This last Saturday, the second-year Ecology class (Biol 2170) ventured into the convoluted geometry of one of the few remaining cottonwood stands along the South Thompson River. Working with Tod Haughton from BC Parks, our purpose was to document cottonwood regeneration (the number of seedlings and saplings) in relation to the abundance of reed canarygrass both within the cottonwood stands and immediately adjacent to the stands. All day as we maneuvered our way through tangled shrubs and tall grasses, I couldn’t help but think, “This is why I do what I do.” University students working their way through percent cover estimates, forced to physically encounter the living, breathing, tangled embrace of a riparian system. The fact that the data they collected might help establish a baseline for cottonwood restoration made the day rich in possibilities.
At the end of the day, we meandered out of the riparian zone, long shadows falling on the contours of a landscape shaped over time by the waters of the South Thompson River. The profile of valley hills peaked above a line of shrubs in the far distance. This is my home, my life, in October and I am glad.
Traditons grow easy in the rhythmic cycle of an academic year. This year marks my 7th autumn teaching at TRU and my 7th field trip with botany students into the unique environment of Placid Lake, just north of the border of Wells Gray Park. There is an immediacy, a compelling drive, that I feel anytime I immerse myself within the activity of a botany field trip. Names ring through the wet forest on our way into the fen. This year, so many students want to make the trip that we need more help both from other faculty and family. My second year botany class remains one of my favorite classes to teach, and the embedded field trip is an important part of its charm.
Shared experiences–whether it be the bright sun and mounding Sphagnum in the fen or the pounding water coming off of Moul Falls–binds the members of Biol 2280 in a way that no classroom time ever could. I feel like all I need to do is point the crowd in the right direction and this shared spirit evolves as a natural consequence of the 36 hours we spend together, as a group, intent on exploring the natural history of the park. Each year, I drive south, away from our education and research center, with a deep sense of regret that I have to return to the larger confines of my life. At home, before I begin the marking, I take the time to finish the journal pages that I began admist this year’s cohort of botany students.
Bird nests and the bright colour of bog birch occupy me on the way out of Placid Lake.
In late August, I drive south from BC across the Columbia River basalts, up and over the Continental Divide and into the high wilderness of Yellowstone National Park for the annual gathering of the field journalers. A late summer interlude in the expansiveness of Yellowstone National Park amidst a group of women who share my passion for documenting the natural world is a luxury I don’t often experience.
For three days, I alternate between the open views of the Hayden Valley (complete with sightings of the Canyon Wolf pack and the grizzly mom with her two cubs) and the architectural complexity of the Yellowstone River’s Grand Canyon.
This time of year in Yellowstone is dominated by the extravagances of large mammals in rut. The slow excesses of bison never fail to startle me out of complacency. Here, the bison are living and large, not the relict remnants of an extinct ecosystem. I can’t imagine Yellowstone without them. Peg says, “They finish the landscape.”
I wonder what has been lost from landscapes where their hooves no longer tread.