I meet Bob Leverett in a small gravel parking lot at the end of a quiet residential road in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. We are at the Ice Glen trailhead, half a mile from a Mobil station, and Leverett, along with his wife, Monica Jakuc Leverett, is going to show me one of New England’s rare pockets of old-growth forest.
For most of the 20th century, it was a matter of settled wisdom that the ancient forests of New England had long ago fallen to the ax and saw. How, after all, could such old trees have survived the settlers’ endless need for fuel to burn, fields to farm and timber to build with? Indeed, ramping up at the end of the 17th century, the colonial frontier subsisted on its logging operations stretching from Maine to the Carolinas. But the loggers and settlers missed a few spots over 300 years, which is why we’re at Ice Glen on this hot, humid August day.
To enter a forest with Bob Leverett is to submit to a convivial narration of the natural world, defined as much by its tangents as its destinations—by its opportunities for noticing. At 80, Leverett remains nimble, powered by a seemingly endless enthusiasm for sharing his experience of the woods with newcomers like me. Born and raised in mountain towns in the Southern Appalachians, in a house straddling the state line between Georgia and Tennessee, Leverett served for 12 years as an Air Force engineer, with stints in the Dakotas, Taiwan and the Pentagon, but he hasn’t lost any of his amiable Appalachian twang. And though he’s lived the majority of his life in New England, where he worked as an engineering head of a management consulting firm and software developer until he retired in 2007, he comes across like something between an old Southern senator and an itinerant preacher, ready to filibuster or sermonize at a moment’s notice. Invariably, the topic of these sermons is the importance of old-growth forest, not only for its serene effect on the human soul or for its biodiversity, but for its vital role in mitigating climate change.
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