Our Inner Scientist



Last week I had the pleasure of serving as a Montana State Science Fair judge for my 12th year. I try to do this every year because it brings me immense joy to see young people excited about -not just “science”- but about being curious and investigating “why?” questions that are of interest to them. I love hearing students explain their ideas, process of investigation and conclusions, all in a slightly wavering voice due to nerves. It is incredibly inspiring and always recharges me.

I was fortunate to have a very engaged group of keen learners who are positive and curious in the free online course Biomimicry: A Sustainable Design Methodology I was teaching this past month. One of the weekly activities was to get outside into the ‘School of the Wild’ to take 20 minutes to settle, quiet the mind and to observe with each of their senses.

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In the 4th and final week, we looked at ourselves during our weekly outdoor observation. This is my favorite observation exercise because it is a chance for each person to reflect on how they’ve grown, changed and become more connected and observant in just 4 short weeks.

I challenged students to answer one of the following questions last week:

  • What did you notice about yourself during this trip to your place? How has your attitude, behavior, patience changed or stayed the same?
  • What did notice that was different about your location?
  • How has your perspective changed?
  • What surprised you about what you “see” differently?
  • What did you feel you still see the same way? Why?

Below are a few snippets of what they had to share. In their own way, they are like the young people presenting at the Science Fair: curious and inspiring.

“I find that when I am observing, my mind is clear. I am completely engaged in exploring my surroundings and have so much curiosity about all of the organisms. This feeling reminds me of my childhood…”

“I absolutely love this time to myself and with all things wild.”

“I’ve always looked at nature in one of three ways.  The first is as a place to relax, explore and interact with.  The second is as a place that humans have done their absolute best to conquer, have failed and made a mess of.  The third is through the eyes of an ecologist/limnologist who wants to quantify everything from the salamander population to the depth of the leaf litter.  The first perspective leads me to new trails and streams to explore; the second makes me wonder what I can do to help nature restore itself.  The third satisfies my inner scientist.”

“I have noticed I have better resilience to events out of my control, less need for controlling events, but rather to let it all flow, that I am part of the system of nature and more gratitude for what is.”

“I noticed the little things more easily and appreciated them even more.”                  

“The biomimicry course has helped me focus on nature’s seasonal gradual (and seemingly unnoticeable) changes that occur without fail and the complex systems at play.”

“I am much more aware of how many different things are going on and how much the environment, as simple as my backyard, changes temperature, light, weather conditions forcing the natural organisms living in it to be super adaptive and resilient. It apparently looks like an obvious process but I realized how incredibly difficult and complex it is and how much effort and time it took.”

“The difference is when I return from the bush or the beach or the mountains, wherever I’ve roamed, and how I feel when I’m back inside.  I feel rejuvenated and calmer and my other tasks are easier to take on. It’s a medication I cannot do without.  I honestly believe that we will reach a time when many of the ailments that affect our moods and mental states will be mitigated just by being immersed in some natural element.”

“ I sat in total stillness with my dog, and settled in as my senses came alive.  I could smell the fetid odors of the swamp now that the ice has just melted, and I could hear the sounds of ducks and geese in the distance.  An owl flew silently by, and I hoped to hear the coyotes.  Instead, I heard a clicking noise, which may have been muskrats or raccoons.  The stars came out, and the sky became a deep, dark blue.  When we first were told to sit for 20 minutes without doing anything a few weeks ago, it was like trying silent meditation – in other words, difficult.  I would check my watch and, while I enjoyed it, as a high-energy person, I felt somewhat anxious.  Tonight, though, I am quite sure I stayed out well past the 20-minute point, without any concern for the time.  It felt so relaxing to breathe deeply and appreciate the transformation from day to night and from winter to spring.

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Image courtesy of Flickr CC Rich Bowen

Article originally published on April 5, 2016. Updated April 2017.