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27 c h a p t e r 1 Growing Up in the Woods One of the most important tenets of the Stoddard-Neel Approach is a deep appreciation of the woods that one is managing , an appreciation born of intimate experience working and being in the woods. While the approach itself is the product of my experience working with Herbert Stoddard and of professionally managing the woodlands of the Red Hills over more than half a century, much of my appreciation for this landscape and its history was a product of my childhood in the region. I grew up in this landscape, and that has forever marked it as significant for me in ways that extend well beyond my career as a forester and land manager. Growing up in the woods provided the foundation for my land ethic. 28 chapter one My family’s roots run deep in Thomas County, Georgia. My immediate family—my mother, father, brother, and I—lived with my grandfather in a house that he built around 1900 on South Broad Street in Thomasville, Georgia, and the house is still there. It is called the Neel House, and today it is an office building. It is a fine house, and I am glad somebody owns it who can afford to keep it up. Even though we lived in town, I grew up during the Great Depression on the land and in the woods, which was important in terms of the development of my land management techniques and land ethic. We depended on the farm for our livelihood, and particularly for much of what we ate, so we had to pay close attention to it. I also count myself as fortunate for having been born into a family that had respect for the land, even though it was not precisely formulated or expressed as a land ethic. My parents and other family members appreciated the land, and they recognized that what they enjoyed and what sustained them was coming from the land itself. In that respect, they were not unlike many rural people at the time, though that sort of connection often has been lost in this modern world. I grew up in a house full of people. My brother, Howell, was seven years older than me, and he was my only sibling, but there were four families living in my grandfather’s house. My grandparents , of course, lived there, and three of their children’s families were in different sections of the house. My grandfather actually purchased the whole block way back before he built the house, and he divided it into three big lots. His house was closest to town, facing Broad Street. The next house belonged to a daughter, and the next house belonged to a son. He had nine children total, so he had two of them next door and three under his roof. There was a lot of coming and going in the early days. It was a very active place. We all gradually moved out of the house; my family and one aunt were the last to live there. In the late 1930s, when I was about twelve years old, my father built a house right next door, in what used to be the barnyard. Growing up in town back then was not so different from growing up in the country. growing up in the woods 29 As I remember it, Thomasville was a wonderful place to be a child. It was a small community; you knew just about everybody in town, and everybody knew you. Nobody ever locked their doors. The whole block was open territory for me. We had wildlife all around, including some quail. There was a park out front called Paradise Park, just across the street from our house. It was a beautiful park. It was heavily wooded with longleaf pine and had an open understory—you could see from one end of the park to the other. There was a grandstand in the middle with some paths leading to it, but that was the only development. Otherwise, it was a representative piece of the longleaf belt. And I remember vividly that there was still wiregrass out there. It was not healthy-looking wiregrass because of human use, and it was mowed occasionally, but it was wiregrass still. There was not a solid stand of it, but there were clumps here and there. I went back to look for it a couple of years ago, but...


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