After burn December 2019

On my way to pick up the first tranche of this year’s longleaf. I stopped off at Freeman to check out the fire results. It is odd. Some places burned a lot and others not at all. It seems like there is dry grass that should have burned easily next to burned areas.

The fire top killed brambles, but did not burn them away, so it is going to be hard going planting in some of the patches. I am going to be planting all next week and I will push through, but I will use my cutter to make easier paths for the kids when they come to plant. I want them to have good memories. They can get used to the brambles gradually, as I did.

Burning is good, but it always scares me. I inspected my longleaf most carefully. Some of the needles are singed and will fall off. I checked for the buds on some of the lower branches, figuring that that was most likely to be killed and that higher ones would be better. I found that middle was still green and will be growing, so I assume the tops are good.

Longleaf is fire adapted. The needles singe, but when they heat up they release humidity that protects the terminal buds. The buds are what count. If the buds are alive, the tree will grow again

My grass stage longleaf also have green centers. I might lose a few, but I think most will be okay.

First picture is the green center of one of the longleaf branches. Next is the burn-over of the 2012 pines and after that some of the grass stage nearby. Penultimate shows the burning under 1996 loblolly and the grassy hills. I planted some clover on the fire line bare dirt. I know that is not “native” but it is pollinator habitat and generally a good plant for that purpose. I scatters some of the native seeds that I gathers onto the burned areas. I will plant longleaf in the clearings among the loblolly. Have to push through those brambles.

My last picture are rude motorcycle guys. they parked their bikes blocking the pumps. They were hanging around inside the Pilot. I was “scandalized” but didn’t have the inclination or courage to confront them. There were other pumps available and I filled up there.

Reminds me of the joke about the truck driver and the bike gang.

A truck driver is having his lunch when a biker gang comes in and starts to harass him. They take some of his food, spill his coffee. He just finishes, pays for his food and leaves.

The lead biker says to the waitress, Not much of a man, is he?” The waitress replies, “Not much of a driver either. He just backed over a bunch of motorcycles.”

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The stupidest things

What was the stupidest thing you have ever done? My StoryWorth for this time.

This is a hard one. I do stupid things all the time, but I often adapt and often make the dumb decision turn out better than an initial smart one. My philosophy is not to make great smart decisions to start but make lots of contingent ones and adjust until I come out right. You might call it sweet serendipity directed.

Generally speaking, you get either a good result or a great story to tell.

Hitchhiking with no plan

One of stupid thing I did was try to hitchhike to Florida on spring break, with no map and only $15. It made a good story that I have written about elsewhere. Suffice it here to say that I ended up sleeping in a graveyard in Alabama before high tailing it home. That was stupid, but I was only eighteen, so I can blame youth.


Another youthful indiscretion was when a group of friends and I went streaking. I could never be appointed to the Supreme Court, now that youthful fun would be reinterpreted as something horrible and oppressive. Take that off my list of ambitions. It was in style back in the early 1970s. They even had a song about it.

There was a joke about two old ladies that decide to streak through the nursing home. They run past a couple of old guys on the porch. “Who was that,” says one old man. Responds the other, “I don’t know, but their clothes sure were wrinkled.”

International travel with no plan

When I was a few years older, I saved enough money for a flight to Germany. I had to stay a whole month, since it was a charter flight. Otherwise, I think I would have gone home, since when I got feet on the ground. I had one of those “oh shit” moments. I had a map, but not much of a plan. I spoke bad German and soon found I didn’t have enough money. I hitchhiked around, so I kinda ended up where the flow took me, sometimes sleeping in hostels, sometimes on the ground. I lost about fifteen pounds, since I economized on food. Still tried a lot of German beer, however. It was often cheaper than Coca-Cola and it had calories I needed (liquid bread), so it was okay. I got lots of good stories.

