“And, dear cuz, I like thinking about the two of us marveling at the same moon…” This message showed up last Friday afternoon. It was in response to a Facebook post I put up about a full moon run a friend and I did the night before. We had run up Green Mountain, just west of downtown Boulder, on trails covered in a foot of snow and illuminated only by our headlamps. We arrived at the summit just in time to see the moon peeking above the horizon and welcoming nocturnal frivolity mixed with a little self imposed discomfort. Meg’s message (Meg is my cousin who lives outside New York City) catalyzed a powerful sense of tranquility and connection.
Many ecologists, admitted or not, dream of a unified set of theories that will link ecological patterns. It is an illusive goal. With so many different organisms (close to 2 million different species) and ever changing environmental factors (climate change, snow depth, wind velocity, etc.) it may be some time before this achievement is realized. Unlike physics and chemistry, events in ecology are seldom predictable. It is why we ecologists quip that what we do “is not rocket science, it is much, much harder”. This challenge is what draws many of us to embrace the field.
Some of us will spend the better part of a lifetime trying to figure out why a single organism responds the way it does to certain environmental cues (day time frivolity mixed with a little self imposed discomfort). We study and record details that to outsiders seem a waste of time, money, and brain cells. But that is not the way we see it. There is a pattern there, we are sure, and elucidating that pattern will make us famous. Zeus and all his companions shan’t stand in our way. Besides, we argue, the predictive value of such knowledge could certainly make for a better world.
This route of discovery involves the constant effort of recording small details, anticipation of challenges, the generation of questions and more questions, and the re-evaluation of all the answers we get (even if they are exactly what we hoped for). This is no different than most people’s lives or jobs. But the efforts of becoming and defining, setting apart and individualizing can pull at the cohesion that rests in sharing and disseminating knowledge and experience. All too often our efforts at being an expert cloud our innate abilities to be together.
Then there are times, like on full moon nights, when it is possible for even the most twisted of ecologists (read as scientists, lawyers, business magnates, doctors… you get the idea) to step back from the maddening detail, from the challenges of justifying our existence, and embrace the things we all get to see. Observation is a gift we possess no matter where in the world you live or what your status. When we see, feel, smell, taste, touch, we are diving into a long line of experience that has nothing to do with piecing anything together other than what we are doing at a particular moment in time.
The value of such experience emerges from the inclusivity. From the collective opportunity to embrace what is. From stopping for a moment and appreciating that your cousin, colleague, long lost friend, or future lover, is seeing the same natural phenomena you are.