FIELDTESTED | May-Anne Then, Forestry Researcher

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Passionate and enthusiastic are two words we’d really like to describe May-Anne – “I have a passion for thriving forests, communities, origins, story-telling and I’m on a mission to see where all (or some) of these intersect.” Her studies focus on the disturbance ecology of forests and the social aspects of forestry. She’s only beginning to explore the complex relationships between insects, pathogens and forest health and all of these are inherently connected to local communities and peoples’ interactions with (urban or natural) forests. 

A myth about forestry you would like to debunk?

I think that when people think of ‘forestry’ in North America, the image that often comes to mind is the traditional lumberjack dressed in plaid, chopping down trees. While this still exists in forestry today, I think it’s a lot more than just timber harvesting now. The forest is really just a contextual place where social, economical and ecological relationships intersect, and it brings so much more value than just timber. What excites me is the shift to seeing forests as integral to our lives as part of complex multiple-use landscapes. So this can be ‘natural’ forests, intensively managed forests or even urban greenery in Singapore for example. People are starting to recall the unique deep-rooted histories of natural forests and see the place for forests in our cities as a connection to the natural world.

Share with us what keeps you busy in the day and what keeps you up at night. 

I try to start each day away from busy; in quiet meditation to ground myself in the day’s rhythms. I usually have breakfast with my housemate at our round table, with a book open and planner at the ready. If a word could summarize what keeps me busy in the day and what keeps me up at night, it would be connections.

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Where does your motivation come from? Also, what gets you down?

Injustice gets me down. I feel very deep pains when people are treated unjustly and when the earth is treated without care. Justice to me is care for the vulnerable, it is grace and compassion in action; and extends to the way we treat the world we live in. This is probably why I think it’s important to connect people with forests and story-telling to create meaningful impact.

At the core, my motivation is rooted in my faith in Jesus Christ. It gives me my identity and is rooted in loving grace that frees me to serve with complete hope. Despite all the injustices I see in the world today, I can live and serve knowing that all of my work is adding to something greater, which is ultimately loving, good and redemptive. This hope is what keeps me going.

The one thing you would change about the world?

I struggle with this question, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, it is that there is no silver bullet to effect change everywhere because contexts are so unique. But I suppose somewhere to start is to align our collective wills. In Simmental early this year, among the snow laden trees resembling crystallized giants and amongst the rolling, shimmering hills of white, I pondered this idea of ‘will’. There were many discussions about the challenges behind alternative governance structures in the village, but what emerged was that if the will is strong, everything else will follow. I remember so clearly, right before we dug into our dinner, the forest manager of the local community stood up and said “It would be far cheaper to close the valley, move people to cities, import all the food. but this is not the will” and that was it.

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Tell us a story about one person who made an impact on you and how.

Chaya. She shares beautiful stories of her name on her blog, but to me, I remember thinking Chaya is a ‘Cahaya’ – light – and our paths have continued crossing ever since we met in 2010.

I remember one of our meetings at a coffee shop in historic Gastown, Vancouver. We were pouring over her library loot, chattering excitedly post-disaster emergency relief work, thinking of culture and communities in relation to ecologies. In the background, people from different walks of life pass by for suspended coffees or lattes. Her face lights up with animation with every link that snaps into place and every question raised, it was an incredible space to share. Inspired by all the connections we made together, we packed up our things and walked, savouring each step in the dimming sun as Gastown melted into Chinatown.

Chaya has always inspired me to remember the place – where I am, what space I am in, what my place is here. She forms stories so naturally with context in mind, and shares them so freely, that to walk with her and to experience places with her over tea, conversation and walking is really to be immersed in her stories. We ended that night laughing over congee in a random restaurant we found off on a side street, connecting stories from home with the us here in Chinatown.

What’s an old object that you cherish?

My grandma’s harmonica. In fact, this ‘old object’ has had multiple reincarnations since the original oldie, but it has always been symbolically, grandma’s old harmonica. It’s a haunting constant in the few evenings we spend with her every year. Even without formal music training, her heart always finds a way to sing passionate tunes with spirit. It is the sound of joy, joy joy!

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Famous last words/Words I’m pondering over lately?

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

We are inspired by her earnestness, compassion and ambition, and are proud to have her as a Fieldtester, a group of inspiring friends that regularly test MATTER products in their workplace and travels to help us improve durability and design. May-Anne wears the Sunday Overalls in Leharia Charcoal, Size 1.

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