Though I only lived at the University of Michigan’s Biological Station for a brief period of time, I feel an internal shift in character; calmer, an increase of solidity, a more thorough understanding in who I am and where I fit in the great, complex scheme of life.
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees,” Henry David Thoreau wrote after living two years immersed in undisturbed natural surroundings. I felt this way too, after living in a metal shack-like cabin in the far northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula for only two months.
At this place also deemed “Bug Camp” by its residents, students join faculty and researchers from all over the U.S. (and beyond) who hold expertise in a wide array of scientific knowledge and experience. What makes the Biological Station so unique is not only this aspect, but also that everyone — professors, students, faculty, other researchers — live in camp together and are easily accessible to help in scientific or life endeavors, and are also around to just hang out. Meals are taken together by the whole camp in the dining hall and are great opportunities to meet other people. At one such meal I found myself sitting with Chuck Davis, professor and curator of plants at Harvard University and one of the well-loved botany professors at the Biological Station. Our conversation led into some of his research involving plant parasites and the different types of strategies plant species use. Though I do not want to become a plant parasite specialist, the way Chuck discussed his research made me want to know more. His enthusiasm and obvious love of the discipline kept me asking questions about this subject I really had known nothing about.
I was enrolled in the Forest Ecosystems and General Ecology classes at the Biological Station. Each class structure generally started out with an hour lecture in the morning followed by a day in the field relating to the previous lecture. We traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan multiple times as well as closer areas, all varying in ecosystem type and intended lesson. We would usually collect data to analyze later and write about or present later the findings as homework. This method of teaching was extremely effective for me. Now, when I walk through a forest or a bog or on a dune, I see in a larger and more complex way.
During downtime many of us would find something to stay occupied. We would kayak or canoe, swim in Lake Douglas, go ride the “slime slide,” play basketball, read, lounge in a hammock, bike or walk the trails through the woods. Though it seemed like there’s not much to do at first glance at this rustic camp, the possibilities are actually endless.
Both of my group research projects collaborated outside of class with research scientists at the Biological Station and we did a lot of work, but found significant and interesting results in both of our projects. We understand much more thoroughly the subjects of our research, and even better, our research will contribute to the projects others are and have been working on for years, which will be part of published studies in academic journals. To be credited in an academic journal as an undergraduate student is a no small accomplishment.
Overall, being in this pristine place has made a lasting effect on me that will not fade with time. It’s a slow change from the first day. It’s a change you don’t notice until you leave and come back to your former life. On the door of my friend’s cabin behind the hammocks it reads “Welcome to the Trap.” The University of Michigan Biological Station is a trap, a magnificent trap, one that I look forward into falling in all over again.