Land in the Sky: Forest Ecology

Oaks-of-Devil's-GulchIn the 1970s I went to the Great North Woods to study forestry. I believed that this would be my chance to dwell in deep groves and sequestered places. Soon enough I realized my mistake. Resource management is not an appropriate practice for one who delights less in the chainsaw than in the standing oak. I was not popular among my professors. One of them liked to call me “Sierra Clubber.” I forget his name.

Outside of classes I came across a book called The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. It was more delightful–and instructive–than any of my assigned textbooks. In a chapter titled “The Allegash and East Branch,” Thoreau offers the best definition of Forest Ecology to be found anywhere: “I believed that the woods were not tenantless, but choke-full of honest spirits as good as myself any day, –not an empty chamber, in which chemistry was left to work alone, but an inhabited house, –and for a few moments I enjoyed fellowship with them.” I believed that too. Still do.

I do not recall my professors at the University of Maine ever mentioning Thoreau’s name or this book. I don’t recall much of anything from those days. Ah, but that was the seventies and I was but a poor forestry student.