This is not a scientific essay. It’s more personal than that.
Everything I know about bioblitzes comes from one person. Plus now I’ve googled the term. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so let me back up. I’m an older person of the Boomer generation, and before this year, I’d had very little to do with biology since high school. I think that makes me like most people. But then, in the year I would turn seventy, a pandemic happened. Some areas of biology gained relevance for me. A runny nose causes me concern, in myself or in someone else. I wear a mask when I rarely go out, and I maintain social distance. The pandemic also affects what I read. This year, among other fiction and nonfiction, I’ve read The Great Influenza, Station Eleven, The Sixth Extinction, The Stand, and The Ancestor’s Tale. Some of those are pandemic related, but all of them have more to do with biology than almost anything I’d read in fifty years.
So, bioblitz. Am I involved because of the pandemic? Well, no. This is where that other person comes in. She told me about the iNaturalist app, so I said I’d give it a try. That’s what I did, on the very last day of this other thing that she told me of—a bioblitz. Why I waited until the last day is complex. It’s as much an aversion on my part to new things as anything else—I dislike being a newbie. Plus I don’t take pictures well, even as cameras have gotten simpler in the last few decades. So, on the last day, I said to myself, “Now or never, Frank” and I managed to find four things, all in my neighborhood. One was a milkweed plant. We have several of those, and they used to have all their leaves eaten, with caterpillars around them. Now, not so much—they grow untouched. One picture that I missed was of a small mushroom, the size of a quarter, which I had seen for the last week or so, across the street. It had regular radial ridges on the top of the cap. But when I went back, it was gone. Oh well. All in all, I did not get my knees or elbows dirty, and my dog waited while I took the photos.
As I’ve learned, the purpose of a bioblitz is to establish what all the species are in a given area, and to do so in a self-documenting fashion. The goal is to encourage participation and make it easy and (dare I say?) fun. Cell phones, with cameras and GPS for the documentation, make it easier—thus the iNaturalist app. I did not get into the details—just figured out where the pictures happened, and went from there. The first thing it told me was that I have no content. I don’t think anything I did changed that.
So, pandemics and bioblitzes! My return, after fifty years, to biology. Or maybe biology’s return to me, all karmic motion being relative.
Frank Fedele is a writer, poet and member of the Naperville Writers Group