Today I take my last finals for my first year in forestry training. As it draws to a close, I find I’m feeling a sense of sadness in the upcoming departure. Among many other reasons for this sadness is the fact that being in a forestry program is like attending Hogwarts, which for a nerd such as myself, is a dream come true. So, my apologies if you do not know about Hogwarts, because this post won’t make much sense. But here I shall relate how much going to school for forestry feels like attending Hogwarts.
First, when you come to the forestry Hogwarts, you will see that some students have known they’d be foresters maybe forever. They are familiar with the whole magical world of forestry, because they grew up in it. They approach the classes, tools, and tasks with greater confidence and a swagger of knowing.
Then you have someone like me, who was raised with muggles (non-forestry folk) and once had no notion that forestry even existed as a line of profession, nor as a means of identity formation. Such people approach this new, magical world with an even mixture of confusion and elation. You are told to go buy a hard hat (where does one buy a hard hat? does one-size-fit-all?). You are told to go grab a Pulaski from the tool shed to work with (a pu-what? um…bless you?). You are told to go start a chain saw (as if this were just the simplest thing to do successfully). And those around you act like all these things are common knowledge, while you are left feeling as if you are barely afloat in tiny life boat on a tumultuous sea of unfamiliarity. Again – an even mixture of confusion and elation.
Just as every wizard needs a wand, so does every forester need an instrument to perform a task or job. Now, not all wands will feel natural in your hands, it really just depends on your individual character. But, at some point you will try out an instrument and this “wand” will sort of choose you, feel right in your hand, and help you better channel your skills to the task you are assigned and the niche you find. Take a look at some of the forester wands below (don’t worry mom, mine was not the chainsaw).
There are most certainly forestry spells…or things that sound very much like they must be spells. Being a forester-in-training requires you to learn the scientific names of plants, birds, and mammals. And, let’s be real here, that assignment is obviously a muggle cover for learning spells. Things like Woodwardia fimbriata, Chamaebatia folilosa, Zonotricha leucophyrs, and Marmota flaviventris…”scientific names” my eye. Jig is up. And in truth, correctly pronouncing these Latin phrases aloud does give one a since of empowerment, much like a correctly executed spell would (I imagine).
Forestry school has many magical subjects. Herbology (which we nickname “Dendrology”) requires us to master the identification and lore of the native trees and shrubs in the area. Divination (which we nickname “Silviculture”) teaches us to master the prediction of how a forest will grow based on a forest management plan. Charms (which we nickname “Introduction to Forestry”) provides students with the basic foundation of skills and knowledge to perform all sorts of forester magic. Care of Magical Creatures (which we nickname “Wildlife Management”) instructs students on how to identify and work with and around all the magical creatures that live in the forest. Transifguration (which we nickname “Taxidermy”) is all about transforming an animal that was dead into something with new life. And Defense Against the Dark Arts is actually not a single class, but is something that forestry students learn a little bit in each class they take. Essentially, it involves providing students with the knowledge to battle the misconceptions of forestry. Muggles often think in black and white: either natural resources are in endless supply so can be used without limits or natural resources should never be touched and hence cutting down of a tree is a crime against nature. The truth is, the use of natural resources (and trees especially) should be something in between.
Now, when you are going to school for forestry, you instantly become part of a House, which is a family away from your family. You are seamlessly enveloped into this house, even begin to dress, talk, and walk like all those in your house, and, good-naturedly, begin to look at other students on campus as outsiders – part of different houses. I won’t say here who would be Slytherin, Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw on our campus…but needless to say, forestry students are part of Griffyndor. You can identify a Forestry Griffyndor by our “robes”: trail / work worthy clothes (dickies, carhartts, or REI pants), hiking or forester boots, gloves/ ear protection/eye protection in our pocket, and a hard hats clipped to our backpack. Saw dust is commonly in our hair and some of our long sleeve work shirts (although clean) have grease or trail dust so imbedded into their fibers that they look dirty all the time.
