Sitting Through Spring: A Personal Phenology Project with Application in Natural Science Classroom

Sara Hirsch
Department of Environmental Studies
2014
This project started one day in early April in New Hampshire. I had recently torn a ligament in my knee. New England winter was still sloughing off its coat. I was cold and grumpy and frustrated, and yet it was the beginning of springtime, and the world was waking up. Maple buds were just beginning to fatten and burst. The first of the spring ephemerals were poking out of unfrozen ground. Thousands of things were coming alive in beautiful, detailed ways, oblivious to my frustrations. In those moments of watching the first flowers emerge, I decided that I wanted to document the changes, to somehow bear witness to this magic. I wanted to take notice of the changes and cadence of spring.

I started going out for walks in the early mornings, taking a camera with me to document the succession of spring changes. When I began, I had no intention of continuing this habit past springtime. But as summer rolled around, and then fall, and then winter, I kept walking and noticing and recording. I learned what trees flowered first, and the names of migrating birds, and the smell of honey locust in June. I observed ecosystem changes on both a broad and minute level, broadening my understanding of organism and ecosystem interactions. And I learned to notice, every day, the changes in the world around me. Before long, this project that had begun as a simple springtime lark had become the source of some of the most valuable and meaningful learning of my graduate career