Standing in the Rain, Transformed by Forests

Reflection from Forestry Alum Anukriti Hittle, MF ’92

Standing in the pouring rain in my jean jacket and Converse All-Star high tops (I owned no “forestry clothes”), I could well have been walking down New York City’s upper west side, where I had studied International Relations. In fact, I was coring loblolly pine trees for a dendrology class taught by Professor Dan Richter. Earlier, when I asked if we were really going out in the rain, with his inimitable enthusiasm he said, “It’s the best time to see the interaction between water and trees.”

Hittle and Professor Dan Richter on campus, summer 2022

I know that Professor Richter, who also taught me soils and tree identification, always got a kick out of saying how he had taught someone who lived in mega cities—Calcutta and New York—about trees. In fact, both Profs Stambaugh and Richter must have seen some potential in this life-long city dweller, whose exposure to the natural world was limited to visiting family in the Great Indian Desert. They both made a special effort to bring me to Duke School of Forestry, and it was their dedicated phone calls and letters of invitation that sealed the deal for me. And of course, another big reason I went to the Duke School of Forestry was the Duke Forest itself.

Hittle (right) with students at COP20 in Lima, Peru in 2014

While working on climate policy in Washington D.C., I had caught a glimpse of how forests could address many of the environmental and climate change problems of the world. But it was that rainy moment in the forest, and similar pivotal ones that followed, which changed the trajectory of my life.  I was transformed that day, soaked by the rain, taking in its beauty and complexity.  Whether teaching about climate change in St Louis and taking students to the UN’s climate negotiations where the Paris Agreement was signed, or working for the state government of Hawai‘i where I helped policymakers understand the role of forests in addressing climate change and resilience, it was my forestry degree from Duke that made such work possible.

The Duke Forest was instrumental in the formation of my enduring love for the beautiful eastern forests. The big “camouflaged” sycamores, ashes green and white, mighty beeches, straight and beautiful tulip trees. And of course, the subtle and colorful haze of dogwoods and redbuds in the spring, the black locusts in the early summer, and winter botany in all its skeletal glory. I imprinted on this forest, and afterwards, everywhere I lived was weighed against this first forest and what it had taught me.

Hittle (second from left) with students at COP22 in Marrakech in 2016

I recently moved back to Washington DC, a city suspended over those eastern forests. Being so close, I had the pleasure of coming home to Duke. When visiting the Forest team, I learned the Duke Forest is not actually part of the Nicholas School. I can only imagine the pressures there must be to develop the land. Yet, the work of the small staff, and the existence of this forest continues to make experiences like mine possible.

I hope we can show how much this forest means to those of us who studied here and the power it gave us to affect our communities and our world. Please join me in re-engaging with the Duke Forest, and helping to keep it alive for those students and forest-lovers yet to come, and people whose lives will continue to be transformed, and transforming.

Anukriti Sud Hittle
Master of Forestry
Class of 1992

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