I've been a student naturalist since my freshman year. I didn't realize that I was signing up to write the last Arb notes of the term several weeks ago when I picked this date. It seems fitting, though, that I, rather than one of the younger naturalists, should get to have the last word of the year. It also gives me an opportunity to reflect on how the Arb, and my perceptions of the Arb, have changed over the last four years.
When I first came to Carleton, I was really excited about the Arb because it was so much bigger and closer than nature preserves that I had visited in Chicago. I went out in the Arb to look for birds at least once a week, and often more. As terms at Carleton went by, though, I definitely slowed down. I attribute this partially to my getting jobs where I was paid to walk in the Arb, and partially to Carleton’s soul-crushing academic atmosphere. But my decline in purely-for-fun Arb visits is not meant to be the topic of this article.
A more important change that I’ve noticed in the Arb is in the scale of restoration activities. It is odd to think that, when I came here and was becoming familiar with the Arb, Nancy Braker, who I perceived as Arb master, hadn’t been here much longer than me. I can see that, under her direction, the pace and breadth of restoration activities in the Arb is increasing every year. We talk in naturalists and on Arb crew about how it takes many years to observe the benefits of restoration. When this topic arises, I think about how I won’t see substantive change in the landscape during my time here. But in my recent walks in the Arb, I realized just how much had changed. New prairies have been planted, tens of thousands of buckthorn stems have been cut, windbreaks have slowly receded back into the forest.
Now that I’m leaving Carleton, I will likely only get to see the Arb in snapshots, every few years that I am back. I look forward to seeing the Arb in five years, but more than that, I look forward to seeing the Arb in fifty years. Saplings will have become big, umbrageous oaks, and our prairies will be even more diverse. For those of you still at Carleton who enjoy the Arb, take note of what it looks like. It’s strange to think about how fleeting my time here must seem to long-serving Carleton professors. Every year, students come and go; little changes but fashion. The Arb, as I know it, is just as fleeting. When I see it again, it will be a completely different place.
Owen McMurtrey, '12, on behalf of the Cole Student Naturalists
Photo courtesy of Nancy Braker '81