Denver has been such a blessing to all of us participating in Wartburg West. Living in the big city has definitely been interesting, to say the least, and we have enjoyed the grand beauty of the Rocky Mountains during our weekend retreat to Leadville. It’s been a lot to take in, especially for those of us from small, Midwestern towns. Everything seems to be bigger, faster, and more chaotic than back home. However, I want to focus on a much smaller and highly overlooked area – the microscopic world.
I have the wonderful opportunity intern in both the horticulture and research departments at the Denver Botanic Gardens this semester, which has been awesome thus far! Recently, I was helping out one of the full time researchers at my internship with separating some aquatic plant samples. The sample included two stinky Ziplock bags of mostly Duckweed collected from a pond in Adams County. At first glance, all I saw was a bag full of tiny Duckweed plants. As I leaned in closer to see what the researcher was having me sort out, I saw tiny green specks – that was the flower of interest and what I had to separate from the rest of the pond sample. Wolffia is the world’s smallest flower, and I was looking right at it, even though I could barely see it with my naked eye.
I was set up with the highest quality microscope I have ever used, and through that lens was easily able to locate the small, spherical Wolffia from the larger, flat, Duckweed. Looking through a microscope for seven hours tends to make your eyes feel like they’re “bugging out,” but it was absolutely worth it. Why? Because I saw things I wouldn’t normally see without the microscope. I have never been quite able to appreciate a Platyhelminthes flatworm so much before that day, despite those previous freshman biology lab experiments using the same specimen! The way it moved through its tiny, watery world was fascinating. Another creature I enjoyed observing was a small snail sliding along small sticks and Duckweed stems as I silently invaded his private world. That snail moved with such grace! And I’m pretty sure he or she smiled at one point, which was beautiful! I also saw a plethora of aphids, mostly on top of the water, but some were sunken because they had died. From the naked eye, they looked like tiny moving dots, but under the microscope they had definition and some even had some creative designs on their backs! Finally, I saw a bunch of speedy Daphnia moving about the microcosm, which also made my day because I thought they, too, were adorable! Although I was being as careful as I could be and was only removing the Wolffia for research purposes, I can’t help but think how the other invertebrates felt when they sensed an intruder tearing apart the ecosystem they thrived in.
Moving from a town of less than 3,000 people to a city of more than half a million is a kind of a culture shock and I think it can be easy to get caught up in the rush of the city life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun and I’ve had wonderful experiences living in the big city, but sometimes it’s nice to zoom in and focus on the smaller picture. Looking at life from a different perspective is something we don’t often do, but if we do, it is truly something beautiful. I hope we can see the beauty in everything we do out here this semester!