I stand on the rocky hillside. I have a perfect view out over the valley and the huge, stretching fields of Paonia. Mount Lamborn stands proud and tall in front of me, the white lamb-shaped mark for which it was named shining in the sun, my view unobstructed by any trees. Twenty-five years ago this hillside was covered in juniper trees, sagebrush, and all the other native plants which have become so familiar to me in my time here, but now there are only rocks.
We started off our challenge with a question: “What’s a question you have.” As we had discussed the night before, this was more than just an interesting query, but the foundation of the scientific process. Our challenge on week 4 day 3 of the Adventure Semester was to design, execute, record, and write up a scientific experiment. So sitting on a rock, looking at another rock, and thinking about things to think about, I had an idea. I had learned in a biology class that after a fire, lichen is one of the first things to grow into the new environment. The same lichen clinging to the rock I was looking at. However, as we had discussed, science classes are not science, And I knew that there had been plenty of fires right where I was standing.
We surveyed a couple places that had been a while without fires, one quenched 120 years ago, and another more than 200. There we found lichen. Blue, orange, white. Some rocks were almost completely covered in lichen. Then we moved on to the site of a recent fire. As I knew from the dutifully prepared diagrams and drawings I had seen in Bio 101, this site would be covered in lichen. I got out of the car. I took ten paces. There was no lichen, only rocks.
The universe is a supremely complicated thing, twisting, turning, refracting into a thousand-thousand shards of different colored space. Science is one of the best tools we have to understand it, and as you learn in any classroom, the first step to science is observation. Before I learned, I needed to look.