Biologist, writer, activist. On Mar. 8, St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Department of English and the VOICES Reading Series presented Joan Maloof, an artist whose passion for old growth forests is rooted in these three professions.
Nearly every seat was filled in Daugherty-Palmer Commons (DPC) as the author of “Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth” and “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest” presented excerpts from her novels.
Associate Professor of English and Environmental Studies Coordinator Kate Chandler introduced Maloof, sharing an anecdote of how the two met. “It was in a forest that I first met Joan,” Chandler said. “We were on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, attending an environmental literature conference. We went on a field trip after hours of a very bumpy bus ride into this forest that was in a deep valley in Vancouver Island and we walked through a Pacific coast old-growth forest. The trees were giant.”
Chandler described the trees in these forests as having been the width of DPC and as tall as a building thirty stories high.
“You were awestruck by these trees,” Chandler added. “Partway through the hike, I saw a woman standing by one of the largest trees taking notes. It was Joan Maloof, and I learned that she had written a book about these trees and was working on another book. She was writing about these trees, and it was intriguing to me that her book was comprised of essays rather than documentations of scientific experiments, so I got it – and now I get it. I get why this scientist has added creative writing to her list of accomplishments, to bring others into the forest with her.”
Maloof began her reading by sharing three sections from her first book, “Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest.”
Her first excerpt, entitled “Grandfather trees,” passionately portrayed how it is a common belief that gigantic Grandfather trees – the kind that Chandler described in the old-growth forest – hardly exist anymore.
Maloof also shared forest statistics for Maryland gathered from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, stating that Maryland has approximately 8 billion trees. However, 95 percent of these trees are less than five inches in diameter. Furthermore, only two percent of the forest trees are the width of the average person’s shoulders or wider. Less than .1 percent are Grandfather trees.
“I think some trees should just be trees,” Maloof read. “I think some trees should be allowed to do whatever they want, and be able to die of old age, right where they’re standing. Whatever the fates hold in store, is what we should allow for these trees . . . Grandfather trees are the ones closest to death, yet they are also the ones with the most to teach us.”
She continued the reading with three sections from “Among the Ancients: Adventures in the Eastern Old-Growth,” her second novel. In this book, she answered the question that most readers asked after reading “Teaching the Trees:” where can I find an old-growth forest? Maloof outlined directions for her readers, with hopes that they too can experience these amazing forests.
Currently, Maloof is a professor emeritus from Salisbury University where she teaches biology and environmental studies. She has recently founded a non-profit organization called the Old-Growth Forest Network, which strives to ensure the survival of ancient forests for future generations to enjoy.
“She set out to save the trees,” Chandler said. “County by county she is asking citizens to set aside parcels of trees that will not be cut, will not be managed, and will not be touched. We may not have old growth forests in St. Mary’s county, but we could in several hundred years.”
More information on the non-profit organization can be found by visiting www.oldgrowthforest.net.