Forestry folk invented social distancing, so it is easier for us to adapt to the steps needed to address the Covid-19 crisis. I am not an extrovert, but I miss the routine social interaction, having a beer with friends of just the serendipity of talking to strangers I meet. This has made my tree farms even more important and I have been using work on them as a form of therapy during social distancing. And with the solitude, I have had more time to think about what I mean when I say I am “working on the farm.”
I enjoy the work although not ever minute doing it. Tree planting is a good example. Pushing through the brambles and the briars, carrying the seedlings, and just poking that dibble stick into the ground thousands of time is an experienced better remembered than lived. And it seems like the best way to make it rain is to go out and plant trees. Much of the work on tree farms is like that. When I am out doing it, I cannot wait to get done; when I am done, I cannot wait to get out doing it again.
The joy of planting trees comes not from the tedious repetition. The joy is in our minds when we contemplate the past and imagine the future. Tapping into the majestic flow of nature helps with insights for us short-lived mortals about the unknown past to the unknowable future. It is a spiritual type of practical activity.
The American Tree Farm System was created in 1941 to help ensure the future wood supply, an important, practical and prosaic goal that the America forest industry has achieved. Kudos forestry USA. The USA has more timber growing today than at any other time in more than a century.
I think we now need to move beyond this “tree crop” idea. Trees are more than wood and forests are more than trees. When I go to my tree farms, I am pleased to see so much timber. If not for income from selling timber, pulp, and pellets, I could not afford to own my land, and I am glad that the products of my land support local jobs and contribute to the general welfare. But if income was my only goal, I sure would not own a tree farm. I am typical of a Virginia tree farmer in that our surveys show that most of us are looking for something more than money from our land.
For me that something is being part of a community. My land’s biotic communities are the basics, but I also enjoy being part of the greater local community and the forest community worldwide I love the trees and I love the wood in buildings. This is our community too.
In this time of covid-19 isolation, I know that I am part of many communities, so I go alone into the woods and am reminded.