Ben Bridge

“Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature” said Marcus Cicero, a Roman philosopher. Who then could be better artists than ecologists? Ecologists are people who observe nature and extract its intricacies. This summer, I was fortunate enough to be one. I traveled all over, from Ohio to Sleeping Bear Dunes to Grand Rapids and even locally throughout the many wetlands of Kalamazoo, learning to read the landscape and understand it. We didn’t just identify plants, we learned their personalities. I learned which plants like wet soils and what their presence might tell me about the conditions of the area. ‘It’s rare to find a pitcher plant in Michigan so why might one be growing in this area?’ and ‘why are these invertebrates found in this river?’ was the type of question we started asking. Same goes for soils, they have personality too. A tilled soil may appear loose and easy to plant into, but you’ll soon see that these soils repel water and create extreme runoff. A healthy soil is full of life. Under a microscope, one will see that healthy soils have longer-living nematodes and more biodiversity. They’ll also harbor aggregates that store carbon, contrary to tilled soils which have these aggregates broken down. Throughout all of this, I learned to connect my identification knowledge to the bigger picture of the landscape.

Ben Bridge, a young man in a sweatshirt and jeans, stands in an abandoned paper mill. Ben exploring an abandoned paper mill in Kalamazoo. Surprisingly, plants can still grow in areas like this, despite all the contamination and concrete. Ben Bridge

As I trekked through bogs, tracked endangered turtles, bred nematodes, and sloshed around in clay cornfields, I began to see that this was art. It was all so misunderstood and unappreciated. I was doing more than just observing nature, I was reflecting on what it all meant and connecting the dots. I may have never experienced these diverse environments, hidden details, understanding of our fragility, and amazing people if I never got to come to KBS. It’s an experience that everyone should get to have.

Read more GLBRC Summer REU blogs here.