A fool & his money are soon parted

I had a few recoverable financial stupid mistakes. One that depressed me for a while was when I bought a whole-life policy. I was in grad school and I thought it was part of being a responsible adult. I was dumb. I didn’t understand what I was doing. I got a lot of coverage and a “savings plan” for very little money. What I did was take out a policy loan greater than the cash-value of the policy. Had I died, my father and sister would have got a good payoff, but the insurance company knew the actuarial odds. It took me a while to pay it off so that I could close the account. I suspect that sequence was part of their business plan and I think it was dishonest of them, even if I signed freely. A young person w/o dependents doesn’t need life insurance at all. Presumably some people would have been sad had I died, but nobody would have suffered financially and that is the only reason for insurance. It was a good lesson for me, however. A fool and his money are soon parted.

I coulda been somebody

I also have a financial missed opportunity. As soon as we paid off our student loans, I got a Charles Schwab 1 account. In those benighted days, you still had to call to make trades and I was thinking of my first purchase of common stock. I considered Microsoft & GE, but then I read a book about investing, learned about book value and ratios, so I went with IBM. This was in 1991. GE did well in the next ten years and Microsoft went through the roof. IBM underperformed the market. I feel bad now. I just figured it out. With the IBM, I just about broke even before I generally got out of individual stocks in 1999. Had I invested instead in Microsoft, I would have $88,235.23, but whose counting? Of course, such great gains probably would have made me arrogant and less prudent. Likely I would have taken more risks and lost all that money and more.

Love of the land

I have often said that buying forest land was an objectively stupid decision, but one I was glad to make and glad to have made. It was stupid to mortgage the house to buy land in a place I had never been before to work in a business I did not understand because I liked forests. I say objectively stupid, because subjectively it was one of the best decisions I ever made, something I long wanted to do and had thought about literally for decades, almost a lifetime, and it worked out.

Into the desert of Iraq

A lot of people told me that volunteering to serve in Iraq was stupid. I suppose it depends on the premises & criteria. I thought then and think now that it was the right decision. I got a lot of shit at the time, but none from anybody whose opinion mattered to me. Of course, a few moved from the “care about” to “not care about” because of giving me shit.

Ignoring life-threatening disease

I dodged the bullet with a stupid decision to ignore the pain in my leg that turned out to be peripheral artery disease. I limped around for a year and it eventually got better, but the doctor told me that it was the kind of thing that could cause you to lose a leg or even kill you. This is a kind of non-decision/decision. You cannot go crazy every time you get a little pain. I didn’t recognize the categorical difference. Eventually something will kill me. It will probably unexpected and I hope that it is. Better to go that way, before you have to worry about it too much.

Sometimes the bear gets you

There are bears prowling my land. I have never seen one, but I have seen tracks and the hunters capture their pictures on game cameras. One of my joys working on my land is not working. I like to relax in my folding chair, drinking a beer and dozing off before the next shift of work. I imagine the bear coming up behind, catching me unawares and swatting me. Not that this happens often, or ever, but I can imagine it. I told the guys at the hunt club that if something like that happens, they not tell people I was probably taking a nap after a beer. No, they should spread that story that I fought that bear, almost drove him off, and succumbed only after a protracted struggle.

That is the way to be remembered.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

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Burning Day 2

We finished our burning today in the clearings and under the loblolly. I will pick up the first 3000 longleaf seedlings on Sunday and plant them over the next week. I figure I can plant 600 trees each day. The professionals can do thousands, but they are skilled, besides being younger and stronger. The kids will help with the next tranche.

Espen helped with the burn today. He did a good job and persisted. Burning is fun, but it is also hard work. Adam Smith plus two other DoF guys did a lot of the heavy lifting, but Espen and I did a day’s work too. Glad to have Espen’s help and I think his first burn was good for him too.

I think this was good fire. It rained on Sunday, so the ground was damp and it cool with a decent wind. The wind pushed the fire, but the damp and cool protected the soil. I hope that it did not kill too many of the trees I want to keep and I don’t think it did.

We planted some longleaf under the loblolly last year. In theory, they can survive the fire. I examines some (see picture) and they seem green in the bud area.

