Long Term Ecological Study Lets You See Ecosystems In New Ways

I spent the first ten days of august in Nova Scotia with my wife for our honeymoon. (Oh, we got married. I suppose that’s worth noting). It was a great trip with plenty of new experiences and locations for both of us. She’d never been to NS before this, and I hadn’t been since before I started working as an outdoor educator.

Harbor Seal Floating On A Seaweed Raft

While we were there we tried to make sure we went to places that were new to us both, Including a spur of the moment trip to a seacoast hike that ended up being pretty magic. Deep fog for the hike that lifted once we got to the sea and revealed tons of grey and harbour seals just off the coast resting on the rocks.

My one caveat to that trend was going back to a place that became really special to me in college, Kejimkujik National Park. Kejimjuik is an incredible place, and I can’t recommend visiting enough. The local Mi’kmaw are heavily involved in the management and education programs at the park (Be sure to stop in when the birchbark canoe building workshop is open, and take a guided tour of the Mi’kmaw petroglyphs) and have done a lot to make sure that this place filled with history and wildlife stays healthy.

In college I spent a long stretch of time with a friend and fellow rambler hiking the back country trails in the park. We’d both spent a fair amount of time camping, but didn’t know much about the ecosystem in that particular place. Our experience was almost entirely cut off from the place we were spending time in. Our gear was all self contained (backpacking stove to cook, tent to sleep in, boil in the bag meals etc), and in retrospect it really didn’t matter WHERE we were. Those systems could have functioned just as well in any location.

Now, a decade or so later going to this place was almost like seeing it for the first time. Knowing most of the trees and animals, and getting to really appreciate the deeply interwoven biome of some of the 400 year+ old growth hemlock groves completely changed the way I saw this place that had ALREADY had an impact on me as a young person. Looking at that ecology and understanding how I could conceivably fit into it without much external kit/ infrastructure if I was camping there for a stretch of time made it that much more special.

When students ask about the value of ecological studies during programs, it’s always coming from a mindset of “why does this matter to me?”. Often the view is that time learning about the plants and animals on the landscape would be better spent practicing hard skills. This experience in Kejimkujik will be the story I tell from here on out to explain why the studies are worth their time. Going to a place that you’ve spent time, and having a new light shined on it is humbling, and builds curiosity and connection to that place. Students who dive into this mentality of deep ecological study will be able to do that over and over with any place they go, and THAT is why it matters.

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