Director’s Letter December 2022

Longer days

While the acceleration of time with age can be distressing, when it is -10 F and daylight is a precious commodity, the blur of time can be comforting. But my New Year’s resolution is to seek comfort not in escaping, but in looking up.

I’m back in my early morning routine of walking up and skiing down Crested Butte Mountain. Every year, my turning point is further away, even if the location is unchanged. Time may be moving faster, but I’m moving slower. Reaching the top, I’m sweaty and cold. Despite the wind I have to take my gloves off so I can fumble with gear. An hour to walk up, it’s easy to focus on the two-minute ski down that will have me sipping mocha in the Coffee Lab. But when I linger and look up, I am rewarded with a warm glow, the tingle of the fingers of a rose-colored dawn caressing Gothic Mountain and the Elk Mountain Range. How lucky am I to be there, in that moment, at that place?

Looking out over the last year, RMBL set another record year in students and scientists served. I don’t take this for granted; some field stations are still struggling and our third covid summer was the hardest. RMBL’s staff creatively added tents and obtained off-site housing to provide more flexibility. We restarted our seminar series, giving people an option to participate virtually or in person.

There isn’t just a lot of science; staying open through the pandemic has made it possible for the largest collection of long-term studies to continue. Furthermore, Dr. Ken Williams (Lawrence Berkeley Lab) and his extended team have made the Gunnison Basin the epicenter for hydrology just as drought highlights the importance of water. A changing climate has made clear the importance of developing earth system models. With the addition of atmospheric research to RMBL’s portfolio, there may be no better place to link atmospheric processes to water, plants, animals, and microbes. In a highlight, a team led by Dr. Basem Al-Shayeb had RMBL field work featured on the cover of Nature describing previously unseen genomic structures.

It’s also a pleasure to share field research. Our K-12 programs are back to running as normal, expanding our reach from local students to include young women from the Hockaday School, a Dallas girl’s prep school. Our Visitor Center staff, led by Rick Horn hosted over 20,000 people, providing tours and answering questions. We complemented our science displays with information acknowledging that RMBL is located on the ancestral lands of the Ute Tribes, along with information about how Utes historically integrated science, technology, engineering, and math into their lives.

RMBL starts and ends with community. RMBL’s impact is made possible by a growing number of year-round residents who support the research, take care of the facilities, and eat billy barr’s chocolate, the many students and scientists who fill cabins in summer, you, who share our stories, and our supporters who make it financially possible. Please take a moment to lift your head and take a hard look at what you help make happen. Thank you!

If you want to catch a glimpse of dawn creeping over the snow, we usually start skinning between 6:30 and 7 am at the base of the Red Lady lift. Read more about it on page 47 of CB Magazine.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL