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> The Last Hike of the Summer, Lessons of the summer hit home
post Aug 31 2005, 12:09 AM
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30 August 2005

School starts tomorrow.

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As I biked home today it made me remeber the last hike of the summer. I went because it was a beautiful day and the views from the top of Mt. Chocorua were awesome as you can see. As I walked though I was amazed that what I was really paying close attention to was the ground and the smaller things along the trail.

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For the first time in my hiking life I wasn't only thinking of rushing to the top I was picking out things like this frog. And not just one of them--I saw at least ten as well disguised as this one. I heard them moving in the leaves and went to look for them and I scanned the ground as I walked looking to find what I would normally overlook.

For those that don't know I spent the summer doing very intricate work looking for the very special at a very close range. With scientist Peter Ray I crouched on a board for hours a day looking for just the right kind of moss to pull from the tundra. Peter's wife Donie, and the scientist I was sent to work with in Alaska, described it as looking at the tundra as a little rain forest. The tundra is amazing...when you get really close. Our work had us often less than 6 inches away and it is incredible when you look under a tussock and find 15 different types of things living down there. Donie and Peter showed me to appreciate that the tundra is an amazing environment and as I hiked I realize that I was looking at things more closely because of their influence.

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Some things like this little snake were not as pleasant to notice as the frog. Especially when I thought I was chasing the sound of a frog but instead found my nose peering around a low bush to come face to face with this ferocious 15 inch creature. But noticing all the little living life along the trail really made it much more enjoyable.

I have even begun to notice more in my house. A recent journal page includes sketches of the bumble bee and earwig carcasses that my house spiders have been leaving behind. I knew that I had tons of webs in the corners of my house but I did not expect to find so many remnants dropped beneath them. I suppose a true biologist would know this already, and it does make sense but the spiders only eat the abdomens. They drop the rest below so the bumble bee looked ok until you turned it over and found that the soft underbelly had been dined upon. I don't know why the spiders would eat the exoskeleton when I too throw it out when I have a lobster.

And, dear students, if I haven't scared you off yet, you may be surprised that my favorite picture of the trip was not the one at the top of this post but this one....

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Nearing the end of the trip I began to see this little orange mushrooms. The picture doesn't quite capture it because the brown was darker and the orange much more brilliant. The orange blended as forest floor colors have a way of doing but it also stood out because of the fleeting nature of any mushroom. I saw many but I was particularly struck by this one that is exhibiting gravitropism. Moving up away from the ground not base on light but on gravity. What a miraculous world where such small and seemingly insignificant beings can do such amazing things.

My hope for the year is that I can help my students experience some of the pure joy and excitement that comes from looking a bit more closely at our natural world. I'm excited for them to get here tomorrow.
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