The Challenge of Unveiling the Invisible Present

John J. Magnuson

in The Vanishing Present: Wisconsin's Changing Lands, Waters, and Wildlife

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9780226871714
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226871745 | DOI:
The Challenge of Unveiling the Invisible Present

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Change is all around us; the challenge is to see it or perhaps to remember it. Often we seem locked in an invisible present and an invisible place, oblivious to long-term changes occurring across the landscape. Even qualitatively our memories are fallible. Were hickory nuts less abundant this year than last? How abundant were they a decade ago, or when we were children? Quantitatively our sense of change is usually just plain wrong. We can recall the past and sense change only when we keep records. Lake Mendota's ice cover provides a good example. In the winter of 2005–6, ice cover persisted for 95 days, this is a rather uninteresting fact that provides no sense of change—the invisible present. With the full length of observation from 1855–56 to 2005–6, we see that even though ice cover in 2005–6 was about average for the most recent 10 years, it was shorter than each of the first 20 years of record. We also see that ice cover shortened by 1.9 days per decade over the 150 years or more slowly than over the last 50 years. Over the 150 years, ice covered Lake Mendota for as long as 161 days in 1881. This chapter argues that as we expand our view to include longer periods and broader areas, we lift the veil from the invisible present and invisible place. We gain a vantage point for glimpsing the changes going on around us. With this comes insights that we usually associate with age and wisdom.

Keywords: ecological change; Lake Mendota; ice cover; records

Chapter.  3221 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

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