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Four Brothers Having a Wild Thyme

Three thousand miles away from Loomis Chaffee, there are areas of land, even a quadrangle, named for former teachers Howard “Squirrel” Norris (science), James “Grim” Wilson (history, economics), and Don "Joff" Joffray (math). 

Wild Thyme Farm, in Oakville, Wash., is owned by four brothers, all Loomis Chaffee graduates — John Henrikson ’75, Richard Henrikson ’74, Jack Wight ’74, and Robert Henrikson ’66. 

Jack described the 150 acres as “a private, regionally recognized eco-retreat/working family farm that specializes in permaculture, selective tree harvesting, and riparian restoration and stewardship.” Oakville is near the state’s capital city, Olympia. 

The farm, he said, “traces its roots back to some of the original Finn settlers in southwest Washington at the turn of the last century.” 

The brothers pooled their resources more than 35 years ago to buy the land, which has forests, meadows, gardens, orchards, streams, ponds, and multiple buildings, from the main house to guest cottages, barns, and meeting rooms. The farm has primarily been subsidized by the brothers, each of whom has outside careers. 

Wild Thyme Farm siblings

John Henrikson ’75, Robert Henrikson ’66, Susan Wight ’71, Doug Wight (kneeling) ’76, Richard Henrikson ’74, and Jack Wight ’74.

Jack recently returned to Washington after attending his 50th Reunion at Loomis Chaffee, and he and John participated in an interview by phone. 

Squirrel, Grim, and Don left a lasting impression on the brothers, who take pride in the land but also the whimsical nature of naming parts of that land. The name of the farm itself, Wild Thyme, just came out of John’s mouth one day. 

“Maybe it was that some wild thyme was the first thing we planted,” John said, noting it does carry a double meaning. “I came up with it, threw it out as a joke, and it stuck. That carried on. We have all sorts of whimsical names here because we must refer to parts of the land functionally.  

One is “the path of least resistance,” though they never seem to take that route at least figuratively. They have named parts of the land after children and other aspects of their lives. That’s how the names of the trails came about honoring the former LC teachers. 

“Who doesn’t love the name Squirrel,” Jack said. 

“Squirrel didn’t get a quadrangle named after him [on the LC campus], so we named one here,” John said. 

The brothers grew up in Windsor, not far from Loomis Chaffee. John, who manages the farm, said the three teachers were among those who influenced the brothers, not only through their teaching but also extracurricular activities — Don with the Darwin Club and Jim with the "Wilderness and the Self" course. Squirrel was their introduction to the scientific mindset. 

Being an owner of Wild Thyme Farm to John “is about our relationship to the land and in this area a particularly wild and vigorous landscape.” He said understanding and applying math and science are critical in making decisions on the land. It takes decades to develop an understanding of the landscape, climate, species, “and all the stuff nature throws at you. It’s a fascinating relationship, but if you get deeply into it, you need all of what we learned at Loomis Chaffee to be effective,” he said. 

Part of what the brothers learned, John said, was how to cope when feeling overwhelmed by the demands of a rigorous academic setting.  

“You had to develop a keen ability to prioritize and succeed under pressure,” John said, “and that has played out here in a working landscape. We are in a state of perpetual overwhelm because that is how nature presents itself. But you’re able to be successful regardless, and that requires developing skills we honed at Loomis Chaffee because that demand was there.” 

He said it has taken much time and energy to figure out how to best steward the land.  

Squirrel Norris Quadrangle at Wild Thyme Farm

 The Squirrel Norris Quadrangle. “Squirrel didn’t get a quadrangle named after him [on the LC campus], so we named one here,” John said. 

“Eventually you break through,” he said, “and the relationship really starts to work. You start to get really efficient, you start to understand the different pieces and the shifts in the weather, and you get in synch with that. And it is less the idealistic ego trying to impose this will on the landscape. It's more of a loving, working relationship where nature informs you more than you imposing your will.” 

Jack said there is a partnership with the land. “John uses a term we’ve all kind of adopted, profusion. Everything in this area is quite profuse,” Jack said. “It's in constant growth mode, so you’re so engaged, or as John says, ‘Nature teaches you things and guides you.’ You make mistakes, and that is OK, but you generally get the rhythm and get in synch with the property. ... It’s not a hike in the woods. You are hands-on, your hands are in the dirt. You’re cutting trees. That might seem offensive to some, but that is all part of that natural cycle.” 

Hundreds of trees are planted each year to replace those that are harvested in a constant cycle. John talked about growing and harvesting trees like a crop. All the while, eyes must be wide open, the mind in tune with nature. 

“Now that we are connected with the land,” John said, “and have a working relationship, it’s like you have 10,000 beans that are under your care, you are stewarding them, and as you walk around they all cry out and say, ‘Hey, over here, I need help. I need thinning, I need tending.’ So there is this cacophony of what you are stewarding requesting assistance." 

Operating the farm “is not just an academic exercise,” John said. “We produce timber, we produce hay. So there is great value and satisfaction in that. This is not just an exercise or lifestyle.” 

It’s a business, yet their careers outside the farm have enabled them to maintain this labor of love. 

“We all have day jobs,” Jack said, “and still do to ‘feed the bulldog,’ from spirulina entrepreneurship to civil engineering, to database architecture and accounting to technical writing. We still make monthly contributions to the farm to fuel the operations and maintenance budget. Most small family forest landowners have at least one spouse or partner engaged in [outside work] for benefits, etc., to fund these endeavors.” 

The endeavors are many, some of which help defray the cost of operating such a place. Raw logs are sold to “green” mills for timber that is certified to meet environmental standards. Lumber processed at the farm also is sold to specialty carpenters and contractors.  Red Alder, Douglas Fir, Big Leaf Maple, and Western Hemlock are among the varieties of trees.  

The land also generates a lot of fruit (apples, pears, berries, nuts). 

“These are primarily harvested and marketed by neighbors who 'adopt an area' at the farm and reap what they sow at farmers markets,” Jack said. “Also, we've had beekeepers over the years who produce substantial quantities of honey. Over the years of ownership, we've had short- and long-term rentals for individuals and families to help defray our operations and maintenance costs. These folks often participated in working on the property as payment in lieu of actual monthly rent. We never have enough hands to handle all the weeding and garden care required.” 

Jack said that Wild Thyme has a carpenter/contractor and mechanic/logger (neighbors in their small community) on the payroll, which is subsidized by the partners' monthly contributions. 

The one constant through the years has been hosting free educational opportunities for schools and other organizations. “We consider that ‘paying it forward’ as an exercise in tithing,” Jack said. “We also host events for regional forestry and landowner associations.” 

A visitor to Wild Thyme Farm will not see all that goes into maintaining the property. The website describes the idyllic setting: “Hike wide walking trails and roads from the farm meadows winding up hillsides, over canyon streams, through rich and diverse fir and cedar groves to the tranquil and sunny high pasture with a view of Mt. Rainier.” 

You might even see elk. A male elk might weigh 700 pounds and have antlers spanning up to four feet and weighing up to 40 pounds.  

“They’re not like deer ... little Bambis individually or in small groups prancing through the woods,” John said. “Elk are impressive. They’re like a herd of cattle. They’re big, they’re bold, they’re loud. They’re awesome.” 

Wild Thyme  land



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