We are burning for a few reasons. It is important for the southern pine ecology and we want to further the longleaf transition. We also want to encourage southern grassland in both in the widely spaced pine and in grass and forb in patches and under the power lines. The third picture shows Espen setting that part off. First picture is me and a little longleaf. Next is Espen and me. #4 is just a kind of artistic picture of the fire and last is a burned over section

Other pictures show the fire in process and burned over longleaf stands. Last picture is my prickly pear. I burned about it, so the fire was not too hot. I think it likely will survive. They are native to Virginia pine forests and they do survive fires, but since I have only one, I thought it wiser to give it special treatment.

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Burning day 1

We took the opportunity to burn a section of the farm this afternoon, only about eight acres, so Adam Smith and I did it ourselves, although the bulldozer was nearby freshening up lines, so could have been easily available.

This section is unusually easy to burn correctly, since it is bordered by steams and a fairly wide dirt road. I also had laid out and cut paths, so we got it all done except for the mop up in just over an hour.

The wind whipped up a little, creating spectacular but short-lived bursts of flame. I tried to take pictures, but since I was also starting the fires and managing them, it was not that easy. I did get a few. Also took pictures of the pre-burn.

We will burn the rest tomorrow. Espen Matel will help.

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What was your life like in the 1970s?

What was your life like in the 1970s? Another StoryWorth

I am generally satisfied with the economy and society of today because I spent my early adult life in the 1970s. From the bottom of a hole like that, everything is up. The 1970s were objectively a bad time – the energy crisis, stagflation, fall of Saigon, double digit inflation, long lines at gas stations, Iranian hostage crisis, dollar weakness … Baby Boomers like me had no experience with hard times. Our parents told us about the Great Depression, but that seemed like ancient history, certainly a different America.

A messed up decade

To clarify, what we call “the 70s” didn’t fit neatly into the decade. More appropriate to mark the period from the start of the energy crisis in 1973 until the economy really started to work well again and American confidence returned about ten years later. 1973 is also a convenient starting time for me too, since I graduated from HS that year and that is where I will start my story.

Graduating HS

My mother died the year before, but my aunt Florence attended my graduation along with my father. She was proud also to be a Bay View graduate and commented that the music was more triumphant when she graduated. I responded with youthful ignorance that times were so rough for us. She pointed out that she graduated HS in 1939. 1939 was not an auspicious year.

Milwaukee was still an industrial city in 1973. We had the industrial pollution to prove it, and we had the jobs. Unemployment was a little higher than it is today, but guys like me had a better chance in those days than now.

With a mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong

Strong young men did many of the jobs that machines do today. Lack of experience was no disadvantage when success depended only on the capacity to wrestle heavy, dirty and/or hot stuff from one place to another. In fact, ignorance was an advantage. We loaded bags that weighed 70-94 pounds at the cement company. You were almost sure to develop some sort of work-related injury, usually a bad back, if you did this work more than a few years. The work kinda chewed up each new generation of young men. This and the 12-hour days meant that fresh guys like me didn’t have to compete with most men and with no women at all. Call it strong male privilege. The work was amazingly hard, but I made good money and got 20-40 hours of overtime every week, so it was like packing two summers’ work into one. I earned and saved enough money to be content and comfortable over the school year. I still worked in the fast-food and hospitality industries during the school year, but did not depend on that income.

State colleges

In fall, I started at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point (UWSP). I didn’t take school very seriously, and neither did most of the people I knew. Our problem was lack of preparation and available beer. Most of us were first generation college students, but with family beer drinking traditions that went back to the middle ages. Drinking age in Wisconsin in those days was 18. That is too young, and we were too stupid to drink responsibly. I learned to sing drinking songs in English & German (actually the one song In heaven there is no beer/ Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier), but my academic mind was wasted.

I didn’t get my act together unit well into my second year. By that time, I got a girlfriend, who helped civilize me, and most of my drinking friends had left school, voluntarily or at the urgent request of school authorities. Not sure how I survived, but I survived, started to study and started get good grades. I believe in redemption. I still graduated on time, four years after I started.

