Seeding insight and sending out roots…
As we launch this website and premier The Understory blog, its hard not to think about the Pando seed, which touched down some unknown age ago—and spread its roots to become a tree that changes our ideas about what a tree can be. With the launch of this website and this blog, Friends of Pando is working to meet two goals set out early when the volunteer-led group started to meet. First, the creation of a website where the public can gather science-based information about Pando directly from those who study the tree and manage the land it calls home. Second, as Pando is a recent discovery, the creation of forums to share ideas, experiences and inspiration. As we begin to gather those ideas, insights and perspectives on what it means to live in a world where Pando is possible, some thoughts on how we hope to educate the public, support innovations in research and inspire stewardship so that the Pando is better understood and can be celebrated for generations to come.
Recently, in an online forum, where I can often be found pushing back on misinformation about Pando, I heard from a young scientists who shared his enthusiasm for our plan to map and photograph the entire tree this summer for scientists to study and the world to enjoy. He shared:
“As someone who is cruising towards his degree in Earth and Space science education, I highly respect your work! Thank you for documenting this amazing piece of history! It doesn’t go unnoticed!”
The encouragement was a boost during a hectic day but more than that, I took heart in the exclamation point placed on the global appeal of this magnificent tree. For example, in Canada, aspen trees are one of only six native deciduous trees and grow from the southern mountains all the way up to the Arctic Circle. This means in Canada, aspens play an outsized role in nearly every wilderness experience from cradle to grave. The appreciation for aspen by our neighbors to the north goes deeper; scientists who study wildfires, aware of aspen’s ability to thwart fire, have given Pando’s cousins to the north, a nickname— “asbestos forest”. Brought together in some future “memory” of the tree, this educator, working toward his degree is already imagining himself teaching his students about aspen. From this very article, he might learn that common aspen trees, are known to some as “asbestos forests”. As he gathers materials from other parts of our site, he learns more about Pando from scientists studying the tree. Gathering photos from the Pando Photographic Survey Website, he gathers 360-degree images students can view on their phones or desktop devices to help them understand the scale. Working to sharpen his presentation, he mixes novelty with the superlative—for one slide of his presentation, he types “…and the largest tree in the world is Pando, an aspen clone in Central Utah…” As class starts, he will use the scientific and cultural record of the tree to help students better understand aspen. The future botanists, foresters and artists sitting in that class will recognize, stewardship involves not just observation—but inspiration. Just as the Pando’s 106 acres is connected via roots to sustain the whole, those students will recognize, a future where Pando thrives, will require new ways of bringing people, information and inspiration together.
As we begin to develop forums online and work in the field with Pando and communities throughout the world, it is our aspiration to create a place where those working to understand Pando, can share their stories and find inspiration. Our hope—that by creating forums where a cultural record of the tree flourishes, we might play a part bringing together ideas in a way that will better prepare future generations of artists, botanists and land managers. Generations to come will find answers to the questions we have today and will bring together ideas in ways we have yet to imagine. In all then, a place where the human experience of Pando is made real through connection. A place where the possibilities of nature’s imagination, might inspire stewardship and foster relationships, that can sustain generations to come.
On that note of connections, special thanks to Simone Friedman and all at EJF Philanthropies, whose generous grant made our summer 2021 student youth program in Pando possible. Thanks too, to our Fiscal Sponsor, Snow College, Richfield for their support during our start-up year and their tireless work helping with community outreach efforts. A note of thanks is also in order for our earliest and most ardent supporters, Mayor Dave Ogden of Richfield and Elaine Street of the Richfield Visitor Center. Last but not least, special thanks to Jason Dilworth of Designers in Forest, Nancy Brunswick of the US Forest Service, Paul Rogers of Western Aspen Alliance and Liz Davy from Old Broads for Wilderness whose experiences, guidance and inspiration has blazed a trail that made this effort seem possible. Finally, thanks is owed to the tireless volunteers who helped design this site working many late nights over countless revisions to the content, layout and design.
May trail magic follow you wherever you roam!
Arts & Culture Facilitator
Friends of Pando