Throughout her long and active career as a forester, Mary Stuever has worked as a firefighter and in forestry rehabilitation, forestry planning, and environmental education. Luckily for us, Stuever is a writer, as well as a participant in forest management, and over the past quarter-century, she has documented her work in the forests of the Southwest, writing about the challenges that foresters and forests face: woodlands in serious decline, the threat of massive wildfires, and invasions by insects and by creeping American suburbs. Her new book, The Forester's Log: Musings From the Woods, is a collection of nearly a hundred short essays written between 1985 and 2008 and published in rural newspapers, national magazines, anthologies and websites. It provides a valuable glimpse into the life of a working woman forester, the conditions of America's Southwestern forests (and beyond), and the efforts of federal and state officials to deal with the enormous challenge of managing the forest.
The essays are thematically arranged in five chapters: Fire, Forestry, Burn Area Recovery, Environmental Education, and Recreation. But although the chapter titles are slanted toward the professional, the stories Stuever tells run the gamut from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the ho-hum work-a-day world of planting trees ("Green Side Up, Okay?) to thrilling accounts of fighting fires ("Fire") and sad tales of bark beetles ("Dying Pinyons"). There are plenty of personal and deeply felt stories here, too: "Living in a Log Home" tells how Stuever acquired the logs to build a cabin on her property; "A Forester's Confession" describes her unsuccessful efforts to irrigate the trees she planted around her log house; and "Changing Woman" provides a narrative bridge from the Fort Apache Reservation where Stuever lived and worked to her new position as New Mexico's state timber officer. Most of the pieces are short, but one of the finest is the perceptive account of a climb Stuever led to Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest mountain. All of the pieces reveal a deep affection for the land and its creatures, many of whom are seriously threatened. In the last essay in the book, she writes:
I once stood out on a rock ledge on the South Rim [of the Grand Canyon] one fall day when a condor flew a few feet above my head. Its wingspan was immense. I thought of pterodactyls. I told my companion—a bird fan who spends months each year counting raptors flying over the rim—that when I died, I wanted to come back as a condor. He told me that would take really good karma. There just are not that many condors left.
If anybody can earn the karma to come back as a condor, it will be Mary Stuever. Hers is a knowledgeable, powerful, compelling voice. When she speaks for the forests, we must all listen.
Mary Stuever is the state timber management officer with New Mexico's EMNRD Forestry Division. She has published essays in such works as A Mile in Her Boots and served as one of the editors for Field Guide to the Sandia Mountains. Visit her website.
Check out our interview with the author of The Forester's Log.
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