Spring walks

 

Like much of the world, we’re limited in our travels and consequent photo opportunities. Instead we’ve been enjoying walks in the city park near our home, especially with all the flowers and waterfowl. The family of coots swimming around the pond yesterday was a big highlight!

Past Snapshots: Magic Gardens

 

Since we’re not going out much, I’m trying to continue working through old photos, cleaning out a lot of them and posting a few favorite memories. This one is from a trip to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens over Thanksgiving weekend, 2013.

Giant’s Causeway

I spent last week in Belfast for a conference, and was lucky enough to get an extra day to explore the Northern Ireland coast. The weather was volatile, with sleeting rain switching to bright sun and back every hour. At the Giant’s Causeway, intense wind gusts kicked up choppy waves and forced tourists off the columns, providing a few unexpected openings to take people-free pictures. Topped off with a beautiful sunset and a final stop to see castle ruins, it was a pretty incredible afternoon.

Past snapshots: frozen sunset

Going through old photos, another trip to Yosemite. This one was pretty special, a New Year’s Eve weekend following a long cold spell but no big snowstorms. We were able to go up to Tenaya Lake, which had frozen solid. It was really beautiful standing in the middle of that mountain lake watching the sun set and the moon rise.

The Sleeping Beauty Castle

Schloss Neuschwanstein, one of the most photographed sites in Germany, was built in the 1800’s by King Ludwig II. It’s an idealistic version of a medieval castle, and has in turn been a source of inspiration, including for the design of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle. We braved the tourist crowds for an afternoon, and enjoyed the bright evening views across the valley.

Castle Falkenstein

A fantastic visit from our family turned into a great opportunity to explore a new part of Germany. We spent the week in Bavaria, hiking in the mountains and to castles around Füssen. Our first destination was Castle Falkenstein, a ruined stone mansion that was built on top of a rocky hill. The hike started meadows with sheep and cows, whose bells filled the air with beautiful chimes. A steep push through a misty forest brought us to the castle itself, where we enjoyed glimpses through the fog of the alps around.

Reindeer on Mt. Saana

Part of my research on Mount Saana is how the effects of increased nutrients on tundra plant communities depend on the presence or absence of herbivores. In the past I’ve worked in areas with cattle and elephants, but the dominant herbivore in this system is reindeer. Our first two weeks in Finland we saw a few reindeer wandering on the roads and in campgrounds. This week, a herd of hundreds moved into this area, including up and down the mountain where we work. It’s been incredible to see them in the forest, wandering on the steep cliffs, and even grazing in our study plots!

Kilpisjärvi tundra

I have a really cool job where I get to spend my summers in beautiful places, hiking and looking at plants. I’ve done work in the Elwha river valley, Sierra Nevada mountains, burned California shrubland, Kenyan savannah, and more. I study how plants respond to disturbance—fire, drought, dam removal, build up of nutrients—and how those responses are shaped by other plants and by herbivores.

This summer, I’m working somewhere I’ve always wanted to go–Finnish Lapland–studying tundra plants. The project is testing how plant communities recover from years of added nutrients. It’s amazing to be so far north (the sun never sets! also, the sun never sets) in a patchwork landscape of mountains and lakes. And the tundra—the plant community itself—is incredible.

This is Mount Saana, where I’m working. From a distance, the area above the trees looks like a homogenous greenish-brownish blur. But get closer, and more and more variation reveals itself in the patchwork of ankle-heigh shrubs. Even closer, and stunning flowers pop out in all colors and shapes. Here’s a picture of one of our study plots—just a mere 25 cm x 25 cm—with 13 species growing in it!

Check out just a few of the beautiful species growing in the tundra (and the views aren’t bad either):