I’m spending this summer at a place I consider to be one of the most beautiful places in the world, the Olympic National Park in Washington state. Even more exciting, the work I am doing here is completely my own: I’m conducting field research for the senior thesis I will write next year. The place I am working is undergoing a major change: two large dams on the Elwha River are being deconstructed, and areas that have been submerged for almost a hundred years are now open for plants to colonize and grow. For my research I will be exploring the regenerating site, and picking apart how these plant communities are affected by different soil types, surrounding areas, water availability, and more.
I first began to investigate this project as an option for my thesis in mid-November, and the more I learned about it, the more interested I became. By the beginning of the year I had convinced one of my professors to advise me on the project, and began to contact people working at the site. I turned in a formal proposal for funding in March, and in May I spent three weeks writing a paper reviewing the relevant scientific theory and related studies. I have spent more time than I can track pouring over maps, anxiously coordinating logistics from outside the country, scanning through published papers and books, and thinking intently about my question and project design.
And today, for the first time, I got to see my project site. Two newly opened river valleys just beginning to be populated by grasses, flowers, and young trees. What words can possibly encompass the beauty of that first sight? It took my breath away.