But by her second year, the catch becomes clear. In a seminar on forest management, the professor declares that snags and windthrow should be cleaned up from the forest floor and pulped, to improve forest health. That doesn’t seem right. A healthy forest must need dead trees. They’ve been around since the beginning. Birds turn them to use, and small mammals, and more forms of insects lodge and dine on them than science has ever counted. She wants to raise her hand and say, like Ovid, how all life is turning into other things. But she doesn’t have the data. All she has is the intuition of a girl who grew up playing in the forest litter.
Soon, she sees. Something is wrong with the entire field, not just at Purdue, but nationwide. The men in charge of American forestry dream of turning out straight clean uniform grains at maximum speed. They speak of thrifty young forests and decadent old ones, of mean annual increment and economic maturity. She’s sure these men who run the field will have to fall, next year or the year after. And up from the downed trunks of their beliefs will spring rich new undergrowth. That’s where she’ll thrive.
She preaches this covert revolution to her undergrads. “You’ll look back in twenty years, amazed at what every smart person in forestry took to be self-evident truth. It’s the refrain of all good science: ‘How could we not have seen?’”