I grew up visiting Iowa’s field campus, the Macbride Nature Recreation Area (MNRA), home to my earliest memories of exploring outdoors. It is the place with the “little house” in the forest, in which my sister and I would peer out the window at the bird feeders, counting the songbirds and making up names for each one we saw. This park sits along the shore of Lake Macbride, where I canoed for the first time and contains the prairies where, during every summer of college, I returned as an Iowa Wildlife Camps instructor. It is here that I became an educator. MNRA has been, and continues to be, one of my most prolific teachers.
Through the pandemic and extreme weather events, the park has continued to teach me and others new lessons. The August 2020 derecho transformed many of our outdoor classrooms at MNRA, making places I once knew unrecognizable. An entire pine stand was destroyed, and many trees were toppled.
As time passed, the downed trees began to decay, falling into their component pieces. From the rotting wood, decomposed nutrients enriched the soil and created conditions for new life. In those same places that seemed lost, at least as we once knew them, you may now find a woodland creature that has made a home in a hollow tree trunk or a rare orchid that has found the right soil conditions to thrive. In fact, our land manager taught me that a dead tree creates more life than one that is still alive. The tree embodies two opposite things at once, it is falling apart and providing all the necessary ingredients for life.
Today, my time at MNRA is mainly spent as the Director of Iowa Wildlife Camps and Associate Director of School of the Wild, both in the College of Education’s UI WILD. The park is my office, though I am still at the park outside of “work hours.” I bring campers and students to that “little house,” which I know today as the bird blind at the Iowa Raptor Project . We look out through the blind’s windows observing songbirds, the occasional Cooper’s hawk, and the many squirrels and chipmunks, each bringing so much wonderment to the day’s visitors.
Of the lessons we can take from natural spaces, one that I often return to is like the fallen trees, we can be two opposing things at once.