Cape Ann Vernal Pond Team

Biologist Nathan Mineo

Did You Know...?

Did You Know...? is an ongoing series of articles about adaptations animals develop through evolution and the effects they have on the natural world. The articles were written by Nathan Mineo.

Interview With Nathan Mineo on March 7, 2017

Nathan, can you tell us a little about your interest in nature, what you do for work, why you wrote the Did You Know...? series, and any plans for your next article? 

To answer your questions, my interest in nature likely started before I was born when my mother, pregnant with me, took walks in the woods.  After that, I spent much of my childhood, adolescence, and even early adulthood roaming around in the woods of Cape Ann.  I suppose it started out as the woods being a place where my friends and I could just hang out and have fun building huts and climbing trees.  My appreciation and respect for nature grew the more time we spent out in the woods, and soon what became a fun place to hang out turned into a peaceful sanctuary representative of a time passed. 

This new appreciation was shared by some of my friends as well, and we began to focus more on observing the natural world, sitting and just watching the secrets of the woods reveal themselves to us.  This lasted for years, well into and past college.  My friend, Chris Wood, went to college for Forestry (I think that was his major) where he took tree ID classes.  So whenever we got together we would roam around the woods (usually on Cape Ann or in the woods around Amherst) identifying trees, almost like a game.  This game expanded to include plants (herbaceous and woody) and animal tracks.  By tracking animals, we learned a great deal about their habits and we had fun postulating why they visited certain places.  

I majored in Biology at UMASS Boston, with a focus on environmental biology.  I excelled in my Ecology and Evolution classes.  Concepts in those fields seemed to make the most sense to me, being in line with my own observations and tying them together in a way that brought the whole picture into better focus.  

Between the scientific learning in my classes and the ideas Chris and I bounced off of each other, my view of nature changed quite a bit, and my appreciation grew.  No longer did I see a safe and peaceful world in the woods.  Instead I started seeing nature in a less romanticized, and I would argue, more realistic light.  Life cannot exist without death. Nothing wants to die, but some things have to in order for the system to function.  Humans, Americans specifically, are very distantly separated from this notion and most don't see the death necessary to keep them alive.  In the woods, this becomes more clear.  Life is a struggle for survival and reproduction.  

In retrospect, I suppose that's one of the reasons I felt more peace in the woods, it's just simpler.  Squirrels aren't worried about finding a job, fishers don't concern themselves with research papers, deer don't have paper work, and trees don't think about their version of objective reality.  The woods may be more brutal--a race for survival and reproduction where the losers die--but in that brutality lies simplicity, and in that simplicity lies beauty.  There's a great balance of life and death in nature that stems from the seemingly random self-interests of organisms.  Too much of one or the other will throw the balance off and disrupt the system, and not just the living parts of that system, but the non-living parts as well.  When wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone, the behavior of the rivers changed.  Whales affect the amount of atmospheric oxygen.  The adaptations animals develop through evolution and the effects they have on the natural world are absolutely fascinating to me.  

I started writing the Did You Know...? column because I wanted to share my fascination.  I figure that if everyone knows how amazing nature is they can't help but want to protect and preserve it.  In part, this also led me to become a teacher.  A little more than five years ago I switched from a career in conservation to teaching.  Currently I teach Environmental Science to 11th and 12th graders at the High School Learning Center, which is part of Lawrence Public Schools.  I am also finishing up my masters degree at Northeastern, which is why I've taken a hiatus from the Did You Know...? column.  I do plan to get back to writing the column soon.  I heard a couple stories about trees communicating and would love to learn more about that and share it!


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