By the time they graduate, forestry majors know all the trees, their properties and uses, where they can be found. They know the oldest and wisest trees on campus. They know which ones can walk and which ones harbor dark, rotten hearts. Each graduating class plants a new tree and puts many blessings in the soil around its roots. Legend has it that as long as the tree lives, at least one member of that graduating class will also. No one has done a study to verify this claim.
Forestry majors know how the paths in the woods can shift. Compass and Pacing is a required course, and Foresters learn to adjust their stride to exactly a meter so they can always measure distances. When compasses fail (and they always do, at one point or another), they have to be able to navigate the woods without the help of iron.
Silviculture is a class reserved for upper level students, and is by application only. Students are screened for their abilities in diplomacy and the depth of their knowledge of trees. They must be courageous as well, to face the beings that inhabit the forest. They are taught to be careful with words and to avoid tricks of the mind. The exams are rigorous and long. Failing the class is sometimes a relief – these students are excused from missions into the very heart the wild woods.
Many hours of studying are spent learning the true names of the trees, not the Latin ones that Linnaeus developed, but the old names that the trees will listen to. The trees hide their real names almost as well as humans do. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus, or Chouchun are all the same tree, but none of those is the tree’s true name.
The professors in intro class are careful to explain the proper way to determine if a dryad inhabits a particular tree. The university owns a woodlot where it farms its own trees, so these trees should be safe, but controlling the Others is impossible and they can’t be kept out entirely. Of course, there’s always a freshman who doesn’t listen and is too in love with their chainsaw. The results are usually … not pretty. If the rest of the crew is lucky, the unfortunate one is just gone. If not, if something is left, then the professors and upper level students have to be called in to deal with the ritual to destroy the chainsaw. No one wants to use a chainsaw that has a taste for human blood.
Another important first year class is firefighting. Fire is a tool of humans, but the enemy of the trees. Forestry majors are expected to be on hand to deal with any wildfire no matter whether day or night, or whether they have exams or papers due.
Tree hugging doesn’t necessarily mean environmental activism to foresters – it means literally hugging trees. The hugging goes both ways – humans seek comfort, peace, and strength from the trees, but they also encourage the trees to grow tall and strong, to endure, to resist whatever danger the forest is facing.
Forestry is a technical field though, and forestry majors also take many engineering courses. The field attracts people with an affinity with either the science end or the magic end. Some forestry majors have both. When you spend most of your time in the woods, it’s hard to avoid the knowledge of magic. No matter how scientifically inclined they may start out, most foresters end up talking to the trees.
Other students (those who have classes indoors in temperature controlled buildings) are wary of the forestry majors – with most of their classes outside, the foresters dress rough, steel-toed boots and layers of flannel, the men with beards, the women with broken nails. They always carry what appear to be weapons – fire rakes, axes, cant hooks, pikes, and chainsaws. Some students who understand the true danger of the school know better, know that the foresters aren’t the worst thing on campus.
The holy grail of forestry is the unending battle to restore the American Chestnut. The chestnut was a beautiful and durable tree, whose wood would never rot. But the Chestnut Blight came and destroyed them all, killing the magic of the chestnut trees. New trees would sprout, but as soon as they reached adolescence, the Blight would attack and the tree would die. Most foresters try to work through science, crossbreeding the American tree with exotic ones in hopes of finding a strain that can resist the Blight. However, all know that the Blight is a magical disease that science ultimately cannot solve. Every American forester longs to restore the chestnut tree, but the price for that would be very high indeed.
Forestry may know too much about trees and may use trees for their own purposes, but they also protect and nurture the forest. Therefore they are tolerated.
*Many forestry degrees have the words and Wildlife added to the diploma. But Wildlife is an entirely different topic that would require a separate post.