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Travelogue E5

June 19, 2015

Wandering at an end, I set off with measured step for my destination, the university atop a hill. I prowled the grounds about the buildings and sought a way in, perhaps through a window, for it was a public holiday, when at last a member of staff recognized my plights and let me in through one of the main doors. Once inside, I found my way to the colloquium, only then beginning, and attempted to make myself understood to what I took to be my peers. It was with some surprise that I was not among philosophers but woodsmen or, more accurately, woodsman of whom I asked many question while waiting.

He held forth at some length on the utilities of practice and theory, citing his own inability, and that of his underlings, to incorporate the abstract into their everyday management and maintenance of the forests, cutting, logging, burning away. For my benefit, he recalled two examples in particular, that of a naturalist group come to make its case for a species of bat found in those woods and the broader phenomenon of diversity and biome, as well as that of an employee within the group, whose sole occupation consisted in modeling the forests mathematically.

The latter more lengthily held my attention by far, and so I was caught up in the illustration of the man’s work, at which the woodsman could only gesture in the broadest strokes given his thoroughgoing incomprehension of that same work, with the attention paid to ring growth and bough diameter, incorporation of tree and undergrowth density, accounting for the soil types and roads running through, all of this so as to produce an abstract forest of numbers which the employee could manipulate at will and at need. I marveled at the various forms that this mathematical wood might take, be it paper, word or computer simulation.

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