Words on Words: An interview with Drew Barton

5 mins read

Local author and professor Drew Barton, whose widely praised book The Changing Nature of the Maine Woods has just been published, will be appearing on Sept. 12 at The Emery Arts Center for a book signing and presentation at 7:00 pm. We caught up with Drew for a hard hitting Daily Bulldog interview.

Kenny: Your book was described by a prominent novelist as “the single best guide to the Maine Woods since Henry David Thoreau.” I expect therefore that The Changing Nature of the Maine Woods is filled with both ecological observations and pithy philosophical insights. Is that true?

Drew: I hope so, but narrowed to the reality of what ecological science is really like in the field. What I mean is that ecology is a field populated by people who, when they were kids, loved nature, and still do.

Kenny: Well I don’t know Drew, I mean you described the Maine forest, over time, as being in “a constant state of recovery from the most recent perturbation.” It’s pretty clear that you meant that as a deeply analogous reflection on the human condition. I mean to say!

Drew: That’s true, one of the things ecological science can tell us about is the true nature of the material world, the living organisms out there. We look to capture the whole fabric of nature over space and time which really allows us to overcome our human bias reflecting the small place where we live and our short attention span of days, months and a handful of years. As a result of that bias we tend to think of nature as a stable backdrop for our existence. Ecology tells us that’s just not true.

Kenny: Okay, I noticed that you provided an excellent narrative of the Maine woods from 15,000 years ago up to the present, but you only provided a view of fifty years into the future. Isn’t that unbalanced. What will the Maine Woods be like 15,000 years in the future. I mean come now. Don’t hold out on us.

Drew: Well we do go to the year 2100 in the last chapter. And my goal was to look into the future to about the year I expect to live to, I mean I’ll only be 144 then, one gross. The truth though, maybe the obvious truth, is that it’s harder and harder to predict the farther out we look. I’m a supreme optimist. The woods is going to change because of us, but we can still effect how much it changes and how it changes.

Kenny: Hey that’s something the glacier could never have said! Now you’ve obviously been working on this book for many years. What were some of the most surprising things you learned about the Maine Forest along the way?

Drew: Hmmm. One of the things that really surprised me was how modern seeming some of the studies and conservation efforts of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were. That was a time of real enlightenment as to how forests worked and how we needed to manage them if we wanted to perpetuate what people want and need from them. It was also a time when people’s perspective on forests really broadened. People began looking at them not just as something utilitarian but as something deeper, something more than just a means to nourish their pocketbooks. One other thing that really surprised me, and I owe this to my two co-authors, is the remarkable detail with which we’ve been able reconstruct the pre-settlement forest, to know what it looked like

Kenny: Fabulous Drew. Thanks so much.

Drew: It was my pleasure. I’m really looking forward to the event at the Emery Center on Sept. 12. Even after writing about our forests for four years, I never get tired of talking with people about The Maine Woods.

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