By Kathryn Wrigley
Colors burst forth from the trees. It is fall. Or so my Instagram feed, chocked full of apple cider donuts and flaming red trees, portends.
I am soaking in the beige and pale yellow of my desk in the University of Vermont’s Aiken building. The first-year Field Naturalists appear sporadically to study, still in the midst of their first-semester field courses. I’m square in the mid-semester of my second year.
My field work from the summer seems like a dream as plot data fills in the squares of Excel spreadsheets – the ostensibly dull side of the field ecologist’s life. Yet I gain a certain excitement from all the numbers. I’m a detective, a quantifying detective. I see patterns on the landscape during the summer. Will they emerge from my data? Will I find an unexpected pattern?
Since I do not have the brisk fall air to keep me alert and awake, coffee and classical music fuel me. Oddly enough, this inside work is why I am here at school. At age 15, I swore to myself I would never work inside. I worked outside for the next 15 years. During my time in recreation management, I wondered about the ecological aspects of low-impact recreation. What were the effects of backcountry rock quarries? What were the impacts of mountain bike trails? Were rock climbers threatening rare plants?
For my masters project I delve into low-impact recreation as I explore whether glading, clearing in the trees where skiers can make multiple linked turns, has an effect on wildlife habitat suitability. I am inside, studying the outside. Working for all those years outside led me to realize that humans and landscapes cannot be managed separately. In the spring, I hope to leave this beige and yellow world to work for an organization that focuses on the importance of the ecological and social aspects of conservation.