OneTree Alaska: One Streaming Sap
Everything I’ve done as a scientist was inspired and set into motion by age 8 in the boreal forest of Southwestern Ontario, where I summered in a rustic fishing cabin a stone’s throw from the Minnesota border. There, near Lake of the Woods, I listened to the haunting call of loons, feathered my paddle through water lily pads, searched quiet as a heron for deer along their shoreline trails, and, most of all, inhaled the sweet, citric smell of pine and spruce mixed with sun-warmed, earthy lichens. It was intoxicating and promised to be lifelong.
Later, paddling in the Quetico, I learned voyageur songs and penned modern-day versions with my friends, experiencing the unsurpassable pleasure of community.
Only then did I begin to build science on top of these inspirations. I learned over many years, from my undergraduate college years through my doctorate, to observe, document, sample, and classify plants; to stain and analyze plant chromosomes in order to decipher species relationships; to germinate and grow seeds from field-collected plants to learn about their phenology (the timing of recurring events in their yearly life cycle); and to journal about everything. A many-decades challenge and perhaps even more important now in this time of rapid environmental change.
Along the way, something surprising happened: I fell in love with our close-knit Alaskan community during a forest controversy and changed my career path. Here, where there’s an emotional mandate to collaborate with friends and colleagues, we are all voyageurs, reprising songs of the Quetico.
But why, for me, the boreal forest of the unglaciated plateau of Central Alaska? Because here, the flora interrelates as nowhere else, as Siberian and Canadian boreal forests intermingle with montane and Great Plains plants traveling up the Rocky Mountain Cordillera. Listen carefully and each plant will tell its own boreal forest story of how the modern-day Alaskan flora was built. Add to these three contributing floras a fourth: the Interior Alaska boreal forest, a community where we thrive to the extent we pull together. Our boreal forest home—where science, the natural world, and active learning entwine for everlasting good.
Jan Dawe is a Research Assistant Professor of Natural Resource Education and Community Engagement with the Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
She is currently the director of OneTree Alaska and K-20 STEAM Education, based in the OneTree Alaska STEM to STEAM Studio in the Lola Tilly Commons building on the UAF campus. Part production kitchen, part classroom-makerspace, part science center—the STEAM Studio welcomes visitors and volunteers year-round. Please call ahead: 907-474-5517 to schedule a tour or K-12 field trip or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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