Welcome fellow nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. Welcome backyard naturalists, kitchen table scientists, life-long learners. Welcome fellow wonderers and wanderers. I’m glad to see you here.
My name is Valerie and I’m a scientist, artist, and avid outdoors woman currently in Colorado, USA. My curiosity about the natural world started at a young age, exploring the prairies and woods of Wisconsin where I grew up. This curiosity blossomed into a love of backpacking and hiking as a teenager, which inspired me to embark on what I saw as the ultimate outdoor adventure – a thru-hike of the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. This journey took me to places I had never been, where I experienced things I had only dreamt of: I saw my first-ever black bear, as well as moose, baby deer, copperhead snakes, songbirds, foxes, owls, turtles, and red-spotted newts. I marveled at wildflowers that grew above tree line in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I witnessed seemingly tropical rhododendron plants comfortably survive two feet of snow in the Great Smoky Mountains. I forded rivers where no bridges had been built, bathed in lakes that had never seen a motorboat. I satiated my hiker hunger with wild blueberries.
I also saw many things I hadn’t expected to see, such as when the trail crossed through a superfund site in Pennsylvania. The area’s history of zinc smelting noticeably impacted the landscape, which abruptly changed from dense forest to barren hillslopes, eerily devoid of birdsong and inhabited by only a scattering of dying trees, invasive grasses, and more deer ticks than I care to remember. I saw firsthand the immense efforts of trail crews to remove litter at overrun shelters and privies. I experienced a mass emergence of invasive caterpillars along a section of trail in West Virginia. I encountered wild animals that were so desensitized by repeated human interaction and feeding that they approached hikers without fear. I witnessed restoration efforts to prevent the encroachment of lower-elevation species onto the mystical bald mountaintops of the southern Appalachians. I learned that the “100-mile wilderness” in Maine, known for being one of the most remote and wild areas on the east coast, is also the site of several logging operations, providing the necessary resource for our wood and paper products. Through this experience I learned there was a lot I didn’t know about our natural world, the resources we extract from it, and the ways that we impact it.
In part, my experiences along the trail inspired me to pursue a degree in Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology. I felt motivated to better understand the natural world and our relationships with it. Through the eyes of a scientist, I learned. I learned about the big, seemingly-unstoppable cycles of nature – of water, carbon, tides, and seasons – so powerful and yet delicately balanced, to allow for the diversity of life on this planet. And I learned about the small, unlikely relationships existing between pairs of species – between flower and pollinator, bird and fruit-bearing tree, plant and mycorrhizal fungus – allowing both to thrive. I learned about the unseen connections of all beings within an ecosystem, and about how we humans are connected to this world too, even when our lives make it difficult to see the places we are attached.
In the past few years, I have worked as a scientist in both the field and in the laboratory. I’ve measured the flows of headwater streams, counted new seedlings in beetle kill forests, evaluated the health of insect communities in a national park, and studied soils following forest fires and chemical spills. As a scientist, I’ve had the opportunity to intimately understand our relationship as humans with nature: what we are doing right, what we are doing wrong, and how we can do better.
Throughout my education and career, I have wondered how things would be different if education about nature and our relationship with Earth started earlier. My childhood education barely scratched the surface of ecosystem science, and it wasn’t until college that I was introduced to sustainability and conservation. What could our world be like if we all started out with a better understanding of this Earth and all its wild, remarkable, intricate beauty? How could things change if we all carried with us an understanding of the things we can do – big and small – to improve our relationship with Earth? I believe one of the most natural things we can do as humans is to wonder at nature. It’s never too early – or too late – to start learning about the natural world, the diversity of life on this planet, and what we can do as individuals to help protect it.
My goal in creating Wild Earth Lab is to create resources for you, your family, and your students to learn about the Earth and our relationship with it. Through combining my passions for nature, science, and art, I hope to use this space to create unique and beautiful educational resources and engaging, informative articles covering a range of topics related to science, sustainability, and the natural world.
Are you still with me? Perhaps this sounds like something you’re interested in too. I hope you will join me on this journey by subscribing to Wild Earth Lab, or by following Wild Earth Lab using the links below: