From the Center

Someone left a plastic zip bag full of soggy pink something, labeled “bobcat,” in the office sink. Naturally, I asked Dave Mance for an explanation. He pushed back from his computer screen, observed me with bleary eyes, and denied knowing anything about it. This led to a full staff discussion and the conclusion that we’d had a visit from a local forester who sometimes leaves things in our office, and who is just the sort of person (I mean this as a compliment) who would find a dead bobcat and take a chunk home for forensic purposes.

Then I reexamined the bag label. It said “borscht” not “bobcat.” Oops. In my defense, the handwriting was messy, and pickled pink cabbage looks gruesome.

I mention this because occasionally I get asked about the office culture at Northern Woodlands. The answer is many things – hardworking, frugal, passionate about what we do – but right up near the top of the adjectival heap is the word “quirky.” In our office, if you announce there’s an unclaimed bag of bobcat thawing out in the sink, your co-workers don’t recoil in horror or suggest you’ve lost your mind. They start listing suspects.

Our readers are quirky, too. One of your number recently sent me a hilarious letter about using a caribou hoof casting to leave tracks across a snowy field. The local hunters were not impressed, you reported, but “five does hung around for a few days, hoping to hook up with the ‘big guy.’” Another won my heart by telling me how she uses brownie sculptures to teach students the different shapes of scat. Gross? Absolutely. But such fun for a kid and surely more memorable than a lecture. Yet another of you emailed photos of an ermine that had just lost a bloody effort to capture a blue jay. You took pity and offered a consolation prize: a dead mouse that you just happened to have stowed in the freezer. (We’ve shared these photos on our website, as part of a new reader submitted image gallery we’re launching. Take a look.)

As best as I can determine, this sense of quirk has been a defining characteristic of Northern Woodlands, all the way back to the founding days. One of our board members recently pointed it out as a key element of our success, and I think that’s right. We’re serious about education, but we’re playful, too, and open to surprising possibilities.

This time of year, we want people to notice and care – a lot – about vernal pools, and habitat for returning migratory birds. We want landowners to view themselves as stewards of their woodlands – and to check with foresters and other knowledgeable folks before cutting trees. But earnest preaching gets tedious. A sense of play, a willingness to look at familiar subjects from an unfamiliar tilt, is often a better educational approach. Something to keep in mind as we’re all out there this spring, sharing our love of the woods with others.

P.S. Curious to learn the answers to our autumn reader quiz? They’re available on our website.  Just type in “quiz answers” in the search field.


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