A Phenology Walk

A Phenology Walk

Making Climate Change Observations With Community Engaged Art

By Sam Graf
Backyard Phenology's Program Coordinator

Recently, I have joined the Backyard Phenology Collaborative to help coordinate the programs we are developing with the UMN Native American Medicine Garden and Silverwood Park. At each site, we are starting to design a phenology walk, which is just a loose term for what happens when people get together to share their stories and observations about seasonal changes. I have been thinking a lot about the possibilities of this process, how our work at each site can enable visitors to observe the changing seasons in a new way.

The Twin Cities are not immune to the effects of climate change. The parks and gardens and natural areas where people connect with nature are already starting to respond to changes in rainfall and temperate. Art has always played a big role in helping us realize and visualize how things change, helping the abstract become tangible and the obscure come into focus.

This project did not emerge on a blank canvas or out of the daydreams of one person. Nothing really happens this way. This project is a reflection on our need to listen better, to put more effort into getting out of our echo chambers, and find ways to reach out across difference have all inspired our work. For the artists and researchers trying to capture and communicate what the impacts of climate change will be, the process of Backyard Phenology was an empathetic and aesthetic response.

We recognized that people who observe the cycles and seasons, natural events and rhythms, in the paces they live have developed a connection to the places they live as a result. This practice of observing phenology has the effect of enabling people to do place response work and builds awareness of how our communities are changing with climate.

Right now, I spend a lot of time writing down questions. As I visit each of our host sites or spend time walking along through the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary a few blocks from my house on the East Side of St Paul (A place where most of my own phenology notes are taken), I keep asking how the built environment shapes what and how we observe? What forces distract us and take our attention out of the moment that we are in? What values are on are being expressed? How are the seasons on display?

The process of designing a phenology walk often involves learning histories, watching how bodies move through a space, and cultivating relationships. What comes out of collaboratively designing a phenology walk can be as minimal as a few white flags placed into the ground, or as elaborate as a series of connected tree houses. What emerges is an invitation for people to observe just a little more.

Right now, the Backyard Phenology team is working on bringing people together at sites in the Twin Cities Metro Area and recording stories with the Climate Chaser at Community events. If you have any interest in helping us collect stories, telling us a bit about what kind of ArtScience collaboration excite you, coming to an event at the Medicine Garden or Silverwood, or are interested in recording phenology as part a national citizen science project, we would love to hear from you!