When times grew dark in Middle-earth, Gandalf assembled a company of thirteen. Each was chosen for a reason, and each was crucial to the success of the group. While our project descriptions didn’t mention nearly as much dragon gold as Tolkien dropped into the mix, my heart is already overflowing with the way our band of thirteen is starting this journey.
Saturday, June 17, 2017
As the ETA on my Google Maps navigation drew closer and closer and my road trip to Menomonie approached the end, my heart beat faster in anticipation of seeing the place I would soon call my summer home. Traveling to Wisconsin for the season isn’t a new feeling for me. Wisconsin lakes and rivers have actually been the main character of my summer for years. A homegrown Hoosier (aka a gal from Indiana, and no, we don’t really know what it means either), I’ve spent the past four summers trekking north to work at a camp leading canoeing trips in the northernmost reaches of the state . These experiences in the Northwoods have been instrumental in forming my relationship with the environment and teaching me how to build community. I choose the LAKES program because I wanted to spend another summer revolving around lakes, watersheds and the formation of communities, but from a new angle. Finally arriving in Menomonie I stepped out of the car into the hot, humid air and have been surprised ever since by one, how Wisconsin can be so hot in early June, but more importantly, how a place can feel equally new and like home all at once.
The snippets that I have seen of this charming small town are beautifully odd. Odd in a good way! The first odd thing that I noticed is that professors from different fields are actually interacting with one another. In the application process for this internship, we had to answer questions on what interdisciplinary research means and most importantly what it means to us. I do not remember how I answered the question but I am realizing now that I did not know what interdisciplinary research truly means, how it functions, or how it even looks like until I came to Menomonie. Interdisciplinary research means to use knowledge from a variety of academic fields to approach an issue. I have seen this for the first time in how my team leader and geography professor, Innisfree McKinnon interacts with the biology professor Arthur Kneeland. Arthur is adding his knowledge to our project and even training us on collecting sensitive insect species in streams and rivers. Through this, he is helping the geography team access and map the health of the water in the Red Cedar Watershed.
Faster than you could say “America’s Dairyland”, my summer in Menomonie, Wisconsin has officially begun. In the spirit of finding myself now situated a mere 236 miles away from The University of Wisconsin—Madison, the alma mater of the so-called “land ethic” conservationist himself, Aldo Leopold, I would like to call your attention to one of my favorite quotes of his.
“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” –Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac.
Born in the land of infamous headlines and delicious chicken tender subs, forged under the fire of the eternal summer sun, and raised...by my parents, I arrived in Menomonie ready to embrace rural Wisconsin and treat it like home. After almost a full first week here, Menomonie gifted my openness with a taste of home - storms, humidity, heat, and mosquitoes. But for all the similarities that I've noticed so far, it's the differences that have enthralled me the most. A small city bursting with kindness and homely cheer, an even smaller cohort of colleagues emanating a friendliness to be cherished, and a gorgeous surrounding environment that befits the lofty goals and genuine motivations of the LAKES REU. In less than a week, living in this sublime place and having the pleasure of working with such good-natured people have made for a fantastic start to a summer of fun and impact.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Lesson #1: Learn to Co-Op
On the corner of 8th and Main St East in Menomonie, Wisconsin sits my first lesson about this eccentric small town. For some, this food market co-op serves as a place to grab lunch between long days at the lab. For others, a trip to this market is just the first step in bringing the family together later that night through a meal made with love. Unlike any other food store I have been in, co-ops are community owned. Over 2,000 community members of all walks of life own equity in this co-op where they share a common goal of sourcing local, organic, and natural food.
Analogous to the food market co-op is the dynamics of my LAKES research team. Never would I have believed that I would be working alongside of economists, anthropologists, geologists, and sociologists with a common goal in mind. In a world with so much disconnect built from egocentricity and isolationism, invisible barriers have been placed between the disciplines where one dares not to cross between. There is true beauty in the shattering of these barriers.
Arriving to Menomonie, WI I expected to see and feel a complete change from where I come from, Texas. I, however, attending Sam Houston State University am fortunate enough to be surrounded with trees, with both the Sam Houston National Forest and Huntsville State Park being nearby, much like Menomonie being surrounded by hundreds of beautiful trees. The city being right on the edge of Lake Menomin leads to beautiful views of the lakes, with my favorite being on the third floor of Harvey Hall on the campus of UW-Stout. I found the city scenic and the daylight hours to be longer, leading to always being confused about what the actual time was. Its charming here and seems like such a peaceful place to live.
After completing one week here in Menomonie, it is still so surreal that I'm here working with the most incredible group on the LAKES REU project. I am so thankful and lucky to collaborate on research that the community of Menomonie is so invested in, and the people working alongside me are the most positive, inspirational people I could ever ask for (I'm pretty sure I've never seen my mentor without a smile on his face). This is my first experience with legitimate research; I've only ever needed to do research for projects in my college classes. However, with real-life research that actually affects an entire town, I'm beginning to feel how high-stakes this project really is. The slight feeling of nervousness only drives me to be more ambitious because I strive to force myself out of my comfort zone, and this program is designed to do exactly that.
In anticipation of coming to Menomonie, I had been wondering how the Midwest would differ from my experiences living in New York and North Carolina. Having grown up in the Northeast, moving down South was a big change. Not only did I find out how different college town Chapel Hill is from metropolitan New York, but in the two years I’ve been there, I’ve also had to modify many preconceived notions about the South that I had brought with me. So I made sure to come to Menomonie with an open mind.
After arriving, one of the things that I noticed at once was the strong feeling of community here. Standing out especially was a meeting of the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association that I and a few other students went to on our second full day here. People from all over the community came together in an effort to try to collectively tackle problems related to the management of the Lake Menomin.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
For a while I had been looking around at different internships and was having a difficult time finding one that interested me. It wasn’t till I found about the LAKES REU project that really spiked my interested. Naturally I applied and I couldn’t be any happier that I was accepted. On the plane ride over here I found myself glued to the plane window gazing out at the landscape. It was almost shocking for me to see actual trees and not just some cactuses or small shrubs. Coming from living in an area that is situated in the Sonoran Desert to the town of Menomonie has been quite a drastic change for me. However, I find myself adjusting well to the area and enjoying all greenery.
I had been thinking/dreaming/stressing about arriving in Menomonie to begin working with the LAKES REU program for weeks and was so thrilled to FINALLY make it here! I have never visited the northwest and couldn’t help but obsessively google images or ask my (surprisingly plentiful) Wisconsin friends what it is like, but Menomonie has certainly exceeded my expectations. When imagining the northwest, my mind conjured up pictures of wide open expanses filled with corn and cows, few people meandering about, and certainly no conveniently located grocery stores. I was pleasantly surprised to find a very similar college town to the one where I live in Massachusetts, if not better because the influx of students has dwindled.