Even though it is only the first week of school, summer already seems like a distant memory given all of the excitement and good work underway. I want to highlight one special moment of this past summer: Liz Gottlieb’s outing to Lake Tahoe.
Liz and 14 Marin Academy students from all grades traveled with Adventures and Scientists for Conservation (ASC) to Lake Tahoe, an area renowned for its scenic and accessible mountain trails. While hiking in the High Sierra, they collected data for several research projects focusing on climate change in the mountains that make up the Desolation Wilderness. They searched for rare plants, collected diatoms (single-celled algae with silica walls that are an indicator species for climate change) from high-mountain lakes, and documented pika (the smallest member of the rabbit family that are both indicator and keystone species) observations. They traveled over rough terrain averaging rougly 5-8 miles over the 7-day excursion.
Liz writes, “In my opinion the experience of being in the backcountry for 7 days with explorers, scientists and MA students was one of the best combined experiential events I have participated in here at MA over the last 14 years. Our guides, experts, scientists were absolutely unbelievable. Every moment was a learning experience. The students were trained by some of the best outdoor educators in the field (seasoned NOLs instructors, doctors, EMTs, global national geographic explorers). The science (diatom collections and pika research/observations/data) we were able to do en route was outstanding.”
She also mentioned that Gregg Treinish, ASC’s Executive Director and National Geographic’s Young Explorer of the Year, said the MA students were the best group he has ever worked with in his 15 years. I was so proud to hear that. Gregg writes, “We had a great time and absolutely loved working with your students. They were truly extraordinary and we were all thoroughly impressed with their commitment to the projects and support of one another.”
I was even more proud to read some of the student reflections. Here are some highlights:
“Before the trip, I worried that the science would overwhelm my outdoor experience. However, learning about the Sierra’s ecosystems through scientific work allowed me to be more aware of my surroundings…I learned the potential effects of climate change on many organisms, such as dusty maidens, long tailed weasels, and diatoms. I have learned that I, along with other humans, have a duty to do my best to preserve the world’s ecosystems.”
“Initially, this trip was a bit of a risk for me, considering that I wouldn’t know anyone, everyone else would know each other, and it would be the longest backpacking trip I’d ever done. But I soon grew to feel comfortable with this group of girls and with my oily hair and dirty hands. Of course, the beautiful views that we encountered were too much to deny myself, simply for cleanliness and comfort. The outdoors have a strange effect when you come home. Suddenly all the landscapes seem so much smaller and plants more interesting. I wanted to be out in the sun or climbing a mountain more than I wanted to stay home or watch TV.”
And some of the students best moments included
- Listening to pika in the meadow
- Learning about edible and medicinal plants
- Swimming after a day of backpacking
- Sleeping under the stars
- Watching the sunrise while hiking on the last morning
- Arriving at Half Moon Lake after a day of collecting diatoms and being amazed at the spiritual effect that its natural beauty had on me and how the whole valley felt very alive
- Seeing the Alan’s hummingbird at the top of Dick’s Pass was very beautiful and it seemed like such a perfect moment for it to appear
- Getting to know all these wonderful people and learning a lot more about MA
- Having time on our own to write, journal, observe
- Being in charge of our own meals and learning how to use the liquid fuel stoves
- Sharing great stories with each other along the way, talking about our interests, and really bonding
- Making tea from yarrow
- Singing while hiking the trails
If you’re interested in learning more about the trip, please stop by Thacher Hall—the students have created a window display of their research and experience. I hope we will continue to work with ASC to develop more opportunities locally and away, perhaps for Minicourses, outings, and/or a continued summer presence.