How to sell students on science: Sample bog soils in the rain in November

The weekend before Thanksgiving, my undergraduate research assistant Sonya and I went back out to one of the sites our soils class had visited in October: the Gerald Eddy Reserve, part of Michigan’s Ecology & Evolutionary Biology program. This would be Sonya’s first time doing fieldwork, and I hoped we would have a good time.

We headed out into the fog, driving down dirt two-track in the Reserve and looking for the turn for our first site, relying on patchy cell service and my (patchier?) memory of where it was. Just as we found it (I did manage to recognize the tree to turn at!), of course, the fog turned into persistent drizzle. We maintained high spirits even as the temperatures dropped a bit and the drizzle upgraded to Steady Rain.

Our first site was Buck Hollow, which has had a few papers published about it. It’s a small bog which is filled with cranberries and pitcher plants at its peak, but now we could mostly see mounds and mounds of spaghnum moss, and we could hear the ground (“ground”) sucking and squelching under our boots as we made our way across, taking two transects to look at chemical variations in the soil and soil water – though since it was pouring, I’m guessing most of the water looks pretty much like rainwater. But we’ll see.

Sonya the super research assistant! Everything got blurry from the rain but we had fun anyway.

After Buck Hollow, we drove over to a bigger marsh; we had sampled a farther-north part of the marsh during the field trip, so we wanted to get the other end. By this time, we were pretty soaked (I had lost track of my rain pants, but my hiking boots were performing admirably considering we had literally just been standing in wetlands for hours) and, even though it was a little warmer than the season called for, it was still getting chilly. We picked a few plant samples, took a transect through the marshy brambley pokey bushes (I am not a botanist), hopped in the jeep and headed home with the heat on full blast.

It was great getting to sample so close to home! Our current plan is to keep sampling wetlands in the area, and to do monthly sampling at a subset of sampled sites. We’ll see how winter changes those plans… but seeing as it’s November 28th and it hit 65 degrees today, who knows what kind of winter we’ll get!

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