Old man and the woods

I take great joy in my forestry for many reasons. It connects me. I feel part of something that I can both control and not. The paradox of human existence is summed up in the work in the woods, beyond my understanding but still within my grasp.

There is a more prosaic and practical thing that I love about forestry. A curse of old people, a group I now count myself, is to worry about becoming irrelevant, losing my memory and being unable to learn new things. The dog barks but the caravan moves on. I do feel mentally slower than I used to be, but maybe I just recall being cleverer than I was. Life is often remembered better than it was lived. My practical reason for loving forestry is that it proves that I have not lost it.

Old dog and new tricks
I know a lot about southern ecosystems, fire ecology and the business of timbering. I do my own planning, contracting and land management. I know for sure that most of these are things I did not know when I was younger and smarter, i.e. all of it was newly learned after I was well into middle age. For example, when I was going to buy my first forest land, I asked the seller what kind of trees were growing there. He told me loblolly pine. I had heard the name, but I was unfamiliar with the species. I could not tell a loblolly pine from a longleaf pine, from a Virginia pine or even from the red pines I knew from Wisconsin. I still have trouble telling a loblolly pine from a pond pine, but I can identify them, get a fair estimate of their age and know a lot about their patterns of growth. I can even identify loblolly by their smell. All of this is old man knowledge.

I am not here to tell you that working in forestry keeps me young, but it does keep me more vigorous in mind and body than I would otherwise be.

Don’t give a f*ck
Owning my forest has also given me a “don’t give a f*ck” attitude toward lots of other things in life. I have my woods and I care a lot – I care passionately about everything related to my woods. But that allows me to dismiss lots of other things. I know that it infuriates some people that I am not deeply offended by Trump, not concerned with social justice or not even very concerned with making more money. I just don’t really care, and I don’t really care if others are offended that I don’t really care. This is a new feeling for me. I used to be much more concerned with what other people thought of me. Don’t get me wrong, I like almost everybody, even people who don’t seem to like me. I try to be generous and have good manners. I try never to offend unintentionally or take offense easily, but I can pursue “deep” discussions on all sorts of sensitive subjects with a disinterest that I never felt before. (Please note that disinterest is not the same as uninterest.) I often think in terms of “this too will pass, but the trees will still be here. The world’s problems are not mine, except as a disinterested observer.

Should I care more?
I have considered whether this is an abdication. As a recovering historian of ancient Rome, I have sometimes wondered whether the detachment provided by Stoic philosophy common among Roman aristocrats contributed to the decline of civic virtue. I want to participate in the life of my country, as well as the life of my forest, but I worry that I do not have the passion for politics that I once did. Political participation used to be fun. Now it is more like a duty.

Anyway, those are my old woods guy thoughts. I still like to write, even if I don’t think many people will read it. I hope that pleasure does not diminish.

My picture is an old one from my earlier life, one I still look back to with pleasure but now detachment. I met a guy in Bahia, Brazil. He was simply called “the Poet”. He lived in the woods, observed nature and wrote poetry about his observations. Seems a very happy man and a balanced one. He made an impression on me. I liked what he was doing. I am not a poet, but I do love to observe nature … and participate with it.

My notes on the Poet.