In 1836, John Cook Was Hired By The Government To Survey Waterways In Western Pennsylvania. In One Area, He Noted A Beautiful Forest With Many White Pine Trees And A Nearby River Suitable For Getting The Logs To Market. He Returned To The Area Later That Year And Purchased Hundreds Of Acres. Fulfilling His Dream, He Began Logging The Pines And Floating Them Down The River, But He Wasn’T Greedy. He Intentionally Left Certain Sections Of The Forest Untouched Not Because They Were Difficult To Get To, But Because He Wanted To Preserve Them. Demonstrating Remarkable Restraint, He Even Preserved The Ancient Forest On The Hill Behind The Sawmill.
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John Cook Fathered Seventeen Children, Ten With His First Wife And Seven With His Second. His Son Anthony Inherited His Father’S Business Skills And His Love For The Forest. The Younger Cook Acquired Many More Acres Of Forest, Built His Home In The Middle Of The Ancient Forest, And Refused To Allow Any Logging There. After He Died In 1891, His Son, Anthony Wayne Cook, Also A Forester, Was Determined To Preserve The Vast Forest Around The Family Home, But Other Members Of The Family Were More Interested In Financial Gain.
In 1910, The Thought Arose That The Area Should Become A Park. But It Took Seventeen Years To Convince The State Legislature. Anthony Wayne Cook’S Son, Anthony E. Cook, Who Still Lives On The Property, Documented The History Of This Political Battle In His Blog The Cook Forest. The Arguments For And Against The Park Were Economic: Some People Encouraged The Cook Family To Cut The Remaining Old-Growth Forest To Provide Jobs; Others Promoted The Park As A Way To Develop The Local Economy Through Tourism.
When I See The Many Visitors Who Have Come Here Just To Enjoy The Forest, I Know Those Who Argued For Development Through Tourism Were Right. Miles And Miles Of Driving On My Way To And From This Forest Took Me Through Town After Town Where The Original Forest Was Completely Logged Out. Today Those Towns Are Economically Depressed. No One Wants To Rent A Cabin Or Invest In Real Estate There, But The Towns Surrounding The Cook Forest Are Thriving. Many People Work In Real Estate, Restaurant, And Entertainment Businesses That Cater To Ecotourists. The Chairman Of The University Of Montana’S Economics Department Insists That Wild Lands’ Greatest Economic Value Lies In Maintaining Its Wildness. These Lands Will Only Grow In Value As The Years Go By.
Deep Inside The Large Cook Forest, It Is Possible To Feel That You Are Indeed In A Wild Place. I Lay On My Back On The Forest Floor And Looked Up At The Canopy Far Above. I Heard Only The Sounds Of Nature Birds, Insects, Wind In The Leaves And Imagined The Network Of Fungal Strands And Plant Roots Underneath Me, Tunneling Through The Damp Soil. I Know Enough Biology To Imagine Water Entering The Tiny Root Hairs, Then Moving Into Vessels In The Larger Roots, And Finally Into Vessels In The Stem. Water Molecule Linked To Water Molecule For The Entire Height Of The Tree’S Trunk, Drawn Upward Toward The Leaves Far Above Me Where The Sun Shines And Sugars Are Made. Water Is Needed To Make The Sugar, But Most Of It Escapes Through The Leaves Into The Atmosphere. Imagine A Molecule’S Journey, From The Dark Depths Up To The Bright Air! With A Certain Type Of Attention, I Could Feel The Liquid Moving Beneath Me In The Soil, Around Me In The Stems, And Above Me In The Leaves, The Vapor Finally Circling Back To Enter My Own Dark Bronchial Passageways.
I Had Yet Another View Of The Forest, And Felt Biologically Connected To It, When I Considered The Bacteria Essential To Both The Forest Ecosystem And My Bodily System. The Soil Beneath My Back Teemed With These Microbes, And These Trees Wouldn’T Be Here If Not For The Important Work Being Done By Them Decomposing The Dead And Converting Nutrients Into Forms They Can Use. Likewise, My Dark Gut Was Filled With Bacteria Working To Help Digest My Breakfast. Bacterial Cells Are Small, But There Are Ten Times As Many Bacterial Cells In My Body As Human Cells. My Skin, Too, Is Covered With A Thin Layer Of Microbes. The Species And Counts Vary From Person To Person, But Forty-Eight Different Kinds Live On The Average Person, Just On The Surface. The Trees, Too, Host A Layer Of Bacteria On Their Bark And Leaves. When I Touch These Trees, I Leave Some Of My Bacteria And Acquire Some Of Theirs. I May Ingest Some While Eating My Lunch. We Are Just Beginning To Understand This Invisible Ecosystem That Is All Around Us And Within Us.
This Forest Is Rich With Lessons From History, Art, And Science. Philosophers Call This Kind Of Aesthetic Appreciation, Combined With Scientific Understanding, “Serious Beauty.”
Cook Forest Is Seriously Beautiful.
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