I spent over 25 years as a research scientist in natural history and ecology in forest, shrub steppe, subarctic, desert, coastal, and agricultural settings. Trained primarily as a vertebrate zoologist, I was a research mammalogist in Nubia, Egypt, (1963-1964) with the Yale University Peabody Museum Prehistoric Expedition and a research mammalogist in Nepal (1966-1967), where I participated in a study of tick-borne diseases for the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit #3 based in Cairo, Egypt. I conducted a three-year (1970-1973) ecological survey of the Oregon Coast for the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington. I was a research ecologist with the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management for thirteen years (1974-1987)—the last eight studying old-growth forests in western Oregon—and a landscape ecologist with the Environmental Protection Agency for one year (1990-1991).
Over the years, I have lived, worked, consulted, and/or lectured in: Austria • Canada • Chile • Egypt • France • Germany • Japan • Malaysia • Mexico • Nepal • Slovakia • Switzerland • and various settings in the United States
I am particularly blessed in touching and being touched by the miracle of life in that I have been privileged to travel in many lands, near and afar, from ocean strand to lofty mountain, from parching desert to steaming jungle, and through all the seasons of the year. In each have I found beauty unsurpassed: it may have been the unimpeded view of the Southern Cross in the night sky over the western desert of Egypt, the odor of jasmine (from the Persian yasmin, “gift from God” in Arabic) along the Nile, or the smile of a Nubian child with whom I played; it may have been the iridescence of a Nepalese sunbird in the deep forest, the exquisite flavor of a ripe mango in the Terai, or the grandeur of a Himalayan peak seen from timberline; it may have been the fuzzy face of an Austrian edelweiss or a mountain meadow in the Swiss Alps, where a teasing, summer breezed caused the grasses to sway and the flowers to dance; it may have been soft touch of a giant fern in southern Chile or the alert stance of an exquisite, spotted tiger beetle on a jungle trail in Malaysia; it may have been the Pyramids of the Sun and of the Moon in Teotihuacán, Mexico; or it may have been the intricate structure of the Grand Shinto shrine in Ise City, Japan, or it may have been the leaping glide of a flying fish in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Every such encounter is for me a harmonic experience along the continuum of my evolution in consciousness through which the undying wonder of life unfolds.
Beauty in form is clearly visible to our senses, from the microscopic to the infinite, from the delicate design of a diatom to the violent death throes of a star. But the beauty of function is often hidden in the act of living—be it a “lammergeier” or bearded vulture riding the thermals high in the Himalayas, a male rufous hummingbird performing its courtship dive in my garden, a polar bear wandering the Arctic sea ice in search of seals, or the “emergent properties,” by means of which termites in the Australian savannah construct their twenty-foot-tall towers. Each of life’s actions represents participation in a feedback loop whereby life serves life along the evolutionary path of Planet Earth.
Wherever my sojourn on Earth leads, my field of view is graced by the splendor of nature’s patterns in form and function and the wonder of my relationship with them. And it is my sense of wonder that I would share with you—a sense that began many years ago in a humble roadside ditch.
To me as a little boy, the ditch was a marvelous thing. I loved the ditch and all its mysteries. I neither thought about nor cared a whit whether the water was being brought to or removed from a particular place, or what the reason might be. It had only one purpose, to be my playground.
My ditch was a place of innocence and wonder; a place of mystery and of boyhood imaginings; a place to touch the Earth, the water, and the sky. It was a place where the green arms of cattails; sedges; rushes; and the tall, swaying grasses enfolded me, hid me, and bade me stay while I learned the songs of the seasons.
It was a place where the water spoke quietly of the harmonious cycles of life, where grasshoppers and crickets trilled, and gray-tailed meadow mice scurried along their secret runways. It was a place where wandering breezes carried the perfumes of flowers and the melodies of birds, where gaily-colored butterflies dotted magical afternoons. It was a place brimming with life, a place where the harmonious cycles of the sun, moon, and stars guided a constant becoming as life flowed through death into life and the seasons melted one into another. And it was the place where I learned about the wonder of friendship and love.
But most of all, it was the place where I first began to understand that the smallest piece of anything was still a part of the whole and that to understand the whole, I must value the pieces. I not only began to see the eternal flow between the pieces and the whole but also began the long, slow process of being born unto myself in the greater context of the Universe as one of Nature’s pieces reflected in the spiritual and ecological perfection of that infinitesimal spot on Earth that my friend, Billy, and I called “our ditch.”
It was here between the ages of six and twelve, that I was simply open to the mysteries of the Universe, and they were revealed to me in all their splendor. Here, within the banks of a humble, roadside ditch, I saw the crowning jewel of the Universe unfold. I saw life and death and change. I saw Creation, and I found the Eternal Mystery, which many refer to as “God.”
Then, as I got older, I saw a ditch as habitat for small creatures wild and free and as a mural for Nature’s seasons, and I still didn’t care whether the water was coming from or going to somewhere or why.
I now see a ditch in terms of its evolution, be it natural, intellectual, or spiritual, for a ditch is all of these to me. A ditch starts out as a raw, naked wound; a furrow in the skin of the Earth, for whatever reason it has been dug. Then Nature takes over, molding and sculpting the furrow with erosion, using wind, water, and ice as Her implements. Slowly the gapping furrow begins to round and crinkle as flowing water moves jousting grain and shifting pebble here and there. Little by little the ditch bottom loses all sign of human tool, and the once-raw wound becomes a labyrinth of nooks and crannies, each with a pair of eyes silently watching the world.
As the ditch’s bottom transforms, Nature plants seeds along its banks, creating a backdrop of swaying grasses and brightly colored flowers, of protecting shrubs and stately trees. On this stage unfolds Nature’s play, enacted with the animals that live along the ditch, burrow in its banks, and visit with the seasons, wherein each adds a touch of creativity to the overall effect. Crickets lead the orchestra, with birds as minstrels and butterflies as the chorus line. Add two little boys, and magically you have a portrait of the ditch that was to be such an integral, formative part of my childhood.
Follow the labyrinth of contemporary life through the decade of my seventies, I increasingly understand that everything in the universe is connected in a cosmic web of interactive relationships; all entrained in vibrant, ever-changing, self-reinforcing feedback loops. In turn, each relationship creates a never-ending story of novelty manifested through the dance of cause and effect, stories that began with the original cause—the Eternal Mystery.
Today, I am an independent author as well as an international lecturer, facilitator in resolving environmental conflicts, vision statements, and sustainable community development. I am also an international consultant in forest ecology and sustainable forestry practices.