Director’s Letter July 2021

Glacier lilies and Gothic Mountain

Just another summer as a kid in Gothic!

Pink tutus.  Stiches to heal a foot.  Mucking about in mud filled with caddis flies.  Hikes to remote mountain basins.  Learning more about identifying flowers that might ever be expected of a teenager.  Washing dishes in the dining hall and stocking outhouses with toilet paper.  Wandering off into the willows and learning to avoid porcupine dens.  Learning to make an espresso and answer questions about what elevation the deer turn into elk.  Smoking cigarettes and burning down old buildings.  Just another summer as a kid in Gothic!

Luckily it has been about 85 years since the stable incident and selling coffee is a relatively recent addition to a young adult’s life in Gothic.   Inflation has hit the outhouses, with a roll of toilet paper creeping up from a nickel to a quarter.  Long woven into the fabric of Gothic, are rapscallions, free range kids, a feature, or a bug?

Kids, along with the families and community that come with them, are fundamental to harnessing the Power of Place.

Scientists are just people who like to look at things a bit more closely than the average person, with a tendency to ask a lot of questions.  With mortgages and bills, parents, jobs, and not enough time in the day, coming to Gothic is no small thing.  Coming to Gothic for decades, as some of them do, is a really big thing.

There is no one reason why a scientist and her family make the jump.  A sense of achievable adventure?  While I’ve had friends head off for a field season in Papua New Guinea with a newborn, the threat of malaria and dysentery with a young one in tow is a stretch for many field biologists.  A summer in Gothic is a more manageable adventure, at least for some, and offers the opportunity to embed children in the outdoors.  Personally, my wife Jennie and I are privileged that our two boys balance their use of electronics with their explorations of the local valleys.

Regardless of motivation, the presence of so many families (see the adjoining article) makes field science and education better.  For some scientists, being family friendly just makes it possible to be here in the first place, creating collaborations and overseeing field projects.  For others, it makes it possible to return year after year, allowing them to make observations that are only possible with the passage of time; in some instances, the passage of time has magically transformed children into grandchildren and decades of observation into scientific gold.

Just as importantly, students living in Gothic alongside scientists and their families realize that it is possible to be a parent and a scientist, should they choose to do both.  For some students from cultures in which family is central, seeing kids running around demystifies what it means to be a scientist, and perhaps makes it easier to imagine themselves as a scientist.

Just as there is no one way to grow into adulthood, there is no one way to being a scientist.  Each scientist will pursue what is important to them.  For some it may be family.  For others, it may be friends, or a pet, or a love of hiking and adventure.  By adding human memories and experiences, including of tutus, stitches, and porcupines, to a valley filled with wildflowers, wildlife, and rocks, we are creating a powerful place, filled with knowledge, wisdom, and personal connections that inform how we understand the world!

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL