We had been collecting data for two days now, and were nearing the end of our third day in the Ura Valley. Our third community forest, Shingnyer, was beautiful. The trees were tall and wide, the canopy dozens of feet above the ground. The bright sunlight slanted through, and ferns and wild strawberries ran rampant throughout the forest floor. The sun warmed our skin, and we felt it radiating from the ground below, carrying with it the sweet aroma of the strawberries. The paths were narrow and well maintained, with a thick cushion of Picea and Abies needles. Stumps littered the landscape, but there was no visible erosion or vegetation degradation from the extraction of timber, our research subject. Occasional logs were used to prop up the trunks being milled on-site.
Laying transects, flagging plots, measuring diameter breast height, counting seedlings, saplings, whips, and stumps, photographing mushrooms. Recording the aspect, slope, elevation, dominant species. Presence of bamboo. The data sheets were muddy, wet, and wrinkled from the rain the day before, the pencil faintly visible. But they were getting filled in. The team worked together, calling off numbers and tossing each other the measuring tapes. The local guides answered our questions as we worked, and helped identify both native plants and extraction techniques. When? How many? For what? Who? The elevation. We had forgotten the elevation. As our teammates continued to work at the last site of the day, Arthur and I headed back to record the elusive elevation at the first two sites. We ran along the trail, excited to feel the sun and the productivity of research. The warm smell of conifers was swept along in our wake.
We looked out over the site, over the access road, over the town below. All was quiet. The second site was around the bend, we knew the way by heart. The trail wound through a tall old growth grove, then out along the ridge. The trees thinned, low shrubs moved in, the soil disappeared as lichen covered large boulders. The wild strawberries still survived. The bluff on which the trail ran looked over Ura Valley, our favorite place. The sun beat down on the rocks, the breeze rustled the leaves on the bushes around us. We could watch clouds roll into the valley below us. But we were warm.
We talked. We laughed. We sat there for an hour, enjoying the warmth and the quiet calm of the forest. We knew the forest well, from its ecology to its numbers. But never had we seen it like this. Now we knew the forest for its beauty, its caressing protection, and its peace. The forest was our home, we loved it, it loved us. Arthur and I knew each other before, but not like this. He confided in me, and I pushed him, and he challenged me. Here, we could speak without talking. We shared the forest, and it brought us closer together.
Shingnyer gave me more than numbers. Shingnyer gave me a friend, and gave me hope. Sitting on that ridge with Arthur, I felt closer to another person than I had in many months. We connected, simply because we shared a connection with the place. The place. It gave me beauty, a sense of freedom, peace, satisfaction, and confidence. It gave me hope, reminded me of what I wanted to do with my life, and reassured me that I could succeed.