Her Love for the Outdoors Lives On in Bequest

Marsha Baker was never one to be squeamish. When she was a girl growing up in Peterborough in a house near woods and a stream, she routinely brought home what others might not dare to touch. 

            “If she found an injured chipmunk or if she found a groundhog baby, she would bring that back home and raise it in the den,” recalled Marsha’s brother Lee Baker, four years her junior.

            “She would raise cecropia moths in the bathtub and bring in branches of cherry leaves they liked to eat. Guests would say, ‘What was that munching in the middle of the night?’ ”

            Marsha’s early interest in wildlife and nature grew as she got older, becoming her passion and comfort as she dealt with the epilepsy she was born with and then a 13-year fight with cancer that claimed her life in 2003 at the age of 57. Now, nearly 11 years later, the legacy she put in trust before her death has resulted in a large bequest to the Forest Society to use for conserving the wildlife habitat she was committed to protecting.

            The Forest Society is one of six nonprofit organizations Marsha’s bequest will strengthen. Marsha knew the Forest Society’s land protection mission well through her brother Lee and his wife Jeannette. They are longtime Forest Society members, and Lee has volunteered as a land steward ever since the program began in 1974. He now serves at both the McGreal Forest and the Kulish Forest in Hancock.  

            In her lifetime, Marsha joined with Jeannette, Lee and their mother, Virginia Baker, to support conservation close to their homes through the Harris Center for Conservation Education. The center named the conserved land around Rye Pond in Nelson, Antrim and Stoddard the Virginia Baker Natural Area in honor of the family’s support.

            Marsha wanted her bequest to the Forest Society to be used to protect even more land, because it was something tangible she could do to help protect homes for wildlife and places of natural beauty she so appreciated herself, Lee said.

            She expressed that appreciation through nature photography, and she spent a lot of time taking photos around Rye Pond and wherever her adventurous spirit took her. Her epilepsy prevented her from driving, but with her mother as her companion, she took sightseeing cruises to Alaska, Hawaii and Bermuda and frequent more local photography excursions. Sometimes these excursions were quite eventful.

            “They’d be driving along a busy road and Marsha would say ‘Mom, stop, stop,’ and it didn’t mean stopping half a mile down the road, it meant stopping right there,” Lee said.

            Nature photography may have been toward the top of her list of interests, but it was a very long list. “Marsha had a vast interest in everything,” Lee said. She collected books and volunteered at the Peterborough library, where her sister-in-law Jeannette worked and where she could indulge her curiosity all the more.

            She enjoyed hiking and biking, and -- even after getting cancer treatment --  completed a biking marathon from Maine to Florida to raise money for local conservation efforts. Gardening was another passion, and she had a knack for it.  

            “I used to say growing up that she could take a dead stick and make it grow,” Lee said.

            An abiding love for the outdoors was the thread running through all of Marsha’s interests, as was a strong sense of determination, whether it was to keep bicycling as long as she could despite her illness, making her vegetables grow, caring for animals or helping to protect land. Upon hearing of a need or a project, Lee said, her response often was “Shouldn’t someone do something?”

            Through her bequest, Marsha has herself become that “someone.”  

            “We are deeply grateful for Marsha’s bequest,  said Jane Difley, forester/president. “We share and respect her love for wildlife and her desire to provide a home for them and a place where others can find beauty and tranquility, and we’re honored to be able to work for land protection on her behalf.”