On a sunny Friday morning the students of this semester’s Environmental Earth Sciences course set about conducting a lab on the ecosystem of Mont-Royal – not with goggles or a textbook, but, rather, sturdy shoes and an appetite for exploration.
The day started off with a concise ecosystem recap led by Professor Shona Watt, a dynamic McGill grad who also educates Montrealites on urban sustainability. After covering the various flavors of ecosystems and ecotones, autotrophs and heterotrophs, symbiosis and competition, we set off: through the hip downtown plateau and mile-end neighborhoods, across the bustling Avenue du Parc, past playgrounds and soccer fields, suddenly somehow appearing at our destination – the forest.
The day’s first assignment: a scavenger hunt illuminating different ecological facets of the Parc du Mont Royal. An incredibly peaceful hill (no, it’s not technically a mountain) in the heart of Montreal, Mont Royal offers not only populated walking paths but snaking dirt trails into quiet forests as well.
Here, with guidebooks on different species of bugs, birds, and plants in hand, we scattered and investigated the deciduous forest. Sedimentary rocks and snails, ferns and black flies, squirrels and maple trees, an ecotone where the forest met a field, groundworms decomposing rotting wood, we reconvened as a team to relay what we had found.
Next came another exploration, this time into our own relationship with the land. Each student was tasked with finding an isolated spot to sit and observe the forest for ten minutes (no talking! No using of your phone! The horror!). Afterwards, we wrote about what we had seen, and felt, and again discussed as a group.
Some students noted the distant drone of traffic, absent in the woods of their isolated New England hometowns. Others, the still and quiet – different from the hectic streets downtown. I observed the diversity of the groundcover and similarity of the trees shading it, some students listened to the various birdcalls, and others watched the bugs.
Too soon class came to a close (I know, right? Weird). Just as suddenly as it had shown up at the end of the street we emerged from the woods, ready to trek back across the hectic metropolis.
– Melissa Nelson, Professional Writing Major, Fall 2014