“Without application, principles and ideals have no bearing and no test.” These words by the University of Vermont’s renowned alumnus and educator John Dewey, underpin our work at Vermont Family Forests. For decades, UVM’s forestry program has walked the talk of applied learning in its summer field camp for juniors and first-semester seniors. In early June, VFF’s executive director, David Brynn, spent a day with this year’s forestry summer camp students, giving them a hands-on taste of our approach to forests and forestry.
David fondly remembers his own experience of UVM’s forestry summer camp–two months immersed in hands-on forestry across the state. Though shorter now, the summer camp still rocks students’ worlds, helping them assimilate what they’ve learned in the classroom.
David began the day with the students and professors Jeffrey Hughes and Luben Dimovat the Waterworks property in Bristol—a 1001-acre parcel of community-conserved land. David has guided the conservation forestry at the Waterworks since the property was conserved in 1995. As he introduced students to the land they were going to explore, David explained VFF’s perspective on our relationship with forests—one that roots in an understanding that the forest community is a living entity and that forest health and resilience come first when contemplating actions in the forest.
David led the students to an area where he has conducted crop tree release of oaks. The students looked at the forest community as a whole and assessed individual trees using VFF’s cruising sticks. David described VFF’s practice of creating an inventory of what the forest is willing to yield—a fundamentally different approach to forestry that allows the forest to dictate the species, quantities, and characteristics of the trees that are harvested.
This approach, David suggested, cultivates a collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship with the forest. He told the students of conversations with Bill McClay, the project architect for the renovation of the Rubenstein School’s Aiken Center—about what UVM’s Jericho Research Forest could yield for the project while maintaining and improving its health. Those conversations led to a change in the original building specifications for an all-sugar-maple interior to a mix of species that included white ash, Japanese larch, and red oak.
The students then walked deeper into the Waterworks, to the Norton Brook Reservoir and Ann Hoover Dam. They paused on that rainy June day under the eaves of an open-sided timber frame hut built atop the foundation for the dam’s old gauging station. David described how the elegantly simple hut was built by community members who took part in a 16-hour VFF workshop, “From Forest to Frame. ” The timber frame incorporated logs from six different species in the hut—white and red pine, red oak, sugar maple, white oak, and hemlock—reflecting the diversity of the Waterworks forest community.
Continuing on, the students passed the white cedar Maypole from VFF’s Beltane celebration, still hung with remnants of last year’s ribbons. What does Beltane have to do with forest conservation? That question turned the conversation toward historian Morris Burman’s notion of the possibility of reenchantment of the natural world as a means of healing both ourselves and the ecosystems we belong to, and how celebrations like Beltane are part of a wholistic relationship with the forest. A little further up the forest path, students reached the pine plantation at the north end of the Norton Brook Reservoir, where VFF has hosted dozens of Game of Logging chainsaw training classes over the years. In the process of learning safe, efficient tree-felling techniques, participants have helped encourage the rewilding of the forest community here, creating openings in the pine monoculture that make room for the natural regeneration of native hardwood species.
The students then crossed the white cedar bridge recently built by fellow UVM students as their NR 206 (Environmental Problem Solving) project. UVM graduate student Kristen Andrews facilitated the semester-long project, in which David worked with the students to build a footbridge over an eroded stream crossing using white cedars that grew in the forest nearby.
From the Waterworks, David and the students headed to the home of VFF landowners Mark and Ammy Krawzyk. A teacher at Yestermorrow, Mark was in the midst of hosting a Yestermorrow course in adobe brick making. His Yestermorrow students joined David and the UVM students in Mark’s forest, where Mark described the process of harvesting wood from his forest using a small-scale log forwarder to minimize soil compaction and erosion. The group then returned to Mark and Ammy’s house, where they are building a greenhouse and barn from the wood. There, the Yestermorrow students showed the UVM students the results of their own work with native materials—cross-pollination learning at its best.
David’s whirlwind forest tour continued on up to Lincoln, where students visited VFF’s Anderson Fred Pierce Place and Wells Farm. Here, students could see another piece of VFF’s efforts to cultivate what Aldo Leopold described as an intense consciousness of land. Conserved with forever-wild easements, the Anderson lands offer a sanctuary for unfettered rewilding—nearly 700 acres where the forest can restore itself with minimal human presence and disturbance. David explained the on-going ecological monitoring project that has been underway here since 1998, gathering data on this rewilding process.
The day ended at VFF’s Wells Farm, with cider pressed from the farm’s apple orchard. A sweet ending to a hands-on, hearts-on day of exploring eco-regionalism and ways of engaging with the land that cultivate a deep sense of home. We look forward to many more outings with UVM students to come.