Many only dream of visiting their defined paradise, while Max and Eweleen Good decided decades ago to make living in their conceived paradise a daily reality.
Environmental conservation, prairie restoration, reintegration of native plant species, and the creation of wildlife habitat on their 40 acres of land have resulted in a biodiverse area unlike anything in the area or the state.
Now, the public can get a glimpse into their personal Eden, dubbed the Good Woods, by flipping through the pages of the couple’s new photography-art coffee table book, “Paradise and Prairie Tales, The Nature of our Views.”
The pair spent the past four years putting together the 308-page book, which features more than 600 photos selected from more than 7,000 taken by Max, who is a professional photographer.
Those selected photos depict 237 native Kansas and world botanical species, Eweleen said, including wildflowers, grasses, shrubs and trees, with various butterflies, birds, deer and bugs adding natural beauty and interest to the captured flora.
Max purchased the property near Labette City in 1975. Since water sources were needed, he began by building a dam in 1976. Plans for a large wetland began in 1992.
“That wetland has become a major catalyst for our ongoing and expanding conservation restoration. In partnership with and assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, our large wetland has been designated Kansas Wetland No. 1 in the USDA Wetland Reserve Program,” said Eweleen. “Since then, Max has added several small wetlands called ‘potholes’ that replicate ‘buffalo swales.’
“We preserved small remnants of original tallgrass prairie and dedicated additional areas to restoring native plants. In our main restoration, an old unproductive cropland was returned to native prairie and now hosts more than 200 native plant species — probably the most successful prairie restoration in the state, according to Kansas biologists who came to see it.”
The couple have reserved one acre for their house and outbuildings that sit within a small contiguous forest area on the property, next to a large pond that they can look out from their balcony, or walk down to and feed the fish by hand.
Over the years, the two gave tours to friends and friends of friends, passing on their knowledge gained through long hours of study and putting the information into practice. They allowed their space to be used for teaching and learning opportunities for public schools, homeschoolers and universities.
“We opened it up as much as we could for education, and of course Audubon groups came and church groups came. Ag groups came,” said Eweleen. “We just met so many people.”
People from other countries came, including those from Germany, Sweden and South Africa.
“Education is a big factor for both of us,” Max added.
Education inspired some visitors who followed suit with the Goods’ efforts, converting portions of their own land to wetlands or native prairie restoration.
“Part of his pressure and my pressure is everyone can do something,” Eweleen said. “If you only have a patio, plant a large container of milkweed or something for the pollinators.”
Decades of work on the land, and its results, provide a vast amount of material that could be compiled into a book, but narrowing down a specific topic was difficult for the Goods with everything intertwined.
“We’ve been talking about doing a book for years, jokingly at first, but then we got serious,” said Eweleen. “It was exactly four years ago October that I finally got a layout plan and said, ‘This is what I think,’ and we took it from there. We had fun. Sometimes more fun than others.”
They tell the story of the Good Woods in sequence, as things begin to blossom, and walk readers through each season with the book.
“The thing I want people to know is all but four of the pictures were shot on these 40 acres. It didn’t have all these species in it before. When we got this thing, we set it up for biodiversity to get the most species possible,” Max said. “The prairie restoration and wetlands have more than doubled the biodiversity in this place.”
Major biologists in the state went to the goods’ property to conduct studies.
When deciding the content of the book, Max wanted to further educate by including the common and scientific names of all the plants pictured. It became a challenging task that required the help of professionals, such as dr. Craig Freeman, the senior curator for the RL McGregor Herbarium at the University of Kansas, who checked their lists to help with accuracy and bring names up to date. changed with DNA analysis. Pittsburg State University Botany Professor Dr. Neil Snow, an expert on rushes and relatives, also helped.
“I don’t think people know, even if you know something very well, there is still a lot of research to do for a book,” said Eweleen.
While informative and serious about certain topics, “Paradise and Prairie Tales” also includes light-hearted stories that Max will share with visitors on tours. Eweleen said Max wrote most of the book, taking readers on a tour and narrating in his “casual, folksy style” with what they dubbed “Maxisms” that combine philosophy and humor.
“When I wrote something for this, I had in mind: art, photography, philosophy, humor. It has to be everyone,” Max said. “Even the glossary is funny.”
“Or we think it is,” added Eweleen. “We just had a lot of fun with histories and stories.”
Having taught graphic design and journalism professionally, Eweleen wrote some informational pieces, did much of the editing and designed and laid out the pages. A few of her photos are also included in the book.
As they worked, they had three others who also read and edited the book, from cover to glossary. All of them live in Southeast Kansas. Ed and Lina Miller of Independence are two who helped. He is an endangered species biologist with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks and is stationed at the Elk City Reservoir.
After revising the material thousands of times over four years, they were finally ready to publish.
They wanted their book to be printed in the US, not China, and they wanted control over it, so they self-published and had their book printed at Sun Graphics and bound as a hardcover with a laminated cover that had a human from a coffee table photography/art book.
Max said a little fun fact is that he worked at Sun Graphics as a shipping clerk in high school. Self-publishing and printing the book at Sun Graphics keeps the money in Southeast Kansas where both Max and Eweleen were born and raised.
“It was important to me that it all stayed here in Southeast Kansas,” Max said.
The business was expensive, so they had to charge $100 per book, so they only printed 200 on the first printing. They did purchase an ISBN number so that their book is in the Library of Congress.
“Many people no longer buy art or books of any kind,” said Eweleen. “I think a lot of people are used to Chinese, mass-printed, $19.95 paperback books, and this is not it.”
The first 100 books were sold. They are not sure how the second hundred will sell.
“It’s a whole new experience for us,” Max said.
“There’s definitely a learning curve,” Eweleen added.
Despite the cost, they are glad they published the book to share their story of the Good Woods with others.
Looking at the book in its finished form, Eweleen said, is quite surreal.
“I don’t care how much evidence you go through, it’s still not the same as having a book,” Eweleen said.
They’ve discussed a bit about publishing the book in paperback to make it cheaper, but they’re not sure if they’ll do that.
Most of the life in the Good Woods was cataloged in photos on their computers, and Max said they might do an animal book from the Good Woods one day, too.
“We kind of stay away from the insects because there are 30,000 in Kansas or something like that. But every bird that comes through and every mammal and every lizard and amphibian is listed. And you get a new one every so often. We had an otter come in a few years ago.”
Eweleen agreed that it would be nice to do another book, but, she said, there are stipulations.
“I won’t let him talk me into putting in scientific names again. It was a real challenge,” she said.
There will be a reception and book signing at the Carnegie Center for the Arts on December 10, and some framed pictures from “Paradise and Prairie Tales” will be on display.
“We just really enjoyed our property,” said Eweleen. “It really is our paradise, and that was the most common thing that people who saw it for the first time said: ‘You live in paradise.’ We do.”