Carkeek Park | 6.2.18| 11:28am |cloudy | 63°
Today, just before the rains arrived, I made my final observations of my site at Carkeek Park. Despite knowing that I’ll be back to check up on the site and further explore the park, such as the salmon hatchery and the historic orchard (see Land Use History page) I paid extra mind to that around me, appreciating the fresh air and abundance of life.
Final phenology notes and comparative photos can be found as field note images in my Week Nine photo album.
1) How has your perception of your observation site changed through the quarter? Think about how it has changed phenologically, and how your relationship to it has changed accordingly.
A large part of me feels a caretaker to my site: someone responsible for checking up on its growth and wellbeing, but it was not always that way. Early in the quarter my site was special because it was situated on Venema Creek (Piper’s Creek), something that I felt made it unique from any other space I could have selected. Other than the constant lull of the creek, the site was hardly different from any other city park (although I did feel my site was significantly cooler than some alternative options like those nearest to campus).
But then I began paying close attention to a few select species and everything began growing and blooming exponentially. I watched the site come to life as spring sprung and I became invested in it’s progress and wellbeing. Instead of appreciating nature as a whole, I began to appreciate specific species and looked forward to seeing their growth (or demise in two instances), the following week. And every week I discovered new species, convinced they had sprung up within the last week though this likely was not the case. It is this moment of reflection that I realize I could spend years visiting this site and still observe something new with each visit.
2) How has your sense of the Puget Sound Region changed through the quarter? Think about the body of knowledge we have explored, and the wealth of experiences we have had both locally and on travels around the region.
Initially I felt my sense of the Puget Sound Region has not shifted dramatically. I grew up here and have always had a strong sense of appreciation for the region, its variation and its beauty. However, I’ve experienced small shifts in perspective that add up to a new sense of the region. First, I have come to more strongly value the individual landscapes within the region; the differences between coastal lands, the Olympic Mountains, the prairies, the lowlands, the Cascades, and even poderosa forests and shrub steppe. Specifically, I value knowing the role glaciation, tectonic activity and the weather have had (and continue to have) on the region.
On a more intimate level, until now my appreciation has primarily been a result of beauty, however learning the human uses of native plants has taught me just how incredible the Puget Sound Region is. Not only is it beautiful but it can sustain, and has sustained, seemingly endless life forms from humans to fungi to insects. And if sustainably practiced, I believe people could live, at least partially, off the region’s resources today. Conversely, I have also learned just how deeply humans have altered this landscape and I applaud its resilience. At the same time, I recognize that every ecosystem has a tipping point and I find myself wondering just how resilient the Puget Sound Region is. Which returns me back to tectonic activity, noting that at some point in the future the Puget Sound may be an entirely different region with even more complex landscapes and history.
3) What does it mean to intimately know a natural place? Think about this question in terms of the process of “doing natural history” and the outcome of repeated experience in nature. Also think about it in terms of scale—you have done close observation of one site, as well as developed broader appreciation of the range of interconnected ecosystems as one travels across this region). Is there as much to be gained (or more?) from close observation of nature in a city park, as compared to field trips to far flung places or inspiring view points in the mountains?
To intimately know a natural place means to recognize it for more than meets the eye; whether that is beauty, the opposite or something in between. It means to not only recognize it but to understand it to a varying degree. This includes not only knowing species and landscapes and their relationships but being able to notice their specific relationship(s) and changes. An example is the Sitka alder at my site. The abundance of trees would be difficult to miss in the broad canopy, but the 12 inch baby tree situated at the creeks edge is less obvious. Furthermore, I initially thought it to be a Red alder, until I did further research to learn Sikta alders are almost always growing near water. On this note, I have watched individual plants grow, adding or subtracting (likely by human cause) foliage week by week. These valuable and fascinating ecological changes are only visible on an intimate level.
Practicing natural history has taught me that there is so much more to see and enjoy, in even the smallest patches of nature, than meets the eye. In fact, close observation delivers context and understanding to broader observation. An example is learning and observing tree species that grow near water, which tend to be deciduous. As a result, when I drive through a heavily forested region I know that the bright green patches on hillsides are likely high in moisture. I have enough knowledge and experience to envision what they might look like if I were on site. That said I believe there is at least as much to be gained, more in many instances, from close observation as there is from broad observation. And more often than not, the two go hand in hand, complementing one another like a predetermined pair.
4) What do you feel are your most important personal outcomes from this class? What is the value to you of nature observation, and any other skills you have garnered?
This course has provided me with knowledge and skills that I will carry the rest of my life, which I attribute to the immersive learning experience. I feel the education system has strayed so far from practical knowledge and application but this class returns to the roots. My knowledge of an Indian plum does not come from a textbook, it comes from seeing, touching, smelling and tasting the plant which I will now forever recognize an Indian plum. This applies to nearly all other species studied throughout the course.
Additionally, I am inspired by the realization that anyone can be a naturalist. While it took taking this course for me to understand that, I now realize that all it takes is interest, practice and perhaps occasional patience. In a time when humans are straying so far from nature as we become more technology driven and urbanized, it has never been so important for people to maintain connections to nature. I believe there should be a greater push for recent and coming generations to observe, understand and build such connections. Lastly, being a naturalist keeps me curious, inspired and consequently always searching for more. Months ago I claimed to have not liked birds. I did not not understand their appeal or fascination, other than I believe animals are inherently neat creatures. Earlier this week, my curiosity manifested into birding in the rain; I understand why this course comes so highly recommended.
5) Has your overall perception of nature and natural history, and the place of humans in nature, changed this quarter?
This course reminded me of two things. First, massive changes in the land or species die offs are not new, in fact nature is always changing and evolving, however humans have altered nature so greatly that more than species have disappeared. Locally, what stands out the most is the altering of the natural waterways. Not only did plant species vanish, but entire rivers, streams and native cultures; the connection to nature and its cascading effects were largely severed. While referencing the Puget Sound Region, this occurred all over the nation and even beyond. As a result we see a massive disconnect between people and nature today, when in reality the two can coexist and did so for hundreds of years. Thus in my mind natural history is more frequently tied to humans than not.
On that note, humans are part of nature despite an era that largely reflects separatism. While acts acknowledging nature feel small in a world afflicted by climate change, movements toward sustainability, conservation, restoration and living off the land are seemingly rising. Humans are realizing that we have grown separate and distant from something that we are so closely tied to, and that inspires me. There is an increasing opportunity to rekindle the connection between nature and humans and I feel that’s what this class has sparked. Despite having always valued nature, natural history has further strengthened my values and I believe naturalists (humans) have a critical role to play to in the rekindling of humans and nature.