Josie Hoien: “Lakeside Magic” Stories of Impact Project Overview

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Do you remember the first time you witnessed a landscape transform into a stage for fireflies on a summer night?


You catch the first light out of the corner of your eye: did you see that?

You see another: yellow light, come and gone, streaked beyond the old oak tree.

Maybe you cross your eyes to see a black bug idle and glow up slowly in front of your face: cup it between your hands, peek in as your palms glow up like a low hum.

More bugs flicker on and off more frequently.

The yard takes on a new dimension.



These beings, near and far, communicate with light.








Do you remember the feeling of it?




My experience researching “Lakeside Magic” compares to witnessing – and finding myself within – such a display.


Here is a landscape as evening dawns. I walked onto the campus to meet Mary Skopec, Executive Director of Iowa Lakeside Laboratories, who offered me a job before we even discussed parameters. A foot path looks like a foot path.


Here is the first flicker of light. Mary spoke confidently about a magic with depths I could not grasp. I stepped upon the sidewalk again, with curiosity.


I watch a yellow light glow up like a low hum: my first interview with a Lakeside alum.


Another light illuminated beyond the old oak tree… an interview with a Lakeside faculty member.

a few more flickers…. friends of one alum,               and a few more yet…. alum friends of the another,


With each interview I conducted, lights flickered in new places, and the dimensions of Lakeside came into focus. When someone shone their Lakeside light, they called upon their friends; their friends, illuminating, gathered.


Lakeside Lab’s impact reaches well beyond the campus boundaries. As we spoke, Lakeside alums illuminated their place in the world – coastal New Zealand, looking out; Medical School, looking up; the walls of a Minnesota Lutheran Church, in a trance of remembering – and cast light upon Lakeside grounds through their stories.



I am a scientist, but I do not come to you with testament of discovery. I once held a most gentle, soft chickadee in my 10-year-old hands. In between scientific milestones, we feel the pulse of fundamental learning.


You can see familiar beings in new ways.


Lakeside Lab abides by this rhythm in the Lakes Area Community, including my hometown. This project has been an opportunity to hold a common chickadee closer. Here: let me bring it closer for you, too.


Lakeside Lab has earned its reputation as an important institution in scientific and educational domains. But the less obvious magic of Lakeside Lab bubbles up by reminding students, faculty, and community participants every single season how to live their own tiny, human lives. This project seeks to explore the many ways people who walk out the stone gate at summer’s end carry Lakeside with them.




For the people in the Lakes community, who may never seek graduate science education from Lakeside but can still take heart in the power & love that lives there.

For experiential nature education, which gives intergenerational friendships and the first big love – for people, for place – of many scientists, artists, and students’ lives.

For this hometown, whose scientific legacy is known and retold through verbal exchange around the world. (This is a story for another day).

For the wildflowers, salamanders, and dark earth that makes the Iowa Great Lakes region – we are lucky to live in such rich company.

For the network of Lakeside lovers, whose stories generated on 147 acres of Lakeside’s campus make up an invisible net that cinches Planet Earth together.

For a magic that cannot be generated at will but grows from one great meeting grounds of people, backgrounds, ideas, and interests.



As Matt Julius shared in an interview, place and people merged to pass down “one most beautiful blessed gift.” Read these stories; let a tiny chickadee take flight from your open palm. We are all part of a bigger beautiful something.


By Josie Hoien

“Artists and scientists are both asking questions about the world, they’re just doing it in different ways”
Alex Braidwood
Director, Iowa Lakeside Lab Artists-in-Residence Program
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