A chapter coming to a close
This week is a guest post from Megan Schall, a long-time Wagner lab member who is soon to fledge and join the ranks of the gainfully employed. The Wagner lab has been stable for the last four years with few coming or going. I have to admit it's a little weird for everyone as some doors close for some (like Megan) and others open (I'm getting two new labmates this summer!).
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Megan Schall and I have been a member of Ty Wagner’s lab with Shannon for several years now. My post today is not a technical one, but more of a feel good post. I recently finished my dissertation and am preparing to transition from a graduate student to a professor (Wow, that sounds a little scary!). I spent the past five years or so of my graduate career pouring my heart and soul into my research studying smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River Basin. If you would ever like to talk anything smallmouth bass from movement, disease, genetics, population trends or anything related to fish health/ecology I am always happy to talk. Yet today’s post is not about that either. It is about reconnecting with one’s inner self and at the same time passing the baton to the next generation. I will give a small disclaimer that this post may be a bit sappy for some readers.
I recently sat on the bank of one of my prized smallmouth bass sampling sites on Pine Creek reminiscing. I had spent many hours, days, and what sometimes felt like years hiking up and down the banks of this creek. I tracked fish as they swam in and out of the creek from the larger connected river and was fascinated by what I had learned from this system. I went back to Pine Creek recently for what I believe to be one of my very last smallmouth bass surveys of my academic career. I did not go alone, but with a great research team (small army) that has been involved in the research for many years. I also brought Ben Kline (our resident undergraduate researcher) with me to offer him a change of scenery. I have sampled and been a part of dozens of smallmouth bass surveys, but this was a brand new experience for Ben. My goal on one of my very last surveys was to get Ben involved. As a result, I found myself with ample free time on my hands allowing me to reconnect with nature.
My interest in ecology has always been a part of who I am as a person. I would describe myself as a naturalist at heart who has always intrigued by the natural world while trying to understand ecological relationships. In the hustle and bustle of life and working to complete my graduate degrees, I often find myself far removed from that. I spend much more time at a computer these days than outside enjoying nature. So as I sat on the bank of my favorite stream, I felt in that moment, I was able to truly appreciate it for what it was worth. While watching Ben help collect fish, I began to rediscover myself. For a while, I stared around just taking in the view and listened to the chorus of birds in the background. But then I started to dig a little deeper. I took pictures of water droplets hitting off of the water’s surface and noticed how glass-like the water appeared with each ripple. Then I went beneath the surface and flipped over a rock to find a small water penny. The water penny moved across the surface and I was intrigued to think of all we miss without digging a little deeper. In that moment, I was able to reconnect with why I became an ecologist in the first place. I was curious and excited all over again. I think in our busy lives, we can all get a little caught up in our daily routines and forget why and who we are underneath everything. On this day, I was able to pause just for a short amount of time and reminisce. It was exactly what I needed.
I also was able to think about the future, both my own future and that of our future scientists. It was more important for me to get Ben experience and to pass that baton then for me to be involved in every moment of my last survey. I even ended up recording fish health data which is usually passed off to the new unexperienced member of the crew. I did not want that experience for Ben, but rather for him to learn how to perform all parts of a fish health survey. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good skill to learn how to record data, but if you only have one day to get an experience, it definitely is not the best way to maximize what you can learn. Good thing for Ben, they were successful collecting the fish today and our survey went according to plan. While I recorded notes, Ben was able to jump in and hopefully he can tell you a little more about what he learned in a future post. I think we all need to be aware of the future and realize that it is not always about what we can individually do, but the mark we can leave on others as well. If I can inspire a few others to want to inquire more about the natural world, then I have done a much better job than just doing the work myself and in turn, my impact will be much larger. I hope that like the ripples on the water’s surface today, I can have ripples that reach far from all of those I am able to teach and inspire. As I sign off on my time here at Penn State, I am thankful for all of those who have inspired me including my family and coworkers. We have had such a great time over the years working together and laughing our way through the day.
Well, I think that is enough of the feel good stuff for one post. I hope Ben will share more personal details about his experience and what he learned while out with us. To end this post, I want to encourage all of you to take a moment to get lost in nature and enjoy the beautiful streams throughout the state of Pennsylvania and across the country. I want to share with you some of the best spots in my favorite stream (Pine Creek) in case you ever find yourself in northcentral Pennsylvania.
My top spots/activities in Pine Creek include:
1.) visit the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon- http://pacanyon.com/ ,
2.) walk or bike on a portion of the rail trail- https://visitpottertioga.com/explore/attractions/pine-creek-rail-trail/ (I am particularly fond of the Ramsey, Bonnell Flats area of the trail),
3.) visit Little Pine State Park- http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/LittlePineStatePark/Pages/default.aspx ,
4.) visit the DCNR Tiadaghton State Forest Office in Waterville, PA for a great view and resources- http://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateForests/FindAForest/Tiadaghton/Pages/default.aspx ,
5.) fish for a variety of fish species including smallies and trout in the creek and tributaries -(Slate Run is a nice tributary for trout fishing and while you are there be sure to stop in at the Slate Run Tackle Shop for some good fishing intel- http://slaterun.com/default.php ,
6.) try kayaking –there are quite a few spots to get in and out - http://www.pinecreekvalley.com/PineCreekValleyCanoeAccess/CanoeAccess.asp,
7.) if you get hungry, the Waterville Tavern is a great spot to grab a bite to eat- http://watervilletavern.com/menu/.
There are many other areas throughout the state and country with exciting opportunities waiting for you. I challenge you to find your own favorite places and don’t forget to enjoy nature in its beauty every now and then. Capture that memory and keep it close, especially when the hustle and bustle gets in the way as we all know it will once again.