We Amanita muscarias like to consider all possible options. We find it hard to land on one answer. So much so that in the final hours before winter break, with the fire crackling and snow falling at Zero Gravity, we had yet to pick our name. It was time to make a decision. As the 39th cohort of the Field Naturalist Program, alphabetically we were known as the AMs. It is tradition for each cohort to select a mascot with the same initials as its Latin name. We had been circling for a while, weighing pros and cons and penciling in more possibilities even as we told ourselves and others that we were narrowing it down. Though the stunning spotted red mushroom won, the rigidity of a single answer didn’t sit right with us. We hated to rule out the equally enticing spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) or spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularius), so we named ourselves the Spotties. Like all good naturalists, we seek out circuitous routes. After all, we had spent the fall wandering talus woodlands and beaver wetlands, discovering a joy in asking every stump, dead end, and gall: Is there another question here? Is there a different interpretation?
We’re not particularly interested in a single answer—finding one seems less interesting than finding more questions. Perhaps more than just acquiring knowledge, the role of a naturalist is to seek understanding. And so, we ask: What can come when we put aside our first impressions and look more deeply? We’d like you to explore an abundance of options with us in this edition of Field Notes.
In the following pages, we share questions that continue to poke us—weighing a rare buckwheat against lithium mining, and reflecting on our relationship with invasive species. We guide you through what sunrise means to a plant and several ways we can observe succession. We search for the legendary creatures with whom we share the valley and mountains, and consider communication beyond our own species. We invite you to join us in not always deciding and instead to celebrate the space before or beyond an answer. We feel this is a place where more meaningful questions come from.
Thanks for being here with us.
Catherine Wessel (Cohort AM '24)
Cohort AM '24 perched in their natural habitat. (L to R: Lee Toomey, Catherine Wessel, Will Durkin, Evan Horne, Michelle Giles, Dave Moroney)