REU:Autumn Thoyre  

White Mountain, tallest peak in the White Mountains

Duck Lake, our first study site, near Mammoth, CA

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and when I was 14, my family and I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, where I am currently attending the University of North Carolina and will be a senior this fall. I think my love for the natural world and for studying it came from running around the woods of student housing while my parents went to school in Madison. As George Eliot writes in The Mill on the Floss , and my dad is oft to quote: “We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no child-hood in it.” Likewise, not having grown up in the South, I did not love the woods of North Carolina, its streams, beaches, or mountains, until its nature writers described what they saw and how it all came to be, and now I see some of that, too. Sometimes writers can bring us bits of our childhood we thought we had left in other places that are now far from us.

I am an environmental science major and a biology and creative writing minor, and I am hoping to combine the my loves of science and writing to inform people and help build a better future environmentally and socially. Some recent experiences that have opened my eyes to worlds outside my own were building trails in Tennessee last summer and studying abroad in Panama this past spring semester. In Tennessee, I worked with an incredible group of people who cultivated my love of the Appalachian Mountains, of sculpting the landscape into a well-loved trail, and of square dancing.

In Panama, I learned about conservation and development issues by traveling around the country, living with many different families, and working on my Spanish skills by putting myself into awkward situations which turned out to almost completely cure my fears of public speaking that have plagued me since High School. For my independent study project, I studied the a media campaign against a road the current Panamanian President, Mireya Moscoso, wants to build through a World Heritage Site, the Parque Nacional Volcán Barú. I then applied the successes of this campaign to a current movement of the indigenous Naso people to halt the building of a dam in their traditional lands, which has had many setbacks due to the amount of money and power involved in the project. From these experiences, I have been pulled, albeit reluctantly, to the conclusion that there are a lot of stories, beautiful and terrible, to be told out there. I want to use my scientific training to tell some of them with the scientific understanding that seems to be lacking in some of our current journalists.

And, of course, going "out West" (for me, that meant west of the Mississippi) for the first time has been awesome! As you can see from the two pictures on the right (top: White Mountain, tallest mountain in the White Mountains, which we climbed over a month ago; bottom: Duck Lake, one of our study sites), it's absolutely gorgeous out here. I've never been anywhere so tall or treeless, but still beautiful in its granite peaks and Caribbean-colored alpine lakes. And I'll never forget tubing with my friends down the quiet, fast-flowing Bishop Creek in a natural lazy river - the best refreshment from the heat of Bishop!

This year, I am excited to get back to the “Hill” and play tons of Ultimate Frisbee with our women's team, Pleiades, write some poetry, and work with the Carolina Environmental Student Alliance to bring some sanity-building outdoor work to campus. And I can't wait to see everyone I've missed while being away so long!

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