My Personal Experience with Phenology

January 9, 2020

"This story and our phenology project was about bearing witness, making a promise to future generations, and committing to something without knowing the rewards or outcomes"

                                                                                                         ~ Coco Sheng 2019

                                                                                                                  photo by Kerissa Battle  Coco Sheng is a senior at Millbrook School (located in New York’s Hudson Valley region) and is originally form Shanghai. In Fall of 2019, she took Ava Goodale's field biology class. Experiential in nature, this class gave students the opportunity to explore their interest in the natural world in innovative and meaningful ways with a focus on applied science.


Here is a reflection of her experience in her own words:


    "When learning about tree phenology, our class participated in the citizen science research project sponsored by the National Phenology Network and the New York Phenology Project. We based our study on six trees outside our science center, including 3 sugar maple trees and the 3 black cherry trees. We also used our canopy walkway on the south end of campus to study the phenology of four northern red oak trees directly from the treetops. According to our data, the different types of trees had different reactions to environmental changes, specifically colder weather and decreased day light. We observed the sugar maple leaves dropped before the oaks and changed to their late season colors before the black cherry trees.


    Through this project, I’ve not only learned more about the natural world around me but also developed a closer connection with nature. In our canopy walkway project, 70 feet above the forest floor, I was able to truly acknowledge the power of nature and how small we are in comparison. I noticed that our phenology data sheets were like snapshot of these trees that provide the backdrop to the everyday action at our school. In the novel, The Overstory by Richard Powers, a story is told about a family that takes thousands of photos of an American chestnut tree over 4 generations, documenting the phenology of this tree over time and everything that happens to the country and family along the way. He writes, “everything a human being might call the story happens outside the frame, while inside the frame, through hundreds of revolving seasons, there is only that solo tree, its fissured bark spiraling upward into early middle age, growing at the speed of wood.” This story and our phenology project was about bearing witness, making a promise to future generations, and committing to something without knowing the rewards or outcomes. It is amazing how the nature around us creates such a big impact on human beings.


    I used to think that our contribution to the scientific world was small, as we have such a limited sample size and dataset. However, with the collaboration of bigger and more influential organizations like the National Phenology Network and the New York Phenology Project, these data are combined with related datasets. I realized that we can have an impact on nature and that these data are indeed valuable. During these intimate interactions with nature, I also was fascinated by how plants can have such different reactions to environmental changes around them, resembling how even humans have “phenophases” in our own lives, as we cope with the difficulties of winter and surprises like spring where everything blooms. Nature’s uncertainty was certainly the most exciting aspect of this project, but it is the effort that we make to communicate and interact with nature to learn about these uncertainties that make field

biology so interesting!" 



                                                                                                      by Coco Sheng, 2019


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Community Greenways Collaborative manages the New York Phenology Project, utilizing the USA-National Phenology Network database and Nature's Notebook observation platform.