The heartbeat of nature

HomeIt may not seem like much, but that strip of forest behind my childhood home made me a biologist, a lover of nature, a seeker of the unexpected. I thought about it as the airplane made a wide loop into the Lansing airport that I knew would take me right over home.

How small the strip of forest seems today. How ravaged are the fields and forests that once seemed so primeval. I suppose I was the kind of animal that did not need wild corridors. I freely crossed roads, fields and even back yards of homes in search of wildness. I knew the gravel pits were man made. But that did not detract from the tadpoles, beetle larvae, snapping turtles, and blue gills in them. I longed to eat off the land in those long summer days, but more often simply pilfered fruit trees, or community gardens where a middle school now stands.

That church had not gouged out our woods when I was young. The aspen were still standing. Our previous home seemed miles away, though it is now on my daily walk circuit and doesn’t even get me to the ten thousand paces that make my Fitbit buzz.

I don’t think I realized until college that the landscape I loved was not Michigan’s eternal one. We are looking at the result of catastrophic logging. Once I knew that, I believed for a short time in succession. But now half a century has passed, and Michigan’s woods only look more damaged. It isn’t only last fall’s ice storm that broke so many trees and limbs, the pale stubs still showing. It is the ragged nature of this prespring forest. These trees are not majestic. There is no sign anywhere of a return to the climax forests Michigan should have, though I haven’t read the literature on this topic.

But the spring peepers are calling. Soon the mosquitoes will be out, and soft green will hide our scarred and feeble forests.



About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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