Amplifying Voices

A weekend in the Smokies
by Emily Myron -- October 12th, 2011

Trees and inverts and bears…o my!

Phil Hartger and Dr. Justin Wright measuring and tagging a tree.

Phil Hartger and Dr. Justin Wright measuring and tagging a tree.

The view from the almost top of Clingman's Dome.

The view from the almost top of Clingman's Dome.

Even the flowers were cold!

Even the flowers were cold!

The beautiful river we sampled invertebrates from.

The beautiful river we sampled invertebrates from.

Carefully going through leaf packs to see what invertebrates we caught in the river.

Carefully going through leaf packs to see what invertebrates we caught in the river.

Me, reliving my former glory with waders and a kick net.

Me, reliving my former glory with waders and a kick net.

Dr. Jim Clark explaining succession at an old growth plot.

Dr. Jim Clark explaining succession at an old growth plot.

The beginnings of fall in the Great Smokey Mountains.

The beginnings of fall in the Great Smokey Mountains.

Our home-base at Purchase Knob - not only was the lodge excellent, but the views were spectacular!

Our home-base at Purchase Knob - not only was the lodge excellent, but the views were spectacular!

I am not one to miss an opportunity – I always try to live life to the fullest and take advantage of any chance that I get, but, sometimes, it is good to be reminded why that’s important. While the purpose of our Biodiversity Science and Applications field trip to Great Smokey Mountain National Park was to see some really important research going on regarding the effects of climate change on biodiversity, my take away was ‘never stay in the car.’

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely learned a lot about the research Duke has going on in the Park, too.  Despite freezing (literally) temperatures, we visited plots and helped do some preliminary tree tagging, measuring, and identifying.  The data from this plot will be combined with data from plots all over North Carolina to determine if trees are migrating due to climate change.  With frozen fingers, we measured the DBH (diameter at breast height) of trees, as well as learned some of the local flora (spruces are spikey and firs are flat).

We also did some sampling of invertebrates inside and outside of the National Park in order to see if there were substantial differences in assemblages.  I spent a solid two years of undergrad wearing waders in our river, and it felt great to get a pair on again and re-use my D-frame kick net skills. We then sifted through the dirt and leaves we collected to identify the inverts we found (some of which were super cool).

Finally, we reached Clingman’s Dome , the highest point of the Park.  It was a balmy 27 degrees outside, and I was still working on getting full dexterity back into my fingers.  We were given the option of hiking to the top to see the “view,” which may have been a whole 10 feet or so through the clouds.  Uncharacteristically, I chose to stay in the car.  Of course, on the hike back, my classmates were fortunate enough to see a black bear right on the side of the path eating berries.  Have I ever seen a bear in the wild? No. Would I have loved to see that bear? Yup. And this, folks, brings me back to the lesson – never stay in the car.  Take a chance, grit your teeth, and you never know what surprises will be in store. Sometimes it takes something small to remind you to keep doing something big.

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