The Importance of Paying Attention

Written by Glenna Holstein
    Wednesday, 29 April 2015
The Importance of Paying Attention

Being an ecologist, in many ways, is about paying attention. In springtime, the Center is particularly good at this: the staff have their eyes and ears on high alert for that first jubilant trill of a Red-winged Blackbird or the first striped flash of a chipmunk that will let us know the wait for spring is over.

But the everyday observations are just as important as the “firsts.” That’s how we learn to understand the natural world and notice changes or needs arising in our own ecosystem.

One of the most fun ways to pay attention that we have at the Center is a little-known program at Menomonee Valley called “Photo Phenology.” Each month, our Community Program Coordinator Lainet invites anyone who is interested to join her on a walk through the Valley. They walk the same route each month, using the Center’s cameras to take pictures at the same sites. Over the last two years, they have documented amazing seasonal and long-term changes — after all, they started before Three Bridges Park existed! That photographic record is extraordinarily valuable to understanding what is going on in our ecosystem (not to mention it’s a beautiful set of photos).

But it isn’t just the birds and plants we want to pay attention to. It’s just as important for us to understand what is happening in our neighborhoods, to notice the needs and changes in the human part of our ecosystems.

I was thrilled back in February at how many people showed up at our Menomonee Valley branch’s Community Forums to share their thoughts, ideas and wisdom about the Center and how we can fit into the fabric of our community. I wish I could share the 15 pages of notes from the forums with you here — it’s fascinating and exciting stuff! If you’re curious, come ask me, I’m happy to share. Every staff person at the Menomonee Valley branch has a goal for this year to find at least one way to respond to some of the feedback we received during our forums, so you’ll be seeing many of the fruits of that effort soon.

So, how can you start to pay attention? I would encourage you to check out the Photo Phenology programs happening May 23rd and June 27th. Not only do you get a lovely walk with one of the most delightful gals you’ll ever meet — you get to hone your “paying attention” skills and contribute to a lasting record for the Menomonee Valley. 

Glenna Holstein

Glenna Holstein

Glenna grew up a mile up the river from the Riverside Park, so the Urban Ecology Center has always been important to her. Her studies and work have taken her all over the hemisphere, but her home has always been right here in Milwaukee. As Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, she is delighted to be part of the team that is working to connect a new community to the nature in their neighborhood. Her favorite things to do include hiking, exploring, cooking, singing, building forts, and trying to convince children that cockleburs are really baby porcupines!

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