Every writer needs a muse. Bruce Ingram’s is the land.
With the help of his wife, Elaine, Bruce has served that muse with his two full-time jobs: Botetourt County high school English teacher and author. His book and article sales have helped finance the purchase of 640 acres of pristine mountain terrain, 444 acres of which the Ingrams have protected under easements held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation and the Blue Ridge Land Conservancy.
Bruce has published on a variety of outdoor topics: four river guidebooks, a fishing guide, a locavore’s handbook, and thousands of articles for periodicals like Outdoor America (for which he is also a field editor) and Whitetail Times.
The Ingrams manage most of their land for wildlife, creating new forest out of old through selective cutting. “You can do a lot of things to make better wildlife habitat with just a chain saw,” Bruce explains. “I like to free up trees that produce fruit, seeds and nuts: dogwood, grapes, black gum, pawpaw. I have just a few persimmon trees and they are so valuable to wildlife. I like to daylight them so their crowns have room to spread out and produce more fruit.”
The land provides a bounty for several endangered species of songbird, as well as for the Ingrams themselves. Bruce hunts and fishes on the properties, and both he and Elaine forage. Elaine cooks from what they harvest—everything from wild berries and grapes to crabapples. This summer they harvested ten and a half gallons of blackberries, wineberries and raspberries. As Bruce puts it, “The land feeds us, we’ll pass it on to our kids, and it’ll feed them.”
While each of the properties provides ecological benefits that make them worth preserving, the 30-acre parcel on John’s Creek has both conservation and sentimental value, the Ingrams say. “I actually took Elaine fishing up there on our fourth date,” Bruce says. “I wanted her to know that I liked to fish and hunt from the very beginning.”
And that was fine by Elaine. “On our fifth date we decided to get married,” she adds.
The Ingrams would buy that property in 1984. “It’s a special place for us,” he says.
The John’s Creek property contains sandstone barrens, an ecological community designated for protection by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, a vernal pool and a spring. Bruce identified an endangered plant there, the American barberry, a native to the Appalachians, in 2019. Shagbark hickories also provide summer roosting sites for endangered Indiana bats.
The easements make sure the land will be there to nurture future generations of songbirds, bats and, of course, Ingrams. In the meantime, Bruce continues to write when he’s not in the classroom or outdoors, earning money to buy and conserve more of the Commonwealth’s open spaces. His most recent work is a series of young adult novels about a different kind of wilderness: high school. It’s another ecosystem he’s come to know well over the years, and he is happy to show us around.
To see some of Bruce’s publications and to help support his conservation work, go to his Facebook page and website, linked below: