It’s my pleasure to tell you about a special honor bestowed by the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, on the founders of Northern Woodlands. Steve Long and Ginny Barlow received the distinguished Franklin Fairbanks Award at the Museum’s annual meeting on January 27 in recognition of lifetime achievement. Past recipients of this prestigious leadership award include Senator Robert Stafford, University of Vermont professors Hub Vogelmann and Bernd Heinrich, and last year, climate change activist and writer Bill McKibben.

Charlie Browne, director of the Museum, explained that this is “an honor given in recognition of outstanding contributions in the arts, humanities and sciences that have enriched our awareness and understanding of the natural world.” The award included an eloquent testimony:

The 2008 Franklin Fairbanks Award winners have defined many of the ways we understand the Great Northern Forest. Steve Long and Virginia Barlow of Corinth, Vermont are the founding voices of Northern Woodlands, the magazine dedicated to “a new way of looking at the forest.” Together their engaging writing, editorial judgment, and passionate determination to communicate a vision for sustainable forestry in the Northern Forest have expanded our view of the natural and human communities of this entire region. This beautiful, practical quarterly journal both informs and inspires.

Steve Long writes in his columns “The Long View” and “Notes from the Puckerbrush” of some of the most primal, personal relationships humans have with the land, using simple, elegant language reminiscent of the great conservationist Aldo Leopold. He speaks in terms familiar to loggers and hunters and other keepers of forest traditions, yet he also draws grace and poetry from his experience as a script writer, journalist, playwright, and children’s author.

Virginia Barlow’s day job as a consulting forester for her firm Redstart Forestry takes her into the woods where her keen powers of observation, enhanced by her endless curiosity about the dynamic rhythms of life, produce some of the finest natural history writing anywhere. Ginny’s focus is on the economically important trees and shrubs, but these are so inextricably linked to complete forest systems that she finds herself writing of big game and small critters, fungi, microscopic insects, and anything else that falls within her view. Her seasonal calendar of natural phenomena and her tidy, informative species accounts challenge all her readers to take a closer look at the forest.

Together, these two writers with their keen eyes fixed upon a new way of looking at the forest, have crafted the perfect blend of scientific understanding, human pragmatism, and stewardship values to apply to sustaining our forests now and in the future.

They’ve come a long way. In 1994, Steve and Ginny, neighbors in Corinth, teamed up to launch Vermont Woodlands as a modest 28-page, two-color magazine with fewer than 1,000 subscribers. With no appreciable experience in business – they both had been English majors in college, Steve at St. Bonaventure and Ginny at Bennington – they managed to attract subscribers, advertisers, and later, donors, to help keep their vision alive. In 1999, Vermont Woodlands became Northern Woodlands, and in 2003 the organization was incorporated as the nonprofit Center for Northern Woodlands Education, Inc. By 2008, the Center’s flagship program, this magazine, has become an 80-page, full-color magazine with a paid circulation of 15,000, and they’ve branched out to publishing books and weekly newspaper columns. Their readers span the full range of people who work in and care for forests. As the dedication of the Fairbanks award presentation suggests, they truly were able to see the forest for the trees, “with simple elegant language” and “some of the finest natural history writing anywhere.”

I’ve worked with many wonderful people on boards and organizations where I have served over the past 50 years. But Ginny and Steve are something very special. They have enriched my life with their kindness and living example of dedicated service to others, as they have for colleagues and readers. I know you will join me in congratulating them on their well-deserved award.

Carl Reidel has served on The Center’s board of directors since it was formed in 2003, including a term as president.

 
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