Isak Kvam is spending his summer at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory
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I drove out of Stony Run last Friday night with the car pointed towards Sioux Falls to catch an early flight the following morning to Denver, CO. Upon landing, I faced west to see the Rocky Mountains gleaming with white snow. My destination: Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory; this was the small, rustic field station I was a student at last summer, and this year I have returned as a research assistant for a lab out of the University of Arizona.
After the flight and a bus ride to West Central Colorado, I trudged through snow towards my cabin. I could feel the altitude affect me as my heart and lungs sped up to deliver more oxygen to my body. A shift to 10,000 feet in altitude is a noticeable difference after just leaving Granite Falls!
I remembered, too, earlier this spring when a friend at college asked me why I was going to Colorado to study biology this summer. I explained to him that as far as field work goes, doing research in a small town composed of 140 scientists in the summer (and one brave caretaker in the winter) surrounded by mountains, pines, and wildflowers is a pretty good place to do it. The work experience is enlightening, the hikes on weekends refreshing, and the campfires at night entertaining.
“Yeah, yeah, but why do you study biology?” the student asked. At first I was stumped. Why study biology at all? After some thought I’ve come to the conclusion that learning about the diversity of life on earth has become somewhat of a passion, and I think a lot of people share this value of appreciating and questioning the natural world around them.
It’s always been easier to recognize nature in places like the Boundary Waters, but with time I’ve begun to understand a similar appreciation regardless of the location. Spending time in the tractor, grabbing a bite downtown by the Minnesota River, or having a cup of coffee on your porch can inspire plenty of questions worth answering: is that American Robin starting to appear earlier each spring? Does tilting its head help to listen to worms move about in the soil? Does it prefer certain trees to others when building a nest? We have learned a great deal about the world we share, but there are still many facets of nature of which we have only scratched the surface.
Over the course of the summer I will be writing about my experiences in Colorado through both scientific work and recreation. My time here last summer not only taught me a lot about the environment, but also a sense of place. In any case, I hope that this column may spark an interest of our relationship to our world and its curiosities.
Isak Kvam is a student at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa where he is majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies. He graduated from YME High School in 2011.