Pepper Trail
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Natural History

Pepper Trail


This webpage expresses my lifelong love for the natural world, and my attempts to understand, to celebrate, and to preserve that world, which is our original and only home.

It is an illusion that nature is gentle, and yet there are few environments as nurturing as the deciduous forests of eastern North America. I spent my childhood in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, wandering through the fields and woods with unbridled curiosity. This childhood freedom forever shaped my relationship with nature. My beliefs in the beauty, harmony, intricacy, and boundless power of life are today buttressed both with scientific knowledge and with Buddhist teachings, but they were born in my small boy’s heart as I turned over slimy rocks in a shallow creek, looking for what I could find.

A family trip to Mexico when I was twelve gave me a lifelong love of travel, and of the tropics. Years later, as a graduate student at Cornell University, I was able to indulge these twin passions in my long-term study of the Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock in Suriname, in northern South America. My camp, deep in pristine rainforest, was surrounded by an unimaginable abundance of life, from tarantulas to jaguars to spider monkeys to hundreds of species of birds. It was not an easy place to conduct research, but I gloried in it, with youth’s singleness of purpose. The experience educated me about the intensity of life at the time when I was most equal to the lesson. It forever cured me of judgment with regard to nature. In the jungle, predators, prey, green plants, decomposers, ants, mosquitoes, and parasites all whirl together in utter interdependence, and the staggering beauty of the whole would be lost without the least of them.

Since 1994, my wife, two children, and I have lived in Ashland, Oregon, folded between the foothills of the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains. Here I have learned the humbling lessons of parenthood, have become a writer and poet, and have set my feet on the path of Buddhist awareness. I have also found a fitting environment for my maturity: a landscape not gentle, rather dry, and yet deeply engaging in its age and complexity, in the richness of influences that it has incorporated and made its own. Here I will remain, learning all I can and trying my best to write about it.

To visit my site on the Earth Precepts: principles for a moral relationship with the earth, click here.
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