Sharing My Legacy Story

Acer rubrum To Zyzyphus jujuba

Essays, Stories, Adventures, Dreams

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

 

Sharing My Legacy Story

 

Creating a positive legacy is the responsibility of the person who shows up each and every day to put their best foot forward; to do their best; to give it the old college try.  But sharing life stories with family and friends is optional; and is based on opportunities, circumstances, and sincere invitations to do so.  When old college friends asked me to recount what I have been up to for the past 50 years or so, I decided to abandon the use of the third person in the telling; and to update them with news, some of which had never before been revealed or requested.

Thus, the copy of a March 2014 e-mail sent to former Rutgers classmates who asked, is filler for the life story of the Footloose Forester who intends to leave a written account of some of his adventures and the long honeymoon with the love of his life, The Bengal Tiger.

Since Copy+Paste techniques are so very easy to apply, this chronicle was simple to assemble and edit, as follows:


Subject:  Rutgers Classmates, the loop closes

Date: Wed 03-12-2014  12:40 PM

Greetings all,

Now that I have gotten updates from the past from virtually all of you, it's my turn to fill you in with some details.  It may jump around a bit, since I can't string all of the events in the right sequence; but I will try.  First off, I graduated Rutgers in January 1961 after staying an extra semester to complete the missing credits in the core curriculum.  In the end I had accumulated 161 credits but my math and chemistry failures had set me back.  Reality has a way in keeping me humble.

Then I found myself on a bus headed for the El Dorado National Forest where I had spent the previous two summers as a recreation patrolman.  After freshman year I had worked the summer in Idaho on the Nez Perce National Forest; and the following year on the Kootenai National Forest.  Since I really aspired to be a dirt forester, I later hitch-hiked to California and the El Dorado after junior year.  Can't remember how I got back there after senior year, but I do remember the bus in the winter of 1961.

There were no openings for a Junior Forester that year, so I left the Forest Service in June and joined Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants out of Sacramento where I stayed until I got drafted into the US Army in December of 1961.  Basic training was in Fort Ord, CA and advanced training in ballistic missiles at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and was later sent to Langendiebach, Germany for 18 months. It was a former Luftwaffe base, far enough in the countryside that it was actually pleasant there.   I didn't like the army but got to travel on my own to 10 countries in Europe. Since I had the military MATS/MAC flight schedule in my pocket, I was also able to fly to Morocco, Spain, and England on my military ID.  Even visited Check Point Charlie in Berlin before the wall was torn down.  It was 10º below zero at the time, but it was a memorable trip.  

Upon return to the States, I visited my folks in New Jersey for a week or so, but was soon on the road again, this time in the VW squareback sedan I bought in Germany for $1836 cash.  It was back to California and Cal-Pacific Forest Consultants...until October 1964 when I left to join the Peace Corps.

The assignment was in Pakistan where I taught Forest Surveying at the West Pakistan Forest School, teaching in the Urdu language.  They also made me the physical training teacher, until they found an ex-military replacement.  During the last three months of my assignment, I transferred to the Northwest Frontier Provinces where two other Peace Corps foresters were engaged in forest inventory work.

We Americans were not too welcome in Pakistan during those years, because of our moderate support for India; although our support for Pakistan as an ally was always greater.  I've written a few chronicles about those days in my book,  Afghanistan to Zambia: Chronicles of a Footloose Forester and in several stories that have been published in LegacyStories.org and shared through Facebook, Google+, WordPress, and Amazon.com

As an afterthought, but injected here for lack of a better place, I'd like to say a few things about foreign languages. Knowing the world better is in everybody's best interest.  The challenge is not easy but we should give it our best.  For me, that meant learning Urdu in Peace Corps training and then teaching in the Urdu language.  I wasn't very good in languages but knowing a little something about what was going on was important. The responsibility to try is ours alone.  I''ll be the first to acknowledge that I spoke poor Urdu, and did not fully comprehend social circumstances in other places.  Thus, I was openly and often criticized for my poor French, Spanish, Indonesian, Vietnamese, German, Portuguese, and Creole; and knew that my reading and writing ability in those languages was limited.  Nonetheless, local languages are part of the working tableau and I did not shy away from learning as much as I could.  As painfully fractured as they may have sounded, I used all of them every day, in those places that called for it.

