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Augie scientist enjoys getting out into the field
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Photo: John Greenwood
Radish article about taking three walks in the same woods, the trails of Black Hawk State Historic Site in Rock Island. Once with biologist Tim Muir, once with a meditation instructor, and once with an artist.
ROCK ISLAND -- The moment a thin, dark garter snake slithered into a clump of grasses overhanging a boardwalk at Black Hawk State Historic Site, it was clear Dr. Tim Muir really is a biologist used to collecting animals in the field.

Dr. Muir, a faculty member at Augustana College in Rock Island, dropped down into a crouch and moved the grasses aside with his bare hands to see if the snake was still there. No dice.

He wasn't always so at ease in the outdoors. Dr. Muir, who studies the physiology of animals, grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit, in which "time outdoors" generally meant being out on a athletic field, not in a woods catching animals.

Now raising two sons of his own -- Liam, 4, and Jude, 2 -- he often brings them to Black Hawk State Historic Site to visit the nature center and take walks in the forest. He's come to appreciate how such direct experiences with our natural surroundings can foster a sense of place.

"Even just to know what kind of tree is in your backyard gives you a sense of rootedness; I hope our boys have that sense," he said. It's a direct experience he hopes to pass on to his students. His research into how cold-blooded animals, turtles in particular, function in low temperatures often brings him out into nature, and he regularly brings students along. They gather turtle eggs to monitor the hatchlings in later months. "Turtles hibernate above the frost line, and as a result their blood turns to ice," he explained.

Even though insects and plants aren't directly in his field of study, Dr. Muir derives a clear sense of pleasure from being able to give a name to those he passes while walking in the woods. You don't have to be a scientist, either, to enjoy being able to identify plants and animals, he said.

"If you stay out long enough, you'll see something you've never seen before. Then it's more than just a walk," he said.

It's an experience that isn't just restricted to being in the woods, he said. The unexpected can arise in our own backyards as well, if we take time to notice. Sometimes, while in his own yard with his children, Dr. Muir will give himself a few minutes to identify bird species.

"You only expect three or four (birds), but it's so easy to get to eight or nine species in a short time," he said. "That's comforting to me. Biodiversity is down worldwide, so to know it's not one species of bird -- it's a community out there that is more complex than it is simple -- that is a good thing."






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  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.






(More History)