Water finds its level

UWSP was good for me. I had the test scores good enough to go to a “more competitive” school, but not the habits, skills or culture needed for success in school. Those things I learned at UWSP. Thanks. In the course of learning how to go to college, I decided that I liked it so much that I never wanted to leave college. I did have to leave Stevens Point, however, and go to the bigger and more sophisticated University of Wisconsin-Madison for graduate school. UW was the best university in Wisconsin & non-Wisconsin institutions were largely precluded by my low budget and abysmal grades left over from my time of troubles.

Dreams of an academic life

My dream was to be a history professor, ancient history. It took me a couple years to know for sure that was not a practical option. Ancient history was not a growth field and all the good jobs were taken. I was a little more than a decade late. Universities had expanded a lot in the 1960s to accommodate students like me. They needed professors of everything and a guy graduating with a PhD in 1965 was golden. Lots of students piled in to fill the gap. The Vietnam war made it worse. Students avoiding the draft wanted to stay in school as long as they could; student deferment kept the out of the draft. This led to an unusual boom in advanced degrees. The first ones out took all the jobs and quickly locked up the supply, and since they were not much older than me, I couldn’t wait them out. I ended the decade with a MA in ancient history. I could read Greek & Latin, but otherwise nothing for employers might want, and Greek & Latin were useful in a very narrow set of circumstances. In fact, an MA in ancient history was worse than nothing even in a normal job market, and I was heading into the worst job market since World War II.

I figure whenever you’re down and out. The only way is up.

I am not saying the 1970s were all bad. I was healthy and young, and got to experience all those “firsts” of a young man. Nike invented “waffle stompers” in the 1970s and I took up running, which I enjoyed for decades after. There was good music, some good TV programs and they made “Star Wars” & the Star Trek movie. Most important, I became an educated man in that decade, even if my erudition was not immediately useful for getting a job. Besides that, however, the 1970s sucked. On the plus side, it was a good immunization against hard times in the future. It has been up ever since.

I Don’t have many electronic pictures from the 1970s life. My first picture I took a few days ago. Picture # 2 is my father on my UWSP graduation day. Next is me lifting weights in the back yard, maybe summer of 1974. Picture # 4 is my sister, me and her then boyfriend Joe. She wisely got rid of him Last is my old dog Sam, our dog of the 1970s.

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Land w/o people

Chrissy’s parents were dairy farmers and the family farmed in Wisconsin since their first ancestors arrived from Norway in the 1850s. She can trace her ancestry back in Norway to the 1500s. They were farmers there too at least that far back. It ended in this generation. Farming is hard work and it is easier to make money off the farm. And the economy has changed forever. We can grow more on fewer acres with a lot fewer people.

This is good for general prosperity. Yet we lose a lot when too many of us lose our connection with the land, with productive land. Visiting parks and hiking in the mountains is great. It is great to be IN the natural world, but not the same as being OF the natural world. That requires (IMO at least) a steady and interactive relationship with the land, one that persists for years.

I don’t know how we can achieve or maintain this in our changing world, but I think it is important to try.

As Aldo Leopold wrote, “There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

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Notes from longleaf academy

There was a lot more to the Longleaf Academy than I will report. This is not a summary, but rather my take-aways. This was the first Longleaf Academy in Virginia, but there were literally a hundred before. 2600 people have graduated from “longleaf 101.” I attended one in Georgia a couple years ago. This one was different in specifics, but similar in the basics.

More longleaf growing

First the good news. We (longleaf advocates) are succeeding in bringing longleaf back from the edge of the abyss. Longleaf today is the second most planted species in the USA. About 1.5 million longleaf seedings were planted last year in Virginia (and I understand 60-70 million in the USA total). There is nothing like the extensive longleaf ecosystem that covered southeast North America when the first settlers arrived. Longleaf ecosystems will never again be as extensive as they were and it will take many years to restore something even approximating the full-complement of species, but it is a good start. `

Only 200 Virginia native longleaf survived in 2000. From this base, Virginia Department of Forestry has been gathering seeds and last year the Garland Gray Nursery produced 126,000 native Virginia seedlings. That is still not enough to satisfy demand in Virginia, and most of these seedlings go to official plantings, not individual landowners, but it is getting there.