When the Peace Corps assignment was over, I decided to terminate in Pakistan and start a trek across Asia to Viet Nam.  My sojourns took me through India, Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia before landing in Viet Nam.  There is where I stayed for almost three years and where I married the love of my life, Nguyen Thi Hue Thu.  We have been married since 1968.

My assignment in Viet Nam started out in the training division of RMK-BRJ Corporation that supported US military operations.  My job was to write a training manual for surveyor assistants; then to open up and run a driver training school.  Soon afterwards, however, the training division was broken up and I left to join Pacific Architects & Engineers as a Land Management Agronomist.  There are a few stories about that time, too.

 

b2ap3_thumbnail_Tiger-and-Bear-in-Saigon.jpg

                                                         The Bear with The Bengal Tiger

At this point, a mystery sets in.  The other day when I posted this e-mail, there was a lot more information about the years in Africa, and Haiti.  There is no indication that the e-mail was sent.  The first part of the post was saved as a draft, but the second part (here) did not get saved; and probably not transmitted.  In any case,  I'll continue.

After nearly three years in Viet Nam and going to all regions of the country south of the demilitarized zone, including 26 trips to Cam Ranh Bay, my biggest project, I returned to the USA and enrolled in grad school at the University of Florida where I elected to study tropical forestry.  My thesis field work was in Trinidad, where I studied the site factors associated with same-aged teak plantations.  Also, the University of Florida gave me 12 credits hours through the University of Costa Rica where I participated in a two month study tour.  Afterward, I followed up my thesis work with a little research of teak plantations in Honduras, Panama, and Costa Rica.

Never being successful in getting a job after Florida, I applied for a Fellowship at the East-West Center in Hawaii, where I majored in Agronomy & Soil Science through the Food Institute of the East-West Center.  My research at the University of Hawaii was pointed toward tropical forest soils....because I always wanted to be a dirt forester.  The research was in a remote forest off the western tip of Java in Indonesia.  In the meantime, I remained on the Civil Service list where I had been for about 12 years without ever getting a job as a forester as a candidate for federal employment. Eventually the Civil Service gave me an appointment in the Soil Conservation Service in Cut Bank, Montana....but President Ronald Reagan froze the position....so I was "On the road...again!!! " without a job.

The Agency for International Development did give me a plane ticket to travel from Honolulu to Washington D.C. for an interview.  They had received 3000 applications for their latest recruiting class of interns; and after screening out 2000 applications, looked more closely at 1000 of the remainder, decided to interview 200 of those; and to pick 100 for their class of interns.  I was one of the 200 but not a finalist.  They said that USAID didn't have any foresters and didn't have any forestry projects at that time.  Notably, just a few years later USAID had over 30 forestry projects around the world and about 20 forest consultants engaged in them.  Sorry if this sounds like a sour grapes story.  Oh, yes....the US Department of Energy also sent me an airplane ticket while I was in Haiti to interview for a job in Nepal (a few years later) but I didn't get that one, either.  What I did get was an unsolicited telegram from Richard Fussel West to teach a one-year, terminal contract assignment at Cook College, Rutgers.

Out of the blue, Dick West took a chance on me to complete the third year of someone else's contract to teach Forest Mensuration; and Forest Finance & Management.  Renewal of the contract was never an option, because he had promised the job to Dr. Boris Zeide who stayed only a year or two before moving on to the University of Arkansas.   So, it was "On the road....again!!!"   That phrase became the banner masthead at the top of my letterhead, and I would soon become a self-proclaimed Footloose Forester. The next road led to Africa where USAID financed an Environmental Impact Statement.  My title there was Terrestrial and Aquatic Vegetation Specialist to study the effects of proposed dams on the Senegal River.  It was a two-year project but I got only 5 months in one phase, and two or three months in another phase.  There are also a few stories in my chronicles about those episodes. 

