UVM Travel Study: Ecuador’s Páramo Grasslands

UVM Travel Study: Ecuador’s Páramo Grasslands


How do you get somebody interested in
something so unknown? We’re sitting on a mountaintop at about
12,000 feet on a property I purchased in 1982 and where I’ve been living ever
since. Geographers do a lot of different things. What holds us together as a discipline is this curiosity of the distribution of
phenomena in space. Why am I sitting in grass here and still live in a forest? A
pretty simple simple-minded question but a really wonderful complex explanation. I’d been teaching at UVM between 2010
and 2012 and when I came back to Ecuador I thought wouldn’t it be nice to
maintain the relationship with the Geography department. Well let’s do
something that is novel for students but also a passion of my own. What would tie us together was this question of paramo origins. Sam: I signed up for this course because I
thought that it would be really cool to actually go and experience what Stu is
teaching us about outdoors and actually be learning through the environment. Is it simply the climate, is it the
rigors of climate or is there something else going on that we haven’t really
taken into adequate consideration? And that is the presence of human beings. Now,
if you find charcoal in soil or sediments, deep sediments that represent
a point 15,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago your question has to be how did, what
was what was burning and who burned it? If we include fire and specifically
anthropic fire in our calculation of grass paramo, wow it means that in
fact fire is necessary to the conservation and health of the
paramo grasslands. The strange fact is Ecuador law,
Ecuadorian law as is true in the other Andean countries prohibits the burning
of grass paramo. So what we need to do is not only understand the science of
grass paramo, the history and the science of grass paramo, but convince
the society of what we’ve learned. You need a burn paramo in order for
these seeds to get to the ground and germinate. If I just imagine the paramo that hasn’t been burned in 15 or 20 years the seed falls on it and none of
the seeds actually even reach the ground. The idea of going to these three national
parks is to see the whole range of expressions of grass paramo and
paramo in general between the forest line where it starts and the snow line
where it ends at higher elevation. Sam: We are on Chimborazo. We just hiked up here. We’re now at 6,100 meters and there’s not a lot of oxygen. It’s really a special
privilege to go someplace on the Earth where you, that is so extreme that
flowering plants can no longer exist. You could go to Antarctica to see the
same thing in terms of latitude but here we’re seeing it in terms of altitude. If
I were asked what would be my favorite part of giving this course I would have
to say it is seeing students out of their, out of their element, in essence defeating all of their personal demons about being outside their
element. Nicho: What is Stu teaching us? Cullen: Patience. Adaptability. And also all about this paramo landscape that we find ourselves in. Look at that. That’s reason enough to come for me. Stu:So, there’s a lot of new things that sort of
knock you off your spot and I love within limits of course but I love that
students are knocked off their spot and that they deal with it and they come out
at the end of the course transformed and much more confident in themselves but
expectant that that whatever is new and and stretches them in some way is
attractive and not to be avoided. Abby: It exposes you to a ton of different
stuff you never really knew you were interested in till you did it. For
example taking this course has made me realize I want Environmental Sciences to
be like my double major and I think I never would have decided that unless I
had come up here and hung out with Stu and learned all about it. Stu: As I hope, it has transformed lives I think students have been affected deeply in
their own personal ways by this experience of just a week over spring
break.

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