It’s mid-May as I write this, on an evening that feels like the transition between spring and summer. Outside, the soggy air smells like dead worms and hyacinth and freshly split birch. The land, which until now seemed hesitant to give itself over to summer, has taken the leap in the wake of recent rain and warmth. Yellow dandelions and purple violets flowered overnight. Shocking lemon-colored forsythias have become summer green, and the pink apple tree buds have all broken petal-white.
The salad days of summer that we’re about to embark on seem so sweet, a sensation that stands in sharp contrast to the cold, lean months of winter. I’m positive that there’s cause and effect here. When Northeasterners say they love the seasons, they often point to spring or fall as their muse, but it’s the poles, summer and winter, and the fact that we occupy the spectrum between them, that fosters this love. We spend our year tied to this seasonal circle: sowing, nurturing, harvesting, storing, then withdrawing into winter before being reborn each spring. Hot to cold. Light to dark. Our actions in sync with the planet as it rotates around the sun.
The fact that we feel at home bouncing between these seasonal poles squares with the idea of natural duality – the concept that opposites exist in relation to each other. For instance, humans, like plants, need periods of dormancy and action to thrive. Natural duality is a basic tenet of physics – witness the positive and negative charges in a battery. It’s also a basic tenet of philosophy – picture the ancient Chinese poet dropping a pebble into a pond and observing the ripples with their equally sized crests and troughs.
That humans crave balance is probably a reflection of our trying to manage the duality in life. We may not be warrior/pacifists in the Confucius vein, but we do all try to balance work and play; we try to be tough and tender; we’re attracted to a mixture of grace and frenzy: in sports, in sex, in music. We feel it in the frantic riffle and logy pools of our rivers and in summer days that feature sun in the morning and crashing thunderheads in the evening.
The themes of balance and duality are at play in many of the stories in this issue. In the stewardship story on page 21, landowner Judy Gianforte shares her struggles as she seeks to balance the regeneration on her woodlot. On page 24, Stephen Long explains the spirit of silviculture as he pays homage to the late Mike Greason; Greason exemplified the forester who knew to take care of both the overstory and the understory in a forest stand, the little trees and the big trees. While we’re looking at the issue through this lens, even Lloyd Irland’s story on stumpage prices in Maine (page 42) serves as a treatise on balance. Irland advises us to try to maintain diversity on our woodlot, to think total return and not just annual price changes. Through his analysis, we see that even capitalism is grounded in equilibrium.
Of course it’s the quieter, first-person pieces in this issue that best exhibit duality. In A Place in Mind, Ted Williams eloquently evokes a quiet, secluded trout stream where he’s able to escape the frenetic pace and claustrophobia of civilized life. This idea of nature as a means of escape and organic equipoise is as old as human consciousness. Bob Kimber’s column in this issue stars his wife, Rita, and serves as a tender reminder that life on earth would not exist without love between animal opposites: woman and man.
As I write this, we’re about halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. More immediately, summer rain is falling gently on my roof, while the valley, through the north window, is ablaze with dazzling threads of lightning. (You get the sense that the scales are about to tip.) On the radio, a drawly country singer is crooning that she wants to do right but not right now. You start thinking along these lines and you start to hear and see duality everywhere.
Happy summer, all. I hope you’ll find the summer issue of Northern Woodlands engaging and, well, balanced.