Each fall, the Hamilton Adirondack Program showcases an important voice in and for the Adirondacks as the program’s plenary speaker. This year that speaker was Jerry Jenkins, an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and author of several books about the region, including The Adirondack Atlas, Climate Change in the Adirondacks, and his forthcoming Woody Plants of the Northern Forest: A Photographic Guide.
On Oct. 29, the Adirondack Program sponsored a community lecture by Jenkins at Keene Central School, titled “Visualizing Ecologies.” Students and area residents joined together to learn about the science, art, challenges, and promises of creating an ecological field guide.
In his presentation, Jenkins explained that for the past 10+ years he has been focused on researching local plant ecology to create the Northern Forest Atlas, a field guide containing both detailed photographs and ecological context. While older field guides typically consist of singular illustrations and copious text, Jenkins’ guide “captivated the audience,” said Nick Pace ’19, “with the subtle details of his photographs and his insightful commentary on the larger issue of global environmental change.”
The culmination of Jenkins’ visit was when he joined the Adirondack Program’s Intensive Seminar course, “The Ecological History of the Adirondack Park,” with Associate Professor of Biology Bill Pfitsch. Jenkins opened the class by spreading branches and leaves on the table. Students then drew upon the plant identification skills learned through fieldwork in Pfitsch’s class to recognize branches based upon their venation patterns and leaf structure and determine unknown plants by using dichotomous keys.
Jenkins engaged the class in a spirited discussion about the decisions he made to represent these plants in the forthcoming field guide. Students debated the relationship between the aesthetic and the practical, and talked at length about his comprehensive research and stunning photography.
Laura Kwasnoski ’18 said “I really liked that we could interact with him one-on-one, and the hands-on demonstration acted as a learning experience for us and Jenkins. By giving us the opportunity to critically question him, he realized some of the adjustments that still need to be made to his photographic guide.”
Jenkins approaches ecology with a consuming passion, and students were left with both his abiding sense of wonder and his contagious professional commitment.