Restoring a Forest: Looking Back, Moving Forward

On today’s morning walk through the forest, I stopped for a moment to listen. My dog sat quietly at my side as the forest came alive, no longer silenced by the racket of my shoes pushing through the fall leaves and the jingle of the dog’s collar.
Water dripped steadily from the upper canopy, leftovers from an early morning rainfall. Dinnerplate-sized maple leaves drifted slowly down to the mossy ground – some catching on tree branches and others landing in piles of leaves that had fallen before them. An ephemeral stream gurgled in the distance, rejuvenated by the return of the winter rains, and the daytime frogs chirruped and creaked in their damp hidey holes. Birds of all types flitted through the canopy – quail in the underbrush murmured and chirped, while a northern flicker bounced from stump to stump, hammering a few times at each one. In the distance I could hear a chainsaw (there’s always a chainsaw running in this neighbourhood), and the sound of a jet overhead reminded me of last April, when I flew home from Banff and looked down just before landing to see our house and neighbourhood laid out below me like a Google map.
It occurs to me that sometimes we need to stop making noise and listen in the middle of the forest of our lives, too. I’ve been far too busy the last few weeks, and have realized that I need to stop and reassess where I am, how I got here, and where I want and need to go next.
This last week I had an article published with CBC’s The Nature of Things, about drought on Vancouver Island. I also had a post up on the Canadian Science Publishing blog – an interview with an inspiring woman in science, Dr. Anna Warwick Sears. Soon I’ll have an article out in Hakai Magazine’s News & Views section, about how our local community is dealing with the impact of drought and low river levels on spawning salmon. And I have an article coming out in the fall edition of Science Contours, about increasing the number of women in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science.
Now that much of the heavy lifting for these articles has been done, I feel like I’m standing in a hurricane-ravaged forest. There are dead and destroyed trees as far as the eye can see, and I’m left?–wild-eyed and out of breath–in the middle of it. How did I get here? And how do I restore the forest?
I’ve written before about the limitations on my time and energy, which means I have to be smart about how I prioritize things. It turns out that’s not something that I can do once and forget: prioritizing and matching my actions to my needs and wants is, unfortunately, an ongoing process.
While I enjoy writing articles, I have to be careful with how many I take on, and of what type (note to self: doing interviews is extremely draining). Then there’s the subject matter. It needs to match with my current interests and overlap with what I’m already reading and thinking about. This makes the articles easier to write, because much of the material is already in my head.
For example, I haven’t been in academia for four years, but I still write blog posts about it. They take longer to write because I’m no longer part of that community – it’s not second nature anymore. It’s time to let those topics go.
What *do* I know about? Well, drought, wildfire, and water. Women in STEM. Nature writing and creative nonfiction. The West. Essays.
I may not have been accepted into the Banff Emerging Writers program for creative nonfiction (boo), but I was in their top five (3rd on the waitlist), so I must have something going for me. It’s time I focused on honing that craft based on the topics I’m already interested in, instead of writing random pieces that relate to my previous life. I need to rebuild my forest from the ground up – nurturing the recovering seedlings and giving them the nutrients they need to live.
That includes prioritizing more outside time (we haven’t been kayaking in almost a month!) and quiet time reading or doing crafts. I’m reminded of our first months back on the Island in 2013. I spent a lot of time walking, reading, doing photography, knitting, and sewing. These are the things that put me back together, and allowed me to restore that internal forest. I have to keep at them regularly to prevent the kind of destruction I’m seeing today.
Sometimes out on the trails I catch a flash of something out of the corner of my eye, or see the shape of an animal next to the trail. More often than not it’s a trick of the light, or a tree stump beside the trail. But one day it will be the real thing. A bear, foraging for berries or a cougar stalking its prey. It’s the sign of wilderness, coming back home to stay in my forest – restored from the ground up.

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