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):
One of my favorite moments on our trip to Trier was stepping into the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady.* Light colored stone and high windows let in soft, glowing light, and the whole space felt bright and peaceful.
The Liebfrauenkirche is the oldest gothic church in Germany—it was built in the 13th century, and stands on the foundations of a much older Roman church. Unlike most churches, it’s built in a circular shape, with eight alcoves in between the four ends of the typical cross shape, for a full form of a twelve-petaled rose. These twelve curves, and the corresponding twelve supporting columns, symbolize the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. The dozens of stained glass windows include older style painted glass and more modern and geometric patterns. Because of its circular shape, the main alter stands in the center of the room, with all the pews facing inwards toward it.
* Literally “loving women church”
Another of the Roman structures in Trier is Emperor Constantine’s basilica. Erected to be an immense throne room, the basilica is a single room over 200 feet long and eight stories tall. Since it’s original construction in the 4th century, it’s been damaged and rebuilt many times, including incorporation into both a medieval castle and a baroque palace. It was converted into a church at the end of the 19th century, sustained heavy damage in WWII, and most recently refurbished in the 1960s to match the original structure. Interestingly, some of the original Roman walls were the sections that survived the best through the bombing.
The size of the basilica is mind-boggling, and hard to capture with pictures. Each of the wooden squares in the ceiling is 10 ft x 10 ft—the size of a normal bedroom. The two organs are mounted high on the walls, and the arches and windows extend even further.
Trier is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and still boasts multiple Roman structures. One of these is the imperial baths, a sprawling multi-story complex of tunnels and arches. These are an active archaeological site and open for public viewing, with ongoing renovations to shore up the existing pieces and restore additional sections. Also geese.