The Canopy Is A Portal

When we first met Dr. Meg Lowman last year we were already familiar with the use of tree climbing techniques for forest biology research. But the pioneer of canopy ecology includes an additional dimension to her REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) by acknowledging that physical mobility has little to do with being an effective field biologist. “To explore the canopy we climb ropes not trees, and in the lab we use microscopes, computers and minds, which have no limits.”

The Baker University program had been open to eight students, half of whom had ambulatory disabilities. All eight students were professionally trained to ascend into the canopy to collect moss, lichen and leaves to measure the impact of the invertebrates like tardigrades (water bears) on the habitat.

“In My Nature”, an article by National Science Foundation REU co-speaker Rebecca Tripp, was published in the Dec/Jan 2013/2014 issue of  Ability Magazine.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the internship opened up a whole new world to me, allowing me to not only learn the ropes, quite literally, of biological field research, but also by shattering those preconceived ideas, held by myself and cemented by society, regarding my apparent lack of ability…. The scientists who spearheaded this project had the foresight to recognize that a wheelchair does not have to be a limitation to good field biology, and wanting to encourage students from all walks of life to pursue their interest in science, made the decision to actively recruit participants with ambulatory disabilities.

In many ways Ms. Tripp’s words form a symbolic “bookend” to those of conceptual artist Sue Austin

I’m arguing the wheelchair is a portal that pushes me through into a new level of awareness; Pushing through conceptually, physically, emotionally….

Both women figuratively step out of one environment and into another, and with words and art, take us with them.

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