Judged by the contents of its clutter, my desk is not a particularly happy place. You can picture my computer monitor gasping for air amidst a pile of papers that amount to a sea of bad news. Rummage around and you’ll find news stories on the last paper mill in northern New Hampshire going out of business, briefings detailing the latest emerald ash borer outbreak in New York, press releases on white-nose syndrome and thousand cankers disease, and about 12 pounds worth of other “Ah, crap”-inducing tidbits.
It can be hard to keep the bad news in perspective, especially during mud season, when many of us struggle to match our dispositions to the poetic themes of rebirth and renewal that are the spring standard. When the snow retreats, the land looks vulnerable; the earth gashes easily, bleeds then clots then bleeds again. I think most of us feel an internal mud season of our own before the green kicks in in earnest, or at least until opening day of fishing season.
In light of all this, we thought it would be nice to devote the spring issue of the magazine to positive stories and positive thinking. The centerpiece is the Hope story on page 34, where mill owners and foresters and environmentalists and poets tell us about hopeful things they see through their respective lenses. The different optimistic voices in this story reflect my own personal source of hope for the rural Northeast: people.
When the bad-news stories on my desk get too overwhelming, I talk to the people involved with the issues, who, in turn, remind me that nothing is as stark as it seems on the printed page. Sometimes I’m inspired by a person undauntedly confronting a monumental problem; other times I’m given a measure of perspective and reminded that some of the bad news we absorb is hyperbolic – the words used to raise money, or get the bums out of office, or sell products. In either case, I find great hope in collective human intelligence. I’ll confidently take it into battle against just about any problem we face.
I also find great hope in the historical record. These are hard times for many of us, but history is full of examples of transcendence during hard times. The examples in social history get lots of press: how we rose from a depression to become the most prosperous nation on earth; how we willed ourselves from Sputnik gawking to moon walking in 12 years. But there are similarly inspiring examples in our rural landscape.
As Nat Tripp points out on in his piece on stream restoration on page 26, many of our major rivers have gone from sewers to swimming holes in the space of a generation. On page 40, Chuck Wooster highlights how rural people responded to large blocs of paper company land getting put on the liquidation block by embracing working forest conservation easements, a move that both conserves the unbroken landscape and keeps forest industry workers working. And on page 15, Kristen Fountain highlights a program, hatched and implemented in the wake of the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, in which students from around the Northeast are working with NASA to monitor forest health and finding that ozone damage on white pine needles has declined dramatically over the past 20 years.
Positive thinking by itself won’t free us of our problems, but positive actions are a different story alltogether. These stories, and the others you’ll find in these 76 pages, highlight some of the especially newsworthy work being done out there, but positive gestures don’t have to be grand to be effective. The very fact that many of you will tap a maple tree this spring – whether your operation consists of 20,000 trees or two – is positive. That you’re curious enough to grow your own mushrooms, or resourceful enough to build your own logging arch, is in and of itself a positive thing. Even if the only thing that resonates with you in this entire magazine is the Nashville warbler on the cover, and you take that resonance and teach a kid to identify this bird, we’ll both have done a service in promoting rural culture and character in the Northeast.
Here’s to 2011, friends. I don’t know what the economy’s going to do, but I do know that whatever it does, there’s still a whole hell of a lot to be hopeful about out there.