Longleaf on the Virginia piedmont

Let me voice an apostate opinion. The trees I plant on my land are from North Carolina. I am unconcerned about the “native” factor. My thinking is that nature doesn’t recognize that line separating Virginia from North Carolina. Ecological conditions matter. Virginia has roughly three regions: tidewater/coastal plain, piedmont & mountains. There are subtle differences in climate and more significant ones in soils and topography. My land is in the Virginia piedmont, less than fifteen miles north of the North Carolina border. I can drive 100 miles south along I-85 and not see significant differences, but If I drive 50 miles east along US 58, conditions are very noticeable different. My land features more of the clay soils of the piedmont than the sandy ones found on the tidewater. Conventional wisdom held that longleaf prefers sandy soils because they were usually found in sandy soil, but they also thrive in heavier clay soils. My own longleaf are a testament to that. Maybe they are found mostly in sandy soils is just because sandy soils were not good for agriculture, so they left them alone.

My part of the Virginia piedmont is more like the adjacent North Carolina piedmont than it is like the Virginia tidewater, where the current crop of native Virginia longleaf come from. Botanists tell us that the northern subspecies of longleaf pine grew from the Neuse River to just south of the James River. These North Carolina trees are native to my land as far as I am concerned.

The piedmont longleaf pine ecology must be different from that of the coastal plain for a variety of reasons. Besides topography and soils, the ground vegetation is different. The classic coastal plain longleaf system features wiregrass, for example. Wiregrass grows naturally in no part of Virginia. It was never part of our pine savanna. Ours would have featured bluestem and lots of transitional plants like broom sedge. I observe on my land sumac and brambles that seem much less common on the coastal plain. The piedmont longleaf ecology was likely less purely longleaf and more likely mixed more with shortleaf, loblolly and oak. We just don’t really know.

Burning is not a disturbance; the disturbance is suppression of fire.

Something not seen for 300 years and maybe something new

One of the exciting things for me about growing longleaf on the Virginia piedmont is that nobody really knows what it will become. I planted pollinator habitat, but w/o much success, but nature picked up the slack. The area under the electrical wires is a great seed bank and has/is providing all my land needs. All we need do is burn it periodically and we will soon have a beautiful northern pine savanna. It is what we have now is some pockets.

Some longleaf natural factors

Longleaf cones are big, and they take a couple years to develop. They are not serotinous, i.e. they do not require fire to open. This is an important indicator of the tree’s habit. Trees like jack pines & lodgepole pines have serotinous cones. They open after hot fires that have killed most of the trees in the stand. Longleaf is adapted to regular but cooler fires. Fire rarely kills mature longleaf. Longleaf regeneration is irregular, very heavy in some years, almost none in others. The seeds are big and do not fall far from the tree. 71% of the seeds fall within 65 feet of the parent tree. They fall in November and germinate right away, sending down roots during the cooler, wetter but rarely freezing southern winters. All this contrasts with loblolly. Loblolly is a prolific seeder every year. The seeds are light and carried long distances by the wind and they germinate in the spring of the next year.

Aspects of longleaf management

Ad Platt advised that we plant longleaf tight, 600-700+/acre. This is different from specifications I heard and read about before. I was aware of the disagreement about how thick to plant loblolly but thought that it was settled that we should plant fewer longleaf per acre. His logic was that you can put them in tight and cut back later, but it is harder to add more if you don’t have enough.

We have been planting at around 500/acre and I thought that was tight. As Big Woods, they planted at around 600. If you plant around 600/acre that means that you plant one tree every four steps (at least four steps for me). The picture of the longleaf plantation shows 500/acre planting at about ten years.

Longleaf has denser wood than loblolly and one reason is because it grows slower, at least at first. Longleaf grow significantly slower than loblolly and are not as valuable as pulp. At about 20 years, longleaf & loblolly will be about the same size, but by then they will have missed the first thinning for pulp. That is in ordinary or poor soils. Longleaf is well adapted to poorer soils. Loblolly will outcompete longleaf in better soils, since it responds better to fertilization. Longleaf is not competitive with loblolly in the pulp or fiber market.

