Sowing Seeds for Tomorrow

I left Allegany Community College (ACC) May 1971 with an associate’s degree in forestry, transferring to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry to earn my bachelor’s. Dr. Glenn O. Workman (Doc) mentored and inspired me through ACC. Judy and I established an endowed scholarship in Doc’s name three years ago at what is now Allegany College of Maryland (ACM). October 26, I delivered a late afternoon lecture at ACM, focusing on Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading, and relating experiences from my two books. Doc introduced me to the attendees that evening. At nearly 90-years, Doc continues to inspire and lift me. I dedicated my second book to Doc, as well as to three other mentors who indelibly shaped my early career.

Doc taught systematic botany my first spring semester. I loved the field trips we took after winter began lessening its Central Appalachian grip. We would rush from habitat to habitat, striking across elevation transects, from wet to dry, and aspect to aspect, always seeking to increase our count of flowering spring ephemerals. Early tallies included skunk cabbage, colt’s foot, spring beauty, dandelion, and chickweed. We covered lots of road miles and rough terrain. He sowed the seeds for the spring botanizing I’ve continued these past 46 years since leaving ACC.

I look back on those early spring days (of my life as well as the season of year) and discover with reflection that Doc alerted me to two of the critical verbs that shape so much of what I do, write, and instruct today. I learned on those excursions how to Look. Not just look on the ground for the early bloomers, but to read the landscape, and anticipate what I might discover blooming in accord with site conditions. Seeing is much easier with informed Looking. I knew to seek skunk cabbage in vernal pools and near spring seeps. I knew to scan gravely roadsides for colt’s foot. Columbine on sheltered road cuts. Bird’s foot violet on this south- and west-facing exposed slope.

Astute and informed Looking leads to and enables Seeing. And on those action-packed field excursions, I learned to Feel excitement and passion for counting natural coup. For learning more and more and more about Nature… its patterns and processes. I encountered wonder and awe for these magical, wonderful early bloomers that run nearly their entire life cycle during the few weeks when sunlight reaches the forest floor before the trees leaf-out, and shade the understory, like this oxalis on a spring hillside above Paw Paw Tunnel.

Judy and I have enjoyed our spring-wildflower jaunts for the entire 45 years we’ve been married. We’ve tallied 30-45-count days.

The joy of Looking, Seeing, and Feeling the thrill of Nature discovery has actually spurred us to Act, the fourth of my verbs. Acting in this case is simply being spurred to do it again each year. Nature has a way of doing that. Inspiring me to again and again venture forth, if only to catch a sunrise, enjoy a sunset, or catch a first-bloomer. My Dad first introduced me to the joys of Nature immersion, yet he did so without the doctoral level, scholarly depth that Doc brought to light. Dad inspired my fundamental love, joy, and marvel of Nature. Doc began to inject a more intellectual, knowledge-based appreciation and understanding. Dad clearly planted the seed that enabled me to absorb the power of Nature’s science and scholarship. Both are necessary ingredients for the four-and-half-decades since that I have cultivated, honed, and tended the Nature passion that envelops me now.

One of my Great Blue Heron services involves contracting with forestland owners to develop their Forestland Legacy Story, the tale of Nature and Human Nature that captures the essence of the property for their heirs. Every single parcel of land has its own story – past, present, and future. I realize now that it was Doc who showed me how to Look, See, and Feel the land simply by walking, observing, and deducing. The language of the land is there to discover, interpret, and relate.

I am grateful that along the way mentors have molded me, and inspired me to tap Nature’s wisdom and harness her power. I am thankful that this FSU interim presidency has brought me to within 90-minutes’ drive of Cumberland, ACM, and Doc. Without this six-month gig, I may not have realized that those four-and-half-decades-ago systematic botany field labs began my career-long journey of Looking, Seeing, Feeling, and Acting. Not until I sat at the keyboard to draft this essay post did I attribute my four-verb lesson to those field trips. I’m intrigued by how deep-thinking today can reveal the truth and acuity of lessons previously learned. That Look, See, Feel, Act lesson sunk roots in my subconscious, lay fallow, and left its mark silently and invisibly. I began adding substance and words to the concept only when I began writing Nature Based Leadership, my first book.

Once again, I thank Dad and Doc for sowing the seeds that guided my way. I close all of my emails with the words of Robert Louis Stevenson: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” I hope and pray that my writing, speaking, serving, and leading sow seeds for a brighter future. May your planting be as fruitful.