"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Restoration Ecology and EOLYN

We just got out from under a major tropical depression – that means lots and lots of rain – and the sun is out again, to the delight of all creatures great and small. I took a nice morning hike yesterday along the Wilson, Melissa and Water Trails, about a 3 hour loop through primary forest, secondary forest, and abandoned pasture.

The Water Trail cuts through land recently acquired by Las Cruces, about 40 hectares of mixed habitat, all in various stages of recuperation. Las Cruces is unique among tropical research stations in that it is not tucked away deep in the uncharted territory of primary forest. Las Cruces is a large forest fragment in a fragmented landscape, an area that was once covered in primary forest but is now primarily devoted to pasture and coffee cultivation, with a few patches of forest here and there. So research at Las Cruces is, for the most part, devoted to restoration ecology, the study of how to recuperate trashed habitats.

During the last 10-15 years, Las Cruces has grown, acquiring three adjacent properties. The first of these, Melissa’s Meadow, used to be pastureland and now supports a thriving secondary forest. The most recent property, where the Water Trail is found, still has large areas of abandoned pasture with tall grasses, but you can see the trees coming up here and there as the forest begins to reclaim its home.

I find it encouraging, in an era of so much destruction, that there are places in this world where restoration and recuperation has already begun. Close to my Kansas City home, we have Jerry Smith Park and other sites devoted to prairie restoration, such as the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. All over the world, places are being set aside – however small or humble - to bring back what we’ve lost, or almost lost.

Since all things in my life seem to relate back to my novel, I found myself thinking the other day as I hiked along the Water Trail, about Eolyn and how her story is also one of near extinction and restoration. Eolyn is the lone guardian of a rich cultural tradition that has almost been lost to her people, the tradition of the magas. Akmael shares this status, though it is rarely explicitly stated in the book. He is the only mage warrior of his generation, a man capable of integrating magic with warfare, the lone heir to a tradition once shared by thousands. Their forbearers were destroyed by war and intolerance, and now it is up to them – if they value these cultural traditions – to find a way to bring back what has been lost.

Restoration is not an easy task for Eolyn and Akmael, just as it is not an easy task for us. There are countless forces that work against them as they try to forge a friendship - and a future for their magic - against seemingly impossible odds. I'd love to go on and talk a little about whether they succeed, and why or why not, but of course I'd just be giving the plot away if I did!

Today's photo is a view of Melissa's Meadow, surrounded by primary forest. The "meadow" is no longer a meadow, but a stand of secondary forest that, at only 10 years of age, is nearly indistinguishable from the surrounding stand of primary forest. Melissa's Meadow is in the center of the photo, a triangular patch of forest that is somewhat lighter in color than the surrounding canopy. (If you click on the photo, you should be able to see a larger version to pick out the details.) It is also shorter - you can just barely see the line that marks the border between the two forests. Of course, if you hike through these habitats, you will see they are very different. Melissa's is packed with small fast-growing tree species, with an open canopy and dense undergrowth, while the adjacent primary forest has very large trees, a closed canopy and very few plants on the forest floor.