I thought they’d be pleased to see me, but they weren’t. Hands on their hips, they gave me a steely, stern look as I puttered up on my four wheeler “iron pony”. As soon as I shut down the engine, they accusatively asked “you didn’t drive down the road did you?”. The four of them were mid way through completing our annual round of amphibian surveys in Mt. Richmond Forest. After an early morning rendezvous with a logger, I was doing my best to find and catch up with them. The cause of the upset was that I had just driven through puddles in the road that, unknown to me, were home to remarkable copepods, and larval Long toed salamanders and Pacific tree frogs.
Being the human that I am, my first instinct was to be defensive, thinking to myself “since when did driving along a forest road become a crime?”. I kept my thoughts to myself – mostly. Given some time to reflect, I now see that the difference in our perceptions highlights the type of cause and effect consequences that are at the heart of our forest restoration experiment. Consider how these observations link from one to another:
“Our endless and proper work is to pay attention” – Mary Oliver
Working within the structure of our monitoring program, the close attention paid by my companions caused them to discover reproducing organisms that could so easily be overlooked.
“We make places wonderful by giving them attention” – David Haskkell
Their discovery, layered in with thousands of similar, unexpected discoveries, continue to make what could be considered an otherwise unremarkable 750 acre forest into a remarkably interwoven web of life.
“It all turns on affection” – Wendell Berry
Working outward from one copepod in the puddle in the road, attention led to wonder, led to affection which, in turn, serves as the motive force for choosing to know, value, and care for and restore land. Way leads on to way.
“To cherish the remains of the earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival.” – Wendell Berry
I may be making too much of it, but the gulf of misunderstanding that stood between my four friends and me that morning – with them the noticers and me the unaware killer – perhaps, in micro form, represents a larger gulf in our species, that we must learn to bridge.
If the current circumstances call on our species to do some rapid evolution if we hope to survive – and I believe they do – there are evolutionary lessons to be learned from this morning encounter. Attention >wonder > affection > restoration. As I carefully puttered my way back across the forest, with tail between legs and avoiding all of the wet spots this time, it occurred to me that, when done right, perhaps the forest is restoring us as much, or more, than we are restoring it.