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Tip-of-the-Month: Begin Your Natural History Calendar

— As a new year begins, why not start a record of the annual cycle of nature on your college grounds? The social and academic life of every residential college should follow an established, comfortable rhythm, week after week, month after month, year after year. One of the easiest ways to anchor and deepen that rhythm is to tie it to the cycle of the natural year around you. Get your college a blank book of good quality, and have the members of the college begin this month to keep track of the first migrating birds of the year, the dates on which the flowers on the grounds begin to open and the trees leaf-out or turn color in the fall. (I recommend keeping this record on a calendar-year basis rather than an academic-year basis, because that is how you will find the published literature of your region arranged, making regional comparisons easier.) It makes no difference whether you are in the city, in the suburbs, or in the country; in the north, in the south, or in the tropics: there will be an annual cycle that you and your students can watch unfold, and as year follows year the students will learn that cycle and will look forward to their familiar natural friends reappearing right on schedule. You think that because you are in a city, say, there will not be enough to see? Not at all! Even the tiniest patch of urban lawn along a sidewalk has many plant species growing in it, and the passing birds and insects, the flowering of the street trees, the changing temperature and rainfall—all these things follow their own rhythm that no city can blot out, and in an urban setting they become an especially strong reminder of the greater world in which we live.

From the records you keep, assemble a permanent website on the natural history of your college grounds, listing all the plants and animals that have been seen. As your annual records accumulate add a calendar to the website listing all the natural events that take place through the year. Be sure to mention these natural events in your college newsletter, and encourage student biologists, photographers, and artists to contribute their talents to project. As a modest starting point, feel free to copy or adapt the gardens and grounds page I began for Strong College several years ago.

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© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021