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On the Importance of Paying Attention

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” ― Mary Oliver

The work of paying attention. We dendrochronologists are specialists in this as we scrutinize our rings and find the patterns within. It is our endless and proper work. Mary always says it best. The work of paying attention however does not stop at the rings – the chronologies we develop connect us to time, place and if we are paying attention to each other. The role of community is oftentimes overlooked in science, and instead the value is placed on major discoveries, the publishing of papers and individual achievements. However, for me the role of community has been central in any of my scientific pursuits. How we engage with it as active participants and foster it to be an inclusive and safe space for all is like the tending of a garden. It takes sustained effort, some toil and importantly tenderness.

My own journey to dendrochronology started as it often does – not knowing a damn thing! An observation, a question and a wondering if trees could hold the answer. This journey, armed with a few papers and increment borer thrust me into my first tree-ring lab and the community of teachers and learners therein. I was so proud of my samples, collected on a dune complex along a wild beach on a distant island archipelago off British Columbia’s north coast. Little did I know this was the easy part. All that came after, came through the power of community – those rich in knowledge and skills and willing to share them. Decades later I had an academic colleague ask me why I bothered to teach at the North American Dendroecological Fieldweek. To do so was to be rich in knowledge and skills and willing to share them as others had done for me. I realized in thinking about this answer that this was my act of tending the garden of community.

As I work in increasingly adjacent fields to dendrochronology the role of community is even more important to me. How often do I measure tree-rings these days? Certainly not enough, but enough to be utterly thankful for the Coo Recorder tutorial Stockton Maxwell put online, as an example. The roles we play in this are as individual as we are. Whether through transferring technical skills, being involved in a Society, teaching at field camps, or fighting for diversity, equity and inclusivity - it is a form of sharing knowledge and skill. The Dendro Hub, as conceived of and created by Joe and made whole by all our contributions is a form of tending the garden. To pay attention [to community], this is our endless and proper work.

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