Lake Fort Smith is one of the more popular hiking and boating destinations in my area. There the Ozark Highlands Trail, a 218 mile chain of interconnected trails and collectively the second longest in the state (the Ouachita Trail being the longest at 223 miles). They must be growing, because before I checked I could have sworn the Ozark trail was approximately 140 miles–it was…15 years ago? Congrats to the volunteers that changed that. I would love to conquer it one day.
The Lake itself has plenty of other trails, though normally I hike the first few miles of the Ozark Highlands Trail. This time I took to a web connecting different campsites and service roads. Surprisingly it keep me going for an hour before I needed to head back. I quit, but the trail sure didn’t.
Looking at my photos later, I realized I had great examples for how to view a forest as a civilian (for the lack of a better term) and as a biologist.
The main difference between a civilian view and a biologist view is scale. The average person walks into nature and sees immense and colorful features like lakes and large flowers, how tall the trees are, and the general forested landscape. The layperson is essentially a tourist in nature.
A biologist, amateur or professional, learns to see nature at a small scale as much as the large. I’m just being relative here–“small” isn’t even that small, but things small and obscure enough that the average hiker overlooks because they don’t know to keep an eye out for it.
In my biology program at my local university, I had a few professors that taught classes that taught students the transition from civilian to natural historian: entomology, geology, plant biology, plant ecology, dendrology, plant taxonomy, and I’m sure plenty other courses. Comparing the photos in this post to the subsequent one illustrate the view of a general nature appreciator to a learned mind’s eye while strolling.
The view anyone should see is the one that lets you know where you out to be going…in more ways than one? Trails can still get you lost.
What did many of us do as kids when we had exposure to nature? To the streams!
A part of me wonders if I’m making poor word choices and someone might be offended by this post because they think I’m insinuating something negative by “civilian” or “amateur,” so I’ll take a moment to clarify that nature and science are all about wonder and learning–to some degree in the greater scheme of things, survival–and there is nothing wrong with being a beginner to the learning process or not bothering at all and just enjoying and respecting the environment. I simply celebrate both the sensual joy of the outdoors and the intellectual pursuit of how everything comes together.