Two years ago, I vividly recall arriving in Australia for my SFS program with bright eyes full of wonder—a remarkable feat, really, in light of an extremely hectic travel schedule (lasting nearly three full days including layovers and time zone adjustments). One week ago I observed this same irrepressible excitement in the latest batch of students here at the SFS’ Centre for Rainforest Studies (CRS). So far, my new vantage point as a program intern has done nothing to diminish the infectious enthusiasm that comes with the start of a new adventure.
A pronounced sense of nostalgia struck me as our students were being oriented to the brilliant rainforest ecosystems located on the property. A traditional introductory hike marks their second afternoon at the Centre, and I wasn’t going to miss their first reactions to their natural surroundings. Students listened to Centre Director Amanda Freeman describe the dynamic history of the forests on site. In a similar vein, we discussed the implications of competing uses of rainforest lands. Evidence for timber logging, fruit harvesting, and dairy farming could all be sensed by students despite their short time in the area.
We also passed a rich suite of life as we progressed on our hike. Creeping vines, extensive epiphytic plants, huge tree ferns, and colourful floral parades captivated the students. Countless insects also made time to greet us: dragonflies, Huntsman Spiders, and even a Ulysses Butterfly were part of our welcome committee. All of these observations took place against a backdrop of vibrant bird communities. Sprays of diverse calls marked the landscape, and we even witnessed a mating court for the Tooth-billed Bowerbird. The males of the species meticulously clear a small section of understory and place several leaves face down in intricate patterns to attract mates. It was quite a sight to behold!
Photo: Tim Laman
But the most powerful moment for me occurred near the end of our walk with the students. We passed by a tree planting that had occurred nearly two years ago—a planting I was involved with when I was a student. It was extraordinary to see the effects of time on my group’s efforts. Many of the tiny saplings we launched into the world are now living large in their new environment. When I saw this transformation, I was propelled backward in time. Like the young saplings, it was clear that I had grown extensively in experience, knowledge, and empathy over the past two years, due largely to my time at CRS. As the tables turn and I enter my new role as a program intern this semester, I’m excited to watch these students face similar, transformative experiences.
Photo: Olivia Tempest
Photo: Drew Sorenson