As a first-year graduate student pursuing my masters in environmental science and biology, I can’t help but pause in the midst of the copious amounts of reading and papers and just think. And when I think about all the classes and professors and advisors and simply awesome people who have come into my life along the way, I am taken back to distant memories that first prompted me to explore the natural world.
Imagine the rush of brimming waves, foaming crests and the crashing of the Atlantic Ocean on the shores of Maine. Flying above the beach and water are the seagulls that you and I probably are all too familiar with.
Of course, you can’t forget the classic image of little kids running along the edge of the sand and tides, with unhindered determination to set their kites to the skies. And then you can’t forget the excitement of scooping up sand, looking for sand dollars and finding the occasional crab. And the lighthouses, those are remarkable beacons for this landscape. Sand castles, young artists in the making, sculpting giant sand lobsters and lighthouses on the beach, only to be erased by the pending tides: these are just some of my earliest memories of being immersed in the incredibly dynamic world of aquatic biology. But there is more to this story, and I bet many of you who are reading this right now can relate to these experiences.
There was a certain person who inspired me to turn over every rock, to look very carefully at the scoop of sand in my hand, and to not be overconfident; that was my Papa. I can remember so vividly the days when he would take me for adventures in York Beach, Maine
; these adventures could take place on the boulders or in the water (and on more than one occasion he would pick me up and I would dive into the waves, thinking I was a dolphin). There were so many times when we would sit out on the porch of our cottage, which happened to be right across the street from the ocean, and watch the moon rise. Papa would explain to me that if you watch very carefully you could see the moon climb higher into the sky; that simply fascinated my 7-year-old mind. And he would always say, “Hey, Katherine. I’m a genius.” Ever since I realized he was a genius, I wanted nothing more than to follow in his footsteps.
This last year I lost my hero, my Papa, my fellow adventurer, to multiple myeloma. These past years as an undergraduate and now graduate student have been a journey, not just in my own research and discovering new aspects of aquatic ecology, but in coping with cancer and learning that I have to carry on and pursue my passion.
I want everything I do to be for the sake of ecological integrity, furthering knowledge, and for carrying on my hero’s legacy of the spirit of adventure. And adventure, I have had so many adventures already: from electro-shocking for rock bass in Sandy Creek, N.Y., to sampling coastal wetlands in Canada and New York, and the list definitely does not end there.
To me, environmental science is about wanting to get your waders on and get dirty, and to have fun doing so. This field is so focused on actual applications of what we read in textbooks. Go out in the stream and use a kick-net to collect bugs; dissect a yellow perch on a make-shift table in the middle of a parking lot; use your GPS and map out a pine forest; the list is endless. And that spirit of adventure and curiosity is embedded in everything I have done thus far.
It brings me such joy to be able to go to class and do my papers and thesis proposal and to truly love doing all those things. Where I am so far in my chosen field of study, I hope to be able to adventure into the depths of Lake Ontario and study the effects of round gobies and other invaders on native fish populations. So, to all those adventurers out there: get out there and experience the diversity of life that surrounds us everyday.
Photos in the story:
A nice view of Bar Harbor (Photo: K. Bailey)
Pitcher plant, a carnivorous type commonly found in wetlands and bogs (Photo: K. Bailey)
Bowfin (Amia calva) (Photo: K. Bailey)