/ Stories of the Land,

Springtime and New Life at Transfiguration Preserve

Trilliums at Transfiguration Preserve, March 2024. By Rose Lane.


By Dr. Mattie Decker, certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide.

“Transfiguration” is truly at the very heart of what is happening right now, here at the Preserve!

For many months Nature has been at work underground–unseen to us–rich with life, silent in the dark, but now—oh, my! Here we have trillium, bloodroot, the first of the ephemeral plants coming up through the ground, not to mention daffodils no doubt planted long ago by early settlers here.

Our recent Eclipse reminded me of the eclipse seven years ago just after I arrived here! The crickets started singing and our security light came on in the middle of the afternoon. In many ways it startles me to realize this seven year cycle and all that has transpired. This is thanks in essential ways, to Conserving Carolina and its staff and generous gifts of time and online support. The many “Stories from the Land” share much of the history and legacy of this place. I feel our partnership over the years— the Society of the Transfiguration and Conserving Carolina— is testament to the power of shared vision, to listen to nature and live in accord with the ways nature teaches us—collaboration, not competition.

Change is emerging, too, with the Sisters of the Transfiguration and with Conserving Carolina.

I am reminded what I learned in training as an ANFT Nature and Forest Therapy Guide: “Nature moves slowly, but everything gets done.” This kind of slow, sure work is evident everywhere here and now, midst our burgeoning activities, and hope for the future.

In 2016, thanks to Conserving Carolina, the Sisters were able to create a Conservation Easement, allowing this pristine mountain and river land to forever remain a sanctuary and maintain a light human footprint.

Sisters of the Transfiguration with Tom Fanslow and Kieran Roe. By Jeff Shields.

Recently, the Sisters, who are declining in numbers, have been interested to find ways of sustaining their ministries after they are gone. Indeed, their ministries in Cincinnati include Bethany School, the Transfiguration Spirituality retreat Center, St. Monica’s Recreation Center, and “Food for the Soul” which began during the pandemic. So, beginning in November, the Sisters decided to include the Transfiguration Preserve, their retreat here in North Carolina, as their fifth“ministry” of the Society of the Transfiguration (SOT). They asked me to be the Director. Personally, I had no desire to be “director” of anything, but had been guiding Nature and Forest Therapy walks and had begun inviting others who came and were interested to offer ways for people to deepen their relationships with nature. Now we are beginning to offer “Art in Nature”; “Yoga in Nature”;  “The Way of Water: Flyfishing as Contemplative Practice” and I’ve begun a “Writing in Nature” monthly event. My colleague and friend, Kelly Bruce, also certified ANFT, now offers Forest Bathing walks here. Others also lead unique retreats including “Creativity in Nature”, and “Wild Journaling” During the Pandemic we had classical music in the wild, with musicians from Converse College.

Dr. Mattie Decker leads forest bathing at Transfiguration Preserve with the 2023 Summer of Service cohort.

We are midst construction of an outdoor shelter which will provide space for our gatherings, all of which will remain small in number as we respect our promise to maintain a small footprint here. This has taken years to come into being, with the culminating surprise that our shelter is being built on the very site of the first school and church in Bat Cave—the only level spot where we do not need to cut trees, and in a place that still contains its sacred presence.

All of this will bring about changes in how we maintain and sustain this growing mission: One such change begins in May: Registrations and donations, while remaining on the Conserving Carolina website, will now be processed through a link to the Transfiguration Spirituality Center located in Cincinnati. Participants will also be able to become a member of, and donate to, Conserving Carolina on this site.

Our relationship has been enriched and deepened throughout these seven years, working and supporting each other. Now, we are beginning to live into the dream Eva Lee Matthews wrote to her sister in a letter in September, 1897 when she first came to the Hickory Nut Gorge, staying at the Esmeralda Inn: “I dream of a convent here someday where the busy city workers may come and find rest and renewal for their souls.” One day walking in the forest I realized how this is an “enclosure”, a safe place where individuals feel this special atmosphere of being in a sanctuary of Nature.

The cascades at Transfiguration Preserve.

So many people who come here bring their gifts of ideas and ways to cultivate and deepen their relationship with themselves, in nature. Do you have a wish to provide such an event? Drawing in Nature? Or perhaps Contemplative photography? Singing in Nature? Dance? Nature “book talks”? Or any other ways you might share? I welcome you to come and see, and let us know! This year we hope to complete the building of a “shelter” that will provide a gathering space for small groups. And the river awaits you, to come sit, and simply be.

Little Pisgah Mountain on a cloudless day from the porch at Transfiguration House.


“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12


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