Our Professor McGonnagall is not similar to the original for age or gender, but he likewise teaches some of the trickiest subjects offered at our school. He too comes from an equally impressive resume before becoming a teacher, in this case having worked as a utility forester, hiked the Appalachian Trail, worked in the Peace Corps, and completed a graduate thesis on Giant Sequoias.
Although likewise a believer in the importance of certain rules (above all the “no food or drink in the computer lab”), he is mostly characterized by his deep care for student learning and willingness to go the extra mile to ensure everyone in class is on the same page in understanding the material. His diverse resume gifts him with a great experience set to make the information taught in tricky subjects come to life in a practical way in the hands-on labs he leads students on.
As a key leader of the Gryffindor house, he is also the faculty representative for the college chapter of Society of American Foresters, enabling students to network with professional foresters.
Our Lupin is not identical to the original Lupin because he’s not a werewolf…or is he? He has a known academic interest in studying large mammals (or should we say, studying Animagus?). In fact, he apparently used to be employed as a bear tech, chasing bears out from campsites in the woods…at night. He even has a curious need for caffeinated beverages every so often during morning classes…let’s just say these occasions may or may not correspond to the full moon.
As in the original Lupin’s prowess in teaching on things dark and dangerous, our Lupin doubled as our Transfiguration instructor (i.e. Taxidermy), teaching students how to revive (or reanimate?) dead creatures, giving them new form and hence new life.
Most importantly, much like the original Lupin, he is beloved all students. Truly, you just never hear students complaining about his assignments or teaching methods, well, ever. He is quite willing to offer additional instruction outside of class hours (much like the other Lupin instructed on the Patronus charm outside class). He encourages students to learn in a hands-on fashion, but is quick to offer encouragement when students struggle or fail in a new skill (think the original Lupin’s gift of chocolate when facing Dementors).
Our Hagrid is not similar to the original for height and appearance, but rather for his jocular nature and his role as sort of “Keeper of Keys and Grounds” at the forestry Hogwarts. Although a first impression might have you feeling intimidated, once you know our Hagrid, you will hold nothing but warm feelings towards him. You are welcome to visit him at his hut (i.e. the shop) during school hours, which is neighbored right up against the school’s (not-so-forbidden) oak forest.
Our Hagrid, like the original, is the keeper of magical creatures…not the ones you learn about in what we call “wildlife management,” but the truly magical creatures like Skidsteers, ATVs, and log loaders. He is the “whisperer” of all such creatures, and will teach you the ways as well. As with the infamous Hippogriff scene, our Hagrid does not allow students to simply observe these creatures from afar. He will have you riding or handling these creatures within a first lesson (speaking from personal experience).
Hogwarts would be in disarray and at a loss without Hagrid, ask anyone, and he is always one that students look forward to seeing when they return each term.
Our Dumbledore is not similar to the original for age or for length of beard, but rather for his great wisdom in all things related to the magical world of forestry. He is headmaster of the forestry program, and has a truly unexplainable ability to handle 5 million things on his “to do list” at once, with composure, and always a willingness to drop what he is doing to assist a student. In truth, none of us have a full understanding of all he does.
As with the other Dumbledore, ours has a tendency to speak in riddles. He has a twinkle to his eye that speaks of kindness, but also occasional mischief. You only learn to read his silent amusements through experience in conversation with him. These same eyes seem to read into the very core of each student, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses in order to shape them into the best foresters they can be.
His care for each student, and ability to truly know each student, is both humbling and only possibly explained by the fact that he must be, indeed, a great “wizard“…because how can he know and remember so many individual with such detail? The volume of students who have passed through his instruction and onto great things is a testament to his legacy.
So, as I wrap of my exams for this term, and pack up my trunk to depart from the school, I am filled with a sense of thankfulness for the home this place has become, a home for discovering my sense of self.
Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.