There’s a phenomenon science students experience. Perhaps there’s an inspirational, rare term assigned to it though I do not know what that would be. The landscape is no longer a cohesive environment of greenery and blotchy earth colors punctured by charismatic creatures and dramatic waterfalls. It…becomes millions of things that non-sciency friends rare their eyebrows at.
I’ve used Unearthed Comic’s illustration in the past and I’ll probably use it again, but this time around I’ll point out The Biologist’s Garden’s post, which compares a scenery seen by a civilian versus the same scenery seen by a biologist–amateur or professional.
Beyond that, here’s the alternate version of my Lake Fort Smith hike: the Wandering Eye and Fine-Tuning Mind a.k.a. scientist version.
Sometimes seeing the details of the landscape means seeing smaller flowers (especially in the spring), less colorful flowers, more stealthy critters, dead tissue, fungi, or simply being able to name things adds detail to your mental and physical view of the world. Often this is from the class of Insecta and should not be underestimated–they practically rule the world and we’re ignorant subjects.
However, to be specific to Lake Fort Smith around midday and midsummer, there’s a lot of a very distracting kingdom of residents….By this I mean what I’ve heard professors and graduate students say one should never take a mycologist on a hike for they will forever be distracted by discovery.
So clearly I went on an hour or so hike and my eyes flew from one thing–ahem, fungi–to another. It happens. My favorite statement to share with whoever is hiking with me is, “I was distracted by nature!”
But there is one other element to the scientist’s view of the outdoors. To show that I will bring back a photo of a creek landscape from part I:
Part I’s view:
- A quaint stream.
- Let’s see what kind of frogs, crawfish, fish, and bugs we can find!
- Grass, trees, moss, ferns.
Part II’s view:
- Why are the ferns only on the hillside? Ferns prefer shade and moisture.
- Indeed, let’s see what kind of frogs, crustaceans, mollusks, fish, invertebrates, we can find! Bring a microscope and prepare a slide to look at algae and other freshwater microbes, too!
- What type of grass is that? One type looks like a miniature version of river cane–does this also prefer frequent flood zones? What kind of disturbance allowed grass to grow despite a full canopy? Is it on a thin layer of soil on top of the stream’s rocks and thus can’t support anything other than grass?
- How many kinds of fungi are here? Where there’s a tree there’s a dozen fungi hiding somewhere (especially slime molds and mycorrhizae, the fungi that coat or attach to plant roots and exchange nutrients).
- What types of rocks are here and how did they form? (Arkansas has a lot of limestone due to being a part of the ocean in not-so-far geological history.) What does the type of rock mean for the plants?
Essentially your brain runs on questions, trivia, and connecting ideas while being astounded by how amazing it all is–the big picture and what’s immediately in front of you. One of my ecology professors kept calling it, “reading the landscape.” Kind of scientific and yet mystical.