One of my greatest joys in working at the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratories and Arboretum is being provided the opportunity to interact with people of all ages and from all walks of life. Most recently, we had the opportunity to host a group of local middle school students. We often host colleges but rarely have younger people here on the scene with us so this was a real treat.
May I never tire of seeing someone’s face light up because of exposure to something new – be it an idea, a plant, an insect, a different way of thinking. There is something purely magical about that moment. As we walked around the property with these students discussing scientific method, soil structure, classification of plants, insects, plant diseases, etc., so many wonderful conversations were started. I would not presume to say that this was life changing for every student who participated, but I would feel quite confident in saying that multiple students left that day thinking about soil, trees, insects, plant diseases, and the world they live in, in quite a new and different way than they did before they came to visit us.
The students were able to visit the diagnostic lab where Bartlett’s Meg McConnell and Andrew Loyd wowed them with the greatest ‘Bug Show’ ever! There’s nothing quite like the world under the lens of a microscope and this really put things into a different perspective for many of the students. Elden LeBrun and I walked with them into the rhododendron collection in the forest to discuss and physically look at the characteristics of forest soils. This began the conversation of getting them to think of how that soil compares to the soils found in urban settings. We rounded out the soil portion by visiting the opposite end of the spectrum with Chris Bechtel at the Urban Plaza where the students saw trees growing in different types of media and under concrete. The students were also able to see examples of espaliers and pollarding and learn a bit about the work and creativity involved in creating these living masterpieces. All along the route of these adventures we would stop at different plants of interest taking time to talk about interesting aspects of those plants – blossoms, growth adaptations, folklore, etc.
Some of the most inspiring and humbling moments in life, to me, are when someone opens up and starts asking questions, sharing information, and you can tell that something’s captured their interest and has their wheels turning. I had one such moment with a particular student from this group. She’s a young woman very interested in the field of science but had no previous experience with the particular topic of arboriculture. She was enthralled all day with everything we did. She asked some very thoughtful questions of me as we walked together across the rolling grounds of the arboretum regarding career opportunities in the field of science and my experience. What a gift.
The students, teachers, and parent chaperones left that day thinking they were the lucky ones for having been invited to be here. But those of us who had the privilege of hosting them were the ones inspired, refreshed, and clearly reminded of why it is we do what we do every day.