Longleaf has better economic value than loblolly in that it is more likely to produce saw timber and a lot more likely to produce poles. Poles are the most valuable use for pines. That is a long-term investment, however. Poles are harvested when they are around 45 years old. It is important not fertilize or thin in the years immediately before harvesting for polls. It is important to have tighter rings at the end.

Speaking of harvesting, for ordinary timber trees can get too big. Really big logs don’t fit into the processing machines and so are worth less than slightly smaller ones.

Pine straw can be a big source of income for longleaf pine growers. Ad Platt said that you can make as much as $200-300 an acre every year, more than the annualized timber sales. I have mixed feelings about this. Raking needles means a closed canopy. The big advantage of longleaf ecology is that the open canopy allows a lot of diversity on the ground. The needles also carry the fire necessary for the total ecosystem health. Ad Platt says that you can gather needles in moderation, not raking by picking them up with pitchforks taking some leaving others. He calls it lifting and flipping. I still am not convinced.

Southern pine beetle

Southern pine beetle is the most destructive native pest in southern pine forests. They are endemic, usually killing only weakened trees, but they can break out and kill healthy trees too.

Fortunately, the beetles have not been very active in recent decades. From 1960-1990, there were major outbreaks every 5-7 years. There have not been any big outbreaks in Virginia in more than 20 years. There are lot of theories about why.

Genetics have improved. The new generation of pine trees grow faster and stronger. This allows trees to mount a more aggressive defense. They push out sap and resin that kills the beetles. Another factor is forest fragmentation. This is usually a bad thing, but it does make it harder for the beetles to act.

Maybe the biggest factor is spacing. Trees are planted less densely and thinned earlier. The beetles are not that mobile and the farther they need to do, the less likely they are to be successful. The way the beetle works it that a female establishes on a tree and sends out pheromones that attract males. The more distance between trees, the more the wind can disperse pheromones and confuse the bugs.

We also did field trips to Garland Gray nursery and to the Piney Woods preserve, owned by TNC, where they are managing for the red cockaded woodpecker. The red cockaded woodpecker prefers to nest in longleaf more than 70 years old, but they will nest in big loblolly, as you can see in one of the pictures. We also went to the Big Woods state forest, where they are planting longleaf.

Pictures – the first picture shows cones at Garland Gray. Next is Bobby Clontz talking about his work at Piney Grove. Bobby has more on the ground experience with pine savanna and prescribed burning than anybody else in Virginia. Picture # 3 is a RCW nest side. After that is an example of longleaf underplanting. In the shade, they stay in the grass stage for a long time. That one is seven years old. After than is a “Sonderegger pine”. This is a hybrid between a longleaf and loblolly. That one you see is only a year old, less since it spouted this year. It grows very fast, but w/o strong wood and with little resistance to fire. Speaking of fire, the picture after that shows some ten year old longleaf harmed by fire. Longleaf are not immune. The stand had a lot of Chinese lespedeza. That burns very hot, too hot on that day. The picture after that shows a longleaf “forest” that had no site preparation. They just let it grow. This situation is good for wildlife, but not so much for timber. The last picture is a longleaf plantation – ten years old, 600/acre.

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Leopold landscapes

Aldo Leopold Foundation is asking people to talk about their encounters with Leopold’s ideas in 500 words or less. This is my contribution.

My high school biology teacher introduced me to Aldo Leopold. I don’t recall that it made much an impression on me. I went to college in Stevens Point & Madison, Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in Leopold landscapes. His influence on me was subliminal and indirect, drawn from the places he lived and worked (Leopold designed parts of the Wisconsin Arboretum) and from people who knew him, likely some people who knew him personally. After all, I was at the University of Wisconsin less than thirty years after the publication of “Sand County Almanac,” but I didn’t think much about Aldo Leopold specifically.

It turns about that Leopold’s effect on my personal and spiritual ecology needed time to manifest, decades as it turned out. In my work as a U.S. diplomat, I always made a special effort to get to know local environments and meet conservation leaders. We designed public diplomacy programs about environment in Brazil, Norway and Poland, where I was assigned, and my contributions always had elements of Leopold’s thought, but – sorry to repeat again – w/o a conscious component.

I always wanted to have my own forest land and finally got the opportunity in 2005. I now have 435 acres of land in southern Virginia. Owning that much forest land is not common for guys like me, ones that do not inherit land or have other background in land management. I was a professional in the Foreign Service, not the Forest Service. When people asked me why I did what I was doing, I found myself talking about Aldo Leopold’s land ethic.

It had been decades since I had read “Sand County Almanac,” and I had long since lost track of my old copy. Was I was getting it right? I bought a new copy and got reacquainted with Aldo Leopold and with my younger self. The reunion was good.

Leopold’s “land ethic” is both simple and profound. We all live in the natural world and should be mindful of our choices, action and inaction. Things tend to improve the biotic communities on the land are good and those that harm are bad.

I apply Leopold’s wisdom on my own land every time I set foot on it. His “Axe in Hand” essay is my special favorite. As president of the Virginia Tree Farm Foundation and board member of the Forest History Society, I spread the word to others. In Virginia, we are developing a landscape management program to encompass our tree farms on the ecosystem level. I had a lot of input into that, and Leopold had a lot of input into me.

As Aldo Leopold says, land ethics are written on the land and informed by what the land tells us. I have been developing, continually developing, my own specific land ethic. I integrate the biotic and human communities related to my land.Most of all, I use the Leopold method: observe – participate – reflect – observe … It works.

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Planting after a hot fire

Looking at the bright side, I have some great markers to plant my baby longleaf and to find them later on. Those benefits, unfortunately, result from dead trees falling down. Our May 2018 fire got a little hot in one section. I held out the hope that some of them would recover, so I treated my longleaf planting as an under planting.

Now that the bark has come off most of the trees and several have blown down, I think I can be reasonably sure that I should replant denser, assume it is an clearing.

I regret the loss of my trees, but I see it as an opportunity. What I have is a restoration project after a hot fire. I can imagine my little longleaf coming in under and among the burned out logs. I am also going to take advantage of natural regeneration of oak and shortleaf pine. I think this will become an interesting learning experience and I look forward to interacting with the changing land.

Given that I am treating this as an opening, I think I will need about 1000 trees and it will take me a couple days to get think in the ground. I am not as fast as the professionals, but I like the idea of doing it myself.

My first picture is me decked out in orange. It is hunting season, so good idea not to blend in with the bushes. Next three pictures show the future longleaf grove. Last is the panorama of loblolly. We planted them in 2016, so they are only four years old. Most are 6-8 feet tall. Good result. The reason I took the picture, however, was the beauty of the hardwoods in the background, showing their vibrant fall colors.

The most beautiful time to look at fall colors, IMO, is just before dusk. The colors show up better than in full light. I did not take a picture of that. No picture would do it justice.


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Objectives for owning forest land

My Freeman farm was used as one of the case studies at the Longleaf Academy today and we talked about land management plans. Every good land management plan starts with landowner objectives. What do you want to do on your land? Why do you have land in the first place? I could easily explain what I wanted to do with my land, but the meta question – the purposes principle – why I had the land, that was a harder question.

Family tradition

Lots of landowners inherit their land. A big part of the purposes question is answered for them. It is the family. They are carrying on the tradition, stewarding the land they got from their grandparents for their grandchildren. I have only the second part of that equation, and it does give me satisfaction to think that my kids will somebody appreciate the land. Few of the things I do on the land will pay off fully in my lifetime. I like to think that my effort extends at least into the next generation. I like to think that when they contemplate the subliminal beauty of their own piece of nature, that they will remember me in it. This is both a selfish and a selfless sentiment. I choose to emphasize the latter.

