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The Incidental Steward

The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Incidental Steward
    Book Description:

    A search for a radio-tagged Indiana bat roosting in the woods behind her house in New York's Hudson Valley led Akiko Busch to assorted other encounters with the natural world-local ecological monitoring projects, community-organized cleanup efforts, and data-driven citizen science research. Whether it is pulling up water chestnuts in the Hudson River, measuring beds of submerged aquatic vegetation, or searching out vernal pools, all are efforts that illuminate the role of ordinary citizens as stewards of place. In this elegantly written book, Busch highlights factors that distinguish twenty-first-century citizen scientists from traditional amateur naturalists: a greater sense of urgency, helpful new technologies, and the expanded possibilities of crowdsourcing.

    The observations here look both to precisely recorded data sheets and to the impressionistic marginalia, scribbled asides, and side roads that often attend such unpredictable outings. While not a primer on the prescribed protocols of citizen science, the book combines vivid natural history, a deep sense of place, and reflection about our changing world. Musing on the expanding potential of citizen science, the author celebrates today's renewed volunteerism and the opportunities it offers for regaining a deep sense of connection to place.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19508-8
    Subjects: General Science, Political Science, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Mohonk Mountain is only thirty miles from where I live in the Hudson Valley, but the ascent always makes it seem farther. On the November day I take the drive, mist hugs the ridge and drifts over the valley. The trees have long since shed their foliage, but for those few leaves lingering on some oaks, and those will hang on for most of the winter. Lichen and moss appear to soften the stone ledges they blanket, and a few pitch pines grab onto the rock. The mountain laurel keeps its green into the winter months, but the real tenacity...

  5. 2 Bats in the Locust Tree
    (pp. 29-42)

    From time to time during the summer of 2007 I found myself trekking up the mountain behind our house. It would be dusk, the hour the bats leave their roosts, and it was the bats I was after. Pregnant and nursing bats cluster to rear their young, their shared body heat essential to the well-being of their progeny, and just such a maternal colony of Indiana bats had taken up residence in the woods on the mountain. Though added to the endangered species list in 1969, Indiana bats had begun to stabilize in number by 2000, and more recently, their...

  6. 3 Weeds on the River
    (pp. 43-55)

    The water chestnut is what is known as “an introduced species,” but on a quiet backstretch of the Hudson River on a July morning, such phrasing seemed especially curious. I had always thought of an introduction as some kind of courteous exchange, an agreement on some kind of mutual civility. In the language of conservation biology, however, the term refers to non-indigenous organisms that have either accidentally or deliberately been brought to a new location, often with an adverse effect on native plant and animal life. Out on the river, it was clear that no gracious understanding of any kind...

  7. 4 Pools in the Spring
    (pp. 56-73)

    Vernal pools come and go. They are one of those features of the natural landscape that are defined not only by physical characteristics but also by time, usually between a couple of weeks and several months. Seasonal wetlands covered by shallow, non-running water for variable periods from winter to spring, they’re small, usually less than two acres, and not connected to other bodies of water. Fed instead by melting snow and spring rains, they often escape human notice entirely. Which may be why Ann, Joyce, Ray, and I found ourselves so baffled on that April afternoon. We were standing in...

  8. 5 Ribbons Underwater
    (pp. 74-89)

    Mid-August in the Hudson Valley is a good time to take measure. The fields are a riot of wild carrot, chicory, goldenrod, and joe-pye weed, and the woods have become an impassable thicket. It is no different on the Hudson River. Until a dry spell allows the salt front to move upriver and make its assault on the water chestnuts, the watery meadows of rosettes flank the shore, and at Stockport, the mud flats are a pasture of spatterdock at low tide.

    The plant life is just as abundant beneath the surface of the river where the beds of wild...

