Emily’s Phenological Awakening


“…phenology is a very personal sort of science. Once he learns the sequence of events, the phenologist…may even fall in love with the plants and animals which so regularly fulfill his predictions.”
– Aldo Leopold

Prior to arriving at the Aldo Leopold Foundation, I had never heard of phenology. What was this strange word, and what did it mean? As I sat down at my desk for my first day of work, I was presented with the 2020 Phenology Calendar. I soon began flipping through the pages filled with beautiful pictures of native Wisconsin flora and fauna and, importantly, the dates of various seasonal events. Aha! So that’s what phenology is—the study of annual natural occurrences that are influenced by changes in the climate and weather. I was hooked!

A few weeks later, our cohort was presented with four options for an Independent Project—a project we would oversee for the remainder of our fellowship. With a desire to grow my graphic design and marketing and communications skills, I chose to tackle the creation of the 2022 Phenology Calendar and supporting materials. Looking back, I could not be more pleased with the decision I made.

It was nearing October 2020, and the first-ever presale for the 2021 calendar was about to begin. Little did we know at the time, but this was going to be our highest year of calendar sales ever–with over 7,000 calendars ordered! During the calendar sale, people called in regularly to tell me they enjoyed the calendar so much they wanted to share it with family and friends. The calendar enhanced people’s connections with the outdoor world, and I loved hearing about everyone’s experiences.

This phenology project—a topic I knew nothing about before arriving at the Aldo Leopold Foundation—also had a significant impact on how I view my own relationship with the land. Stories of the Leopold family trekking out each day to record their observances of the natural world, and how that information serves us in analyzing the same natural world today, truly inspired me. I found myself looking at the world with fresh eyes, thanks to both my intimate involvement with the creation of the calendar and conversations with dedicated supporters of the foundation who are part of the production and support of the Phenology Calendar each year.

Jump to October 2021, and the 2022 Phenology Calendar is ready to go to print and into the hands of our devoted yearly purchasers. Working with Dr. Stan Temple, a Leopold Senior Fellow and recent inductee to the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame, has been an absolute joy. Plus, I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with many talented photographers around the state. Like so much of the work we do at the Leopold Foundation, this project—indeed, my entire fellowship experience— has deepened my skill set, and my lived experience. Even though I will soon be passing the Phenology Calendar torch to our education coordinator, I know it will be a project I look back on fondly for years to come.

I truly have fallen in love with the plants and animals that so regularly fulfill my predictions.

Learn more and order your 2022 Phenology Calendar