Tending Change on the Michaux: Basketball in the Forest

Tending Change on the Michaux by Roy Brubaker

This one is for the basketball fans.

The Michaux is frequently referred to as either the Cradle  — or the Crucible –of Conservation.  In Summertime, it’s the Crucible. It’s work!

Not because of the trees or the wildlife. Compared to growing veggies in the summer (something I did in a previous life) forests are the epitome of resiliency through long hot days!  In fact, we get busy in summer because forests are such awesome places for people to spend time during the summer.  This place does more caregiving than caretaking on sultry days, and keeping up with people visiting the forest drives  a seasonal dynamics that we have to predict and respond to as best we can.

Here is what it is like to be part of the Michaux State Forest team during the summer:  When temperatures hit ninety, crowds descend on Long Pine Reservoir. Bouncing swimmers from Chambersburg’s drinking water supply turns into a futile enforcement challenge for our small number of Rangers.  Our road maintenance work happens amidst dust clouds from heavy forest road traffic. Rock outcroppings and illegal streamside campsites sprout garish, summertime displays of graffiti and trash. And even the forestry component itself changes.  There are no post-deer season scouting and shed antler incentives when marking timber, like in spring.  Instead, it’s a forced march endurance test through chest-high laurel in the accompaniment of stinging insects and oppressive humidity. Working on the Michaux over the summer months is like the last crucial minutes of a basketball game – it’s full-court press forestry.  Summer’s the season we prepare for all year long so we can cover the court, keep up with whoever needs to be kept up with, and have the kind of team that puts everything out there — every second, every minute — till the katydid’s buzz.  Unrelenting?  Yup.  Unpredictable?  Yup.  Minimal margin for error?  Yup.  High likelihood of fatigue, frustration, and failure?  Yup.

But there are also incredible opportunities to shift from lung-burning defense to heart-hammering offense. The opening for the alley-oop, the look-away assist into the lane for the easy basket, and the unguarded jumper from beyond the arc for three; or their forestry equivalents: 

  • The staff person calling in to let us know they’re already talking to the missing kid reported moments before. 
  • Birding enthusiasts reporting Louisiana waterthrush fledglings perched on logs staff felled to enhance brook trout habitat a year before.    
  • Visitors sharing pictures of momma bear and cubs enjoying a quiet summer breakfast in huckleberries heavy with fruit from a controlled burn investment three years ago. 
  • Hearing “We love the Michaux” from neighbors who walk onto us out of their backyard, or from visitors from other states or even countries. 
  • Tallying the volunteer hours spent picking up trash, removing graffiti, building trails, finding grants.

Practicing full-court press forestry demands stubbornness and humility in equal measure. It requires sophistication and hard work to anticipate and do right where and when we can, yet forces us to gratefully acknowledge the serendipity we couldn’t plan for when it helps us to achieve the improbable.  It teaches us to trust in this truth: 

That nature is part of us and we are a part of it. 

There is a mysterious, self-organizing forest energy that vibrates within its management team and the community of care around it.  If we care enough about forests and each other, our energy will flow where it’s needed most; in time.  After all, the forces we play with in this forestry game don’t pay attention to the time clock or scoreboard; and going into overtime is the best outcome we can hope for, anyhow. Because we want this game to go on. 

If forests are the place to be when the heat is on, and we have to tend forest change like the game of life depends on it– because it does – there’s still no better place to work or play than in the Crucible of Forestry.

So we celebrate that daily on the Michaux; sweat, scratches, ticks, paperwork, and all. 

We had a few new MVPs join the team over the last few months who will be on the court this summer. Luke Michaels and Justin Musselman who both graduated from Penn State Mont Alto this month, have joined the team as forest technicians. On defense, we have a new ranger, Ryan Thrush, who joins us after previously working at Tuscarora State Forest. And we have a new Clerical Assistant, Kateri Lee who will be assisting forest visitors with their questions!  

-Roy Brubaker, Michaux District Forester