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The Little Things

August 07, 2019

By: Isabella C.N.

In any of my prior experiences in the field of environmental science, I've come to learn that it has the profound capability to shift one's perspective on the very things in their own backyard. In an area of study that concerns the entire world with which we are surrounded, including systems both natural and human, I found it nearly impossible to be unaffected by the information I studied. Soon the buses and cars in which I rode, the birds outside my windows, the devices I used, and even the very food I ate were newly viewed through the lens of environmental impact. Such an instant connection to everyday life is what I think led me on the path to this internship.

I first found the Aspen Global Change Institute while at a career fair at my high school, walking in seemingly perpetual loops of possible futures that began to blend together as I tried to find booths that piqued my interest. It was then that I met Elise Osenga, a research coordinator with AGCI, who was asking students questions related to Environmental Science in exchange for a prize. Then an AP Environmental Science student, I approached the booth and earned a wooden pin engraved with the words "Global Changemaker," now fastened proudly to the pocket of my denim jacket, and a piece of paper with Elise's email. Two months later I was walking through sagebrush at Spring Valley, carrying in my backpack a hammer and tree tags, most of which would be hammered into the over 70 trees that would be measured that day. I had also met Emily-- who, with her expertise in forestry and her friendliness, made the field day all the more fun and informative. Soon I was at work tagging and measuring the trees of the plot, identifying disturbances with the knowledge that Elise and Emily had shared, and hammering the tree tags into pinyons and junipers.

During the time spent at the test site I learned more about what is revealed by the appearances of trees, specifically in a pinyon-juniper forest, than I ever would have known, as well as what is revealed within a tree. Before leaving, Emily cored one of the largest junipers within the plot--and upon taking out the core, showed me how the rings could be used to learn about not only the tree's age but also the natural history of the area. As the distance between rings decreased, it indicated a dryer season within the valley, and the past drought that I had seen and lived through was displayed right before me in the rings of this juniper tree. It wasn't long before this information, too, began to connect to my real life. On family hikes I would point out the bareness of bark that meant the rubbing of an ungulate, and I took note on my walk home from work of the cheat grass that had spread over my path. My perspective began to shift yet again with what I had learned, just as how kneeling in an understory to tag a tree puts into focus the smaller things. Blades of grass become individual rather than collective, and the insects that scurry below become less minuscule. With environmental science, it's the little things that I finally notice.

Isabella C.N. is a junior in high school in the Roaring Fork Valley. Her interest in environmental science led her to join AGCI as their 2019 summer high school intern.