Eventually, I started to put the individual stories together into a book, Afghanistan to Zambia: Chronicles of a Footloose Forester.  It was published in 2010.  Since then, I've kept up as a chronicler with general interest stories in LegacyStories.org.  I've always been grateful to them for giving me a life membership; and for the fact that their internal editor allows its members to insert photographs, additions, corrections, and relevant comments even months or years after the initial entry.  I've availed myself that opportunity dozens of times.

Moving forward beyond a year at Cook College and the consultancy in the Senegal River basin of Mauritania, Mali, and Senegal; I took a presumptive career track assignment at NUS Corporation in Pittsburgh.  It was challenging being an internal consultant in a company having 80 other consultants serving the energy sector.  My title was Ecologist but forestry and soil science were my specialties.  During that short 2 1/2 year tenure that was supposed to last until retirement, I did field work in Maryland, New Jersey, North Dakota, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio; with background work pertaining to Texas, Florida, Saudi Arabia and Papua, New Guinea.  The most fun was a field assignment in Venezuela.  But one dark day the Environmental Division of NUS folded up and every one of us were On the road....again!!!   Do you see a theme here?  My next stop was Cape Verde, some 350 miles off the coast of Senegal.

My title changed once again.  Now I was Soil Conservation Specialist, working in torrent control as part of the USAID Watershed Management Project.  It lasted about 2 1/2 years, but long enough for my wife Thu and I to adopt a little, 15 month old girl who we named Lucia.  Lucy is also featured in a few of my chronicles.  There are also photos in the chronicle stories of her natural family, who gave her up to us, some 31 years ago.   Lucy also got to be On the road....again!!! during her growing up years.  She attended school in Haiti, Pennsylvania, Kenya, and Pennsylvania again. 

Haiti came next, for almost 5 years.  My title this time around was Senior Forestry Advisor in another USAID sponsored project.  The Agroforestry Outreach Project was flat-out the best forestry project USAID ever financed; its nursery management components were the most sophisticated in The Third World; and nobody has ever been able to challenge my claims to that effect.   Next up was East Africa, and another USAID assignment.

During the 4-5 years at the Regional Economic Development Services Office for East and Southern Africa (REDSO/EA) my title was Natural Resources/Policy Advisor.  The position allowed me to travel to any country in our zone of responsibility; and I served 13 countries on my agenda, some of them several times.  My countries of assignment included Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Madagascar, Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zambia.  Needless to say, my impetus to remember them in chronicles had a modicum of compulsion.

Upon return to the USA in 1994, I finally settled down to domestic work in forestry.  Not because I wanted to....but because international development work had abandoned me.  Speaking your mind in the wrong place and among the wrong people has its consequences...so early retirement for me.  Except for a month-long consultancy to Russia and yet another USAID project in the Russian Far East, with headquarters in Vladivostok.  Finally, I did a consultancy in El Salvador early in 1995.  I was as an unpaid volunteer consultant but I so loved what I was doing that I worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

Since returning to the USA for the last time, I have been the Moon Township, Pennsylvania forester for 15 years (until 2011), and did other consulting jobs for two other Pennsylvania townships.  In addition, I wrote 40+ land management plans for individual landowners; and participated as a volunteer with the Western Pennsylvania Land Conservancy.  My wife and I still like to travel and we are planning to see more of the American West in 2015.  As I look back over the years, I recall going into 49 of the 50 states; cris-crossing the USA at least 16 times; and sojourning in or through 106 countries and territories.    We can't wait to get ... On the road....again!!!  


*  Update:  Sadly, one of the correspondents in the e-mail exchanges passed away in mid-2015.  Dr. T.F. Ledig went on from Rutgers to become a professor at Yale University, was a world renowned forest geneticist, published over 130 scientific papers, and travelled the world.  Before his passing he was Director, Emeritus of the Forest Genetics Institute of the US Forest Service.

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