Volunteer Spotlight: Jerry Schoen

Jerry Schoen observing milkweed.
Jerry Schoen observing milkweed.

Jerry recently retired from the University of Massachusetts Water Resources Research Center, where he worked for over 20 years. During his time there, he was involved in the development of a wide range of projects but focused primarily on volunteer water quality monitoring programs. He became interested in phenology about 10 years ago and recognizes that it is “a very aesthetic way to understand ecosystems and the workings of nature.” Inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, Jerry says that he “loves the changing seasons and the ability to be able to mark and observe them through [the phenophases of] different organisms.”

Jerry says that participating in Signs of the Seasons has made him more likely to discuss phenology and the local impacts of a changing climate with his friends and family. “I kind of feel like I’ve become a phenology disciple.” He starts by asking if someone knows what phenology means and then leads into how it can inform general understandings of nature as well as serve as a way to track climate change.

Throughout all of his years recording phenology, Jerry has a lot of memorable stories to share, but there are a few that stand out among the rest: “At the beginning, before I started recording phenology officially, I was standing on the banks of a river in New York state and the sound of toads calling was pervasive. I looked down to realize that I was standing in the midst of an orgy. There were 13 males and 11 females, all climbing on top of each other and fighting for position.” Another one of Jerry’s favorite moments in the season is when the milkweed seedpods are ripe and ready to release the seeds. “When the light is just right late in the afternoon and the seeds are in the air, the little puffs are in the air, they will float between the sun and me and turn into these little balls of fire. It is really quite a remarkable sight.”

When asked if he had any “tips” to share with other observers, Jerry had a unique perspective that can be summarized as have fun. “I taught my daughters how to do leaf catching. When the leaves start to fall from the trees, you have to catch it before it falls to the ground. You will find that some species are more difficult to catch than others. I encourage fall observers to try this when the leaves start to change!” While all observations and data that are reported through Signs of the Seasons are valuable and contribute to meaningful projects, this is a wonderful reminder that the process should be enjoyable. “Yesterday I caught the first leaf of the season! I even caught it while riding my bicycle, though I don’t recommend that.”

Thank you to Jerry for all of your hard work and dedication to Signs of the Seasons!