Jack Savage's Forest Journal -- Resolved: to live in harmony with the land

JACK SAVAGE January 05. 2013 8:26PM

My New Year's resolutions are not particularly visionary. I've learned from past experience that just because you resolve to, say, become a millionaire, you don't suddenly become a millionaire. But that's OK. It's also true that millionaires who resolve to, say, become President, don't just suddenly become President.

These days my resolutions tend to aim lower - for example, to change the hydraulic fluid in the tractor (messy job; did it, don't want to do it again) or to finally get ahead when it comes to cutting and splitting firewood (there's always next year).

This year I thought I'd learn what kind of resolutions some of my colleagues at the Forest Society have made. To what do conservationists aspire?

"I resolve to get to know my land better," said Mike Speltz, one of our land protection specialists (he works with landowners interested in conserving their land). "If I own an acre, I will visit every inch of it each month. I will watch how it changes and who uses it. I will try to improve it. If I own a hundred or a thousand acres, I will do much the same, getting help where I need to and enjoying my good stewardship to the fullest."

Mike is admirably high-minded. He goes on: "I resolve to set the example; I will conserve my own land before recommending that my neighbor conserve hers."

And here I was thinking about just aiming to always wear clean underwear.

Our senior director of land conservation, Tom Howe, is focused. In addition to a simple resolution to "get outside more," Tom wants to make his historic house warmer via enhanced energy conservation measures and to get an energy audit as first step. And since he often spends his spare time doing the same kind of conservation he does at the Forest Society, he resolves "to complete the Gilmanton's Greatest Views - For Everyone, Forever! project, so I can resume other activities during my discretionary time."

Director of education Dave Anderson reports that among his resolutions is to spend some quality time with his chainsaw in his woodlot, improving wildlife habitat while cutting firewood. "I'd like to make the woodlot a priority for free time and not just when I need firewood," he said.

"I resolve to finally replace my 11-year-old, emissions-non-compliant mini-van with a more efficient vehicle for carpooling," said Brenda Charpentier, our communications manager. She's even quantified her goals by resolving "to organize errands and shopping trips so well that I'll be able to double the number of days I carpool to work with my husband."

Something about the specifics of that resolution makes me think that Brenda will accomplish her goal.

"How about just spending more time enjoying the outdoors - fresh air and exercise?" asked Rita Carroll, our land management and policy coordinator.

Simple. I like it.

Paul Gagnon, one of our easement stewards (he helps monitor our more than 800 conservation easements) aimed to start the new year intending to improve his knowledge of his own back yard. For him (and many others), all of New Hampshire is that back yard.

"That's a tall order, so it's important to narrow it down a bit," Gagnon said. "Something that one can reasonably do in a year's time. On the adventurous end, one might commit to hiking some of the White Mountains' 4,000-footers, backpack the Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway Trail, spend a week exploring Lake Umbagog, or kayak a stretch of the Merrimack River.

"But the goal doesn't have to be so physical," he said. "For instance, I ordered guidebooks on the ferns and mushrooms of New England, and will spend some time acquainting myself with these easily overlooked and under-appreciated vegetable inhabitants in the woods behind my home."

Or in my case, in my basement. But never mind that.

Paul offers more: "The goal could be practical: to finally get in touch with a local forester and discuss responsible management options for the family woodlot. Or it could be about giving back by spending a few days volunteering to repair the well-used local hiking trail you've walked your dog on for the last 10 years. Along the way, you learn something about your back yard, your neighborhood, your state. The world seems less strange, more familiar. When you leave your house, the landscape smiles on you like an old friend."

Here's to smiling back. Happy New Year.

"Forest Journal" appears every other week in the New Hampshire Sunday news. Jack Savage is editor of Forest Notes: New Hampshire's Conservation magazine, published quarterly by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. For more information on the society, go to www.forestsociety.org.

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