  9. 6 Coyotes Across the Clear-Cut
    (pp. 90-104)

    The small building I use as an office is up behind the house at the edge of the woods. It is at that line where the lawn meets the trees, where a patch of long grass, timothy, fescue, and strands of golden-rod separate the mown grass and fenced garden from the weeds, the thicket of brambles, a pin oak, a grove of spindly locusts, and some scrabbly maples that determine the start of the woods. My window doesn’t offer much of a view, but what view there is simply is to a place where things change or where one thing...

  10. 7 Herring into the Brook
    (pp. 105-120)

    What human being who has even a passing familiarity with desire or expectation or loss or regret could possibly pass up a job that requires standing at the edge of a bridge for fifteen minutes twice each week simply watching the water streaming beneath?

    Wappinger Creek is the longest creek in Dutchess County, starting at Thompson Pond at the foot of Stissing Mountain in the north and running some forty-one miles south where it drains into the Hudson River. One of its many tributaries, Hunter’s Brook is a small freshwater stream that meets the creek not far from the river....

  11. 8 Loosestrife in the Marsh
    (pp. 121-134)

    When I was a teenager, I would sometimes have tea with an older woman who was a friend of my mother’s. Mrs. Bacon lived alone, and my mother was of the mind that if a seventeen-year-old-girl were to discuss books with a seventy-five-year-old woman, both would be the better for it. Now, decades later, I am able to recall little of the books or conversation, but I remember clearly one afternoon, after our talk and our cup of tea, Mrs. Bacon took me to the wide window overlooking the Dutchess County meadow. It was late summer, and the field of...

  12. 9 Eels in the Stream
    (pp. 135-154)

    Kids love catching things, and if what they’re trying to catch is in the water, that makes it even better. It’s better yet if you happen to love what you are trying to catch, which is where Chris Bowser enters the picture.

    He’s the first to admit that he’s in love, and to prove it, he passes around the objects of his affection, four slender glass eels, each only two or three inches long, swimming in a small glass jar of water. Which is to say, you’re looking at something that looks like nothing swimming in something else that looks...

  13. 10 Vines Through the Trees
    (pp. 155-167)

    Things happen too quickly. Life happens too fast. Time passes at an accelerated rate. We know this and complain about it. “Hurry sickness” is the name sociologists have given to the chronic rush that so often attends our lives, that imperative so many of us have to do the next thing now. All of which is why mile-a-minute vine could be a plant invented for our age. It, too, has hurry sickness. Named for the speed of its maniacal growth cycle—up to six inches a day and up to twenty feet a year—the vine defies the traditional cycles...

  14. 11 Insects in the Ash Trees
    (pp. 168-182)

    The natural world and the measures we take to defend it tend to be informed by practical knowledge, by research, classifications, identity, and known facts. The study of ecology is the study of the world that is, not the world that can be imagined. So what to make of it when the world outside your door suddenly takes on the sheen of the fantastic?

    Such was the question in June 2011 when I first noticed the purple boxes hanging from the limbs of trees every few miles along the edge of the road running down the valley. Secured with a...

  15. 12 Eagles on the Shore
    (pp. 183-202)

    Scorekeeping, statistics, and noting how things add up or don’t come naturally to most human beings. I suspect most of us are equipped with some instinctive method of weights and measures. It’s what we use to track our losses and gains, and probably also what registers the events of the natural world when the math is off, whether it is a profusion of weeds, a diminishing number of bats, or even just a torrential rain. Perhaps, too, these exercises in tallying eels or counting herring or measuring beds of wild celery are all ways to compile numbers, to shore up...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 203-208)

    Xavier de Maistre was an eighteenth-century aristocrat and writer most known for his travelogue of the voyage around his bedroom. Wearing his pajamas, Maistre did his best to examine his sofa, windowsill, and bedpost as though a tourist, bringing a traveler’s fresh perspective and insights to the view of his rugs, armchair, and prints. While his work parodied the great travel narratives of his contemporaries who were prone to allegorical rhapsody, it also speaks to the possibilities of bringing imagination to our consideration of those rooms and landscapes so familiar to us.

    And it occurs to me that all these...

    (pp. 209-220)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 221-226)
    (pp. 227-228)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 229-238)