The kids are willing to help. They planted trees last year and will do again. I am not sure they appreciate it all right now, but I am confident that they will

A story – we needed to spread some rip-rap to protect the stream bank on our Diamond Grove place and I needed the boys to help. For those unfamiliar with riprap, it is made up of rocks, most about the size of a basketball, but irregularly shaped. I bought twenty tons of riprap and had the truck driver drop it about twenty feet from the stream. I did this because I wanted the boys to “place” the rocks where the future stream should go, not just push them into the current one. Alex and Espen dutifully began to move the rocks. Hard work. After about two hours, one of them asked, don’t recall which, “couldn’t they have dropped the rocks a little closer to the stream?” I replied, “Sure, they could have done.” I like to think they thought that was funny. I am confident that they will someday look back and laugh. They did a good job, BTW. The rocks they placed support the natural bend in the stream, erosion is controlled and the water that passes over that spot flows clear and clean, unvexed on its way to the sea.

Community – natural & human

Another reason I own land developed after I got the land. Developed in interaction with the land and the biotic and the human communities on it. It was not my part of my plan because I didn’t know to plan it. I had a reasonable idea about the biotic communities from my long acquaintance with Aldo Leopold and the land ethic. It was the human community that surprised me. When I bought the land, I became an apprentice into a community. There was the community on the land itself, the guys at the hunt clubs and the neighbors who were so helpful. I feel that I have earned a place among them. I often run into community members on the land. Today, for example, I talked to the guys at the Reddy Creek Hunt Club. They were out hunting deer. Scott Powell got one. When on my way out, I saw Scott. I told him that I heard three shots, so assumed that they had bagged three deer. Scott said the first two shots were just to clear the shot.

We cooperate to make the land prosper for my forestry and their hunting and recreation. A prime piece of advice I would give to any absentee landowner is get a good hunt club. I am not sure I could comfortably own the land w/o them. I certainly would not with as much joy.

I accept my role. I suspect I provide stories, comic relief, but it is worth it. Last year I made the mistake of going down one of my muddy roads. I thought that all-wheel drive on my CRV could handle the mud and I was correct. Mud was not the factor. The problem was that my vehicle slipped off into two wonderfully parallel ditches. My SUV balanced on the middle with none of the wheels touching the ground. Your vehicle cannot move if the wheels do not contact the surface. I had a shovel, so I figured I could dig myself out. After about an hour, I gave up. Since much of my digging involved laying on the road and trying to dig into the road, I looked like a mud man. I called my local friends and a short time later they pulled me out, no doubt adding to local lore.

There is also the greater conservation community. I knew a lot of the people at the Longleaf Academy and they know me. We exchange information and experience, and many are friends, people I can count on. This means a lot to me. I think we all want to have a valued place in society. It need not be extraordinary. The simple rule is that is a lot of people would miss you if you were not there, you have a meaningful life.

When I contemplated retiring from the FS, I worried a lot about my identity. The great thing about retirement was that I was pulled into something I wanted, not pushed out. It has been great so far.

The triple bottom line

When I talked about landowner objectives in the Longleaf Academy, I mentioned the triple bottom line. Any successful enterprise must produce value for the community, i.e. good for people, for the environment, i.e. sustainable and better regenerative, and for the economy, i.e. it has to make money. Failing at any one of those bottom lines means that the enterprise is a failure. Succeeding at all three means success, even if none of the three is optimized. This I believe.

One more thing that gratifies me as I work on my land. When I first hatched the idea of buying forest land, it was objectively stupid. Who buys forest land? Certainly not some city boy with no actual experience with land buying, land owning or land working. Chrissy trusted me to make this buying decision and for that I am grateful and gratified. She must have had doubts, but she supported the “investment.” I am glad that I didn’t let her down. The land is not wildly profitable, but it neither is it a drain. The enterprise will break even, even if it does only after I am dead. I made it work on all three of the bottom lines and that is important to me.

Meaning in life

As I have said many times, knowing the meaning of life is something unavailable to the mortal man, but we can find – and should seek – meaning IN life. For me, my land and the communities and all the other things that go with it have been the book of life. I feel better every time I turn a page.

My pictures are tangentially related to the text. First is from the the conference, discussion of pine beetles. We mostly have them under control. Next is the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry. Christine Johnson asked me to get a picture. You can see what the ferry looks like in the corner of the picture. Last is a train crossing. Not many roads are surface train crossings these days.

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