July Newsletter 2023

the power of PLACE


“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”


Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818


In the age of the Anthropocene, when geologists thousands of years in the future will be able to read the moment in time when humans first left detectable fingerprints in the earth’s stratigraphy, I find myself pondering legacies, good and bad.

Shelley’s sonnet Ozymandias was an implicit criticism of King George III, calling out the long and unpopular reign of the mad farmer King. At the peak of his power King George III ruled over 20% of the world. He was considered by many, including his English subjects, a tyrant, a characterization reinforced by his role overseeing the losing side of the American War of Independence.

One of the King George’s many legacies was Kew Gardens, an institution inextricably linked with the emergence of science. Under his watch Kew Gardens grew into a significant botanical institution.  Plants from across the world, including curiosities like the corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanium, which smells like rotten meat and is found in Sumatra, and economically important plants such as Coffea arabica, which supports approximately 2 billion cups of coffee daily worldwide, were cultivated. The scientific powerhouse behind Kew Gardens at the time was Sir Joseph Banks, who served as President of the Royal Society for 41 years, the organization that birthed modern science. King George III left legacies that changed the world, but that also left chaos and destruction in their wake as the lives of millions of native peoples were destroyed in the wake of British colonialism.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL


Suan Washko

Water wisdom

Imagine that you’ve grown up a city kid in a concrete jungle. But at some point, a science class suddenly whets your appetite for aquatic biology, and the intellectual craving follows you to college. How do you find the path that leads to a career? If you have an educator like Dr. Susan Washko, you’re in luck.

Dr. Washko has a special interest in helping students whose backgrounds or inexperience with water — like the inability to swim — create barriers to studying aquatic ecology. Any field science can be hazardous, but working around water is especially tricky. Some folks don’t know how to gage the depth or speed of water, or they have no experience with boats. This is why Dr. Washko is participating in the River Field Studies Network, a National Science Foundation-funded project that trains college instructors to teach science students how to safely research water.

Dr. Washko herself grew up in the Cleveland area, near the Cuyahoga River. She’s been fascinated with water since childhood. Her high school ecology class worked with stream engineering consultants to restore an artificially straightened stream so it could support more biodiversity. Working on this project inspired her to pursue studies in environmental science and ecology in college.