• Kurt

Sea of Mountains

Updated: Dec 14, 2019


Hello friends and readers, I hope this post finds you well. My name is Kurt Lutz, and I am an American biologist in the laboratory of Vance Vredenburg at San Francisco State University, where I study Californian amphibian declines. Tonight, I am far from San Francisco. The usual chatter of the city-the cars, people, and trains clicking down the tracks, have been replaced by… well, nothing! The calmness and serenity in the remote village of Cazavet, France, is accompanied by the occasional bells in the distance, or single tractor driving down the small and quiet roads. It is the perfect place to stay while doing field research in the Pyrenees mountains with the P³ group.

As an American from California, I can’t help but compare the Pyrenees to my “home territory,” the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The Sierras have extremely sharp and high (~4500m) peaks, while the Pyrenees are rather vast and expansive. Sometimes, it feels as if you are in a “sea of mountains,” where you could look in any direction and still see endless peaks and valleys covered in green trees and grasses.

The hike to the first lake was, as you would expect from a mountain trail, both unforgiving and rewarding. I was lucky to have had several years of experience in the mountains and in high elevation, otherwise the steep climb would have been quite a struggle.

My first task was to of course immediately goof off and go for a swim with the two British folks we were with. Ok, it wasn’t all goofing off! We needed to find an underwater data tracker that was buried in sediment build up. It had been in the lake for a few years, so a bit of diving and digging was needed to locate it. While the fate of the data tracker is still unknown, the swim in the lake was enough to cool off my body before the real job began. I accompanied Adeline as we swabbed tadpoles for disease and filtered lake water for zooplankton.

There were quite a few tourists and families at the lake; even more than usual. However, I think this is beneficial, as it provided us with the chance to explain our research to onlookers and young kids as they watched us perform our usual sampling. My French is still very much lacking, but I understood that the people were genuinely curious and interested in what we were doing. The kids have quite an eye for spotting tadpoles! Maybe, just maybe, the kids will remember their experience with us by the time they assimilate into the next generation of engineers and policymakers.

As a relatively young scientist myself, I hope to learn how to regularly form meaningful and positive connections with the public, like we did that day. There is still much to learn about the Pyrenees for me. We have more lakes to hike to, and more sights to see. And with that, I must now get ready for the next mountain.


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