Sayonara, ES4001

April 5, 2019

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 8.13.11 AMIt’s 4:25 p.m. on a sunny Thursday and I am listening to Julien talk about altitudinal tree line shifts. I can see the sun on the university rooftops, out the big circular windows  that look south. I see the top of the Earth Sciences library and beyond it, the CN Tower.

I am in the last half-hour of my 20 month stint as a candidate for a Master of Forest Conservation. Will I miss this? Young women in front of me discussed, at the break, the relative merits of Uggs and Blundstones ( in Forestry, all the women, and most of the men, wear Blundstones). I have spent a lot of time on the hard blue plastic chairs with stainless steel tube frames in Earth Sciences room 4001. I have wondered over time why we can’t have wooden chairs and wooden tables in the frickin’ Faculty of Forestry. Is that too much to ask?

“Independent variables accounted for 63% of the variance,” says Julien, and at one time such language would have terrified me; I’ve gained, if not a mastery, at least a passing conversational ease with the language of science. Certainly the whole experience has been lovely. All of these young people have welcomed me and treated me as a peer. I have the misfortune of being here for the end, after 112 years, of the Faculty of Forestry, which the University of Toronto, in a fit of institutional idiocy, has decided to fold into the Faculty of Architecture. If you can figure out how that makes sense, let me know.

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 8.13.40 AMToday for my last presentation, on Forest Conservation in Russia, I wore my new t-shirt, produced in haste the other day by the Forestry Graduate Students Association, which reads, “University of Toronto Faculty of Forestry. Founded 1907.”

“It has a heterogeneric structure,” says Matt. “It’s difficult to quantify.” I guess it’s weird but I feel like I’ve found some of my peeps. We are not afraid of using phrases like, “birch recruits.”

Matthew continues: “Speed et al was looking at sheep grazing in Norway. These are not like the semi-domestic reindeer from the previous slide.”

This has been a rare opportunity, later in life, to walk away from punching the clock. I now can see that the world, and even my city, is a very big place, where people are doing all kinds of things with their days, including sitting in darkened lecture halls and listening to students talk about yellow cedar growing at low elevation in poorly-drained soil and root-freezing injury.

Screen shot 2019-04-05 at 8.13.56 AMIt turns out that I’m not only a journalist. I spent a whole career spent as a generalist; meaning, I’d get, at the very most, six weeks to learn about, say, shipping on the Great Lakes. Then I’d move on to another subject.) With this masters program, I had a chance to focus all of my learning on one subject: forestry. The number of times I have tried to explain my life choice (to leave the newspaper business and learn about trees) rivals the number of black spruce (Picea mariana) in the boreal forests of Canada. I guess the short answer is I care about the trees and the future of our planet and I wanted to see if I could understand the subject better. Now I do, and I had some fun, too. Time to leave academe and see if I can use my existing skills, and my newfound knowledge, to make some money — and maybe even help increase canopy cover.