonymous as possible,” the Press was told.

While this newspaper’s first introduction to Tom Brokaw became a non-introduction, the Press learned a valuable lesson: When a legacy of any magnitude is being made, rarely is it required to submit to a reporter’s questions.

For Thomas Clarkson Taylor Brokaw, who died on June 4 at 77, the fullest measure of his life was not contained in what became the privately-held Bucktoe Creek Preserve. Rather, it served as a touch point to his and his wife Margaretta’s dedication toward ecological preservation and restoration. Throughout much of his adult life, Brokaw served on the boards of conservation groups and land trusts under a steadfast belief that the beauty of nature is not just a portrait to admire but a science to learn. He hosted many educational programs for both adults and children that introduced them to native plants and local birds. He arranged for trail networks to be constructed and in his spare time, he was often seen planting trees and removing evasive species.

Today, while it remains a privately-held property and not open to the general public, Bucktoe Creek Preserve is an outdoor classroom of educational programming, where agencies like the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance and the Delaware Nature Society host students along hiking trails that forage their way through forests, meadows and along ponds near the Red Clay and Bucktoe creeks.

While obituaries glean to tell the story of a person’s life, they do so in miniature, but in reading Brokaw’s, it tells so much about a man who was led by his ferocious curiosity.

He was an expert modeler and miniaturist. He was a linguist, and studied and spoke several languages. “He was a walking encyclopedia on most subjects and was curious about everything, from the quotidian to the obscure,” the obituary read.

To that end, let us always acknowledge that for every set of boots that trudges through the thick of a wooded path; for every hand that floats delicately along the top of a discovered wildflower; and for every wide-eyed child consumed for the first time by the pungent perfume of nature, there are those like Tom Brokaw whose words, deeds and actions implore us to dig deeply into the earth, where our curiosities can escape, unharmed and free, into the wild.