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The Big Picture

August 03, 2021

By Isabella Connerton-Nevin

This summer was a summer of “returning” for many people, including myself. The return to some normalcy before all of our lives’ upheaval--small gatherings, summer pastimes--also meant my return to the Aspen Global Change Institute for the summer, and a return to what began two years ago. I began my work with AGCI as a rising junior in high school, newly interested in environmental science and looking for a way to become involved. Now, as I pack my things and ready myself for college, I still have the same curiosity, but it is now supported by a partnership I will carry into my life.

My very first field day working with AGCI in 2019 took me to the Spring Valley site of the iRON network, where I participated in a tree survey and learned to read the secrets found in the details of pinyons and junipers. It was only fitting that this year, for my final summer as a high school intern with AGCI, my primary project focused on that same Spring Valley site and its health. My project encompassed soil moisture levels at the Spring Valley site and water limits of big sagebrush, specifically permanent wilting point in relation to those moisture levels. Through readings that ventured beyond what I came across in high school classes, I delved into the world of scientific research and papers. I reached a new level of understanding of the more minute world of soil moisture, permanent wilting point, field capacity, and the resilience of sagebrush in the face of increasingly dry conditions. Sage had always been around me as a child, and like the field work I experienced two summers before, my project opened my eyes to old surroundings which I now, newly, better understood. This year, however, was more elevated in regards to my overall experience.


Author (left) cores a tree at Smuggler Mtn while fellow intern
Rachael Jones (right) takes DBH. Image Credit: AGCI

One of the field days that I, AGCI mentor Elise, and the other AGCI 2021 summer interns took part in took us to the iRON site on Smuggler Mountain, one of the many sites in the iRON network I got to see for the first time this summer. Over the course of the day, we were introduced to Adam McCurdy, Forest and Climate Director at ACES, who helped us identify the trees at the site and core trees he selected. I had cored trees before during my prior AGCI internship, but that day on Smuggler I was working in tandem with two other interns, Rachael and Hiromi, to core and take the DBH of the trees while also learning from our surroundings: this summer I was introduced to others who were learners like me, and formed a comradery with them. I had worked with other interns before, but this year we grew closer. We learned of each other’s projects, our aspirations, and what had brought us to AGCI. We passed the time in carpools sharing our favorite foods, and stories from our childhoods.

Additionally, I had previously met some other AGCI staff during office visits and the occasional field day, but this year I was able to meet and converse with almost all of AGCI’s outstanding staff and gain a better understanding of AGCI’s holistic ethos. I had done field work before, but this year I did more. This summer’s experience was elevated, and all tied together with a project that, yet again, enabled me to expand my awareness about the space I occupied. I found myself identifying the subspecies of sagebrush on hikes, coupled now with the knowledge of their workings below the ground.

In my last reflections I talked about the little things, and how they became clear during my time at AGCI. I entered junior year tuned in to the finer details to which ecological knowledge draws the eye, and the interconnectedness of it all. This, year, however, offered the breadth that allowed me to connect those details to a larger, grander scheme. This summer, everything seemed much bigger.