Wandering in York County

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For people like Dean Smith, looking out the window at his preserved farm gives him hope. The land was broken, but he and his wife, Vicki, restored it so nature flourishes alongside them. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Therapy in Nature: This Dover couple turns to land preservation to heal

I walk into Dean Smith’s office, doubling as his man cave getaway. There, we chatted about his life with the Spotify station “Celtic Woman” playing in the background. All around us I saw artifacts from his past, all linked to a specific memory.

Pelts hang from Dean Smith’s wall, reminding him of outdoor activities popular in York County history such as trapping. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Pelts remind him of when he raised foxes. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were worth $250, but today they are $10-$15 due to market saturation, according to Trapping Today. Behind Dean hang ten ribbons. He and a stallion named Fire Branded HJ, Fire for short, earned them about 15 years ago during a competition. It was Fire’s first and only show, and he had just been “broken,” or trained to be ridden, right before the show.

Even though he won many ribbons, “You can kind of say he [the horse] was a little cantankerous,” Dean says. Jamie Kinsley Photo.
I enjoy scanning people’s book shelves. Their selection says a lot about who they are as a person. Jamie Kinsley Photo.

I ask Dean about a book on his shelf called The Legend of York International, and he tells me a deeper part to his story.

Smith suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. On Feb. 2, 1998, he survived the explosion at York International. Remembering the exact minute, Smith described the devastating effects the incident had on his mental health. His friend died that night, and it’s haunted him ever since.

“[We] couldn’t even see to get out of the building,” Dean says.  He crawled on the floor, looking for his toolbox so he could retrieve his flashlight. Eventually, he found his way outside. Out of the confusion came more confusion, as Dean and his coworkers lost account of each other’s’ whereabouts. Some re-entereded the danger, looking for people who were hurt among the sparks of electricity, smoke, and chemical fumes. “Hollywood couldn’t have built a better scene,” Dean says.

Dean believes that luck is tipped out of his favor. Earlier in life, he suffered football, motorcycle, and horse accidents that injured his back and his head. He explains that if there was a billion-dollar lottery ticket for sale on a Saturday at 7 o’clock, the person in front of him would win, or the person behind him would win, but he will never be the big winner.

Dean and Vicki Smith preserved all 95 acres their Dover Township farm with the Farm and Natural Lands Trust. Rochelle Black Photo.
Dean Smith captured images of deer grazing on their property. Dean Smith Photo.

To deal with his painful history of trauma, Dean turned to the soil. In 2002, Dean and his wife, Vicki, purchased 95 acres in Dover Township. One could say that the farm is his therapy. Over the past two decades, they’ve worked to increase the biodiversity by creating a riparian buffer – a place where a vegetation grows along a stream that increases the wildlife habitat for native plants, birds, insects, and animals. This past year, they preserved all 95 acres with the Farm and Natural Lands Trust of York County.

Dean and Vicki work hard to cultivate a healthy environment. They enjoy watching wildlife flourish all around their property. Considering their trauma, the land is their place to heal.

Read more about the Smith’s land preservation on a website that Jim McClure and I curate called Witnessing York.

Near the end of our time together, Vicki walks in with fresh-baked blueberry muffins. She extends her arm, allowing me to peel back the towel from inside the basket so I could retrieve her generous treat. They do not disappoint! Jamie Kinsley Photo.
I did not ask about Dean’s unicycle leaned up against the grandfather clock, but I wish I would have. If someone came into your house, what would they see? What do the artifacts of your past say about you? Jamie Kinsley Photo.

Jamie Kinsley is a board member for the Farm and Natural Land Trust of York County. Parts of this article are featured in its 2021 newsletter.

1 comment on “Therapy in Nature: This Dover couple turns to land preservation to heal

  1. Congratulations to the Smith’s !!! Such a fine thing they have done after all the bad luck. I know that since I came into town in 1943 we have lost over half of York County farms.

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