The Office: Eric Liebl

issue 02 | spring 2023
Eric Liebl hiking in the bio reserve

“One of the things that defines me as a person, and a Denison professor, is that I walk to work through the Bio Reserve every day (and I really mean every day; there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing). I live just east of the Reserve, so I have a 45-minute walk through the Reserve to campus in the morning and a 45-minute walk back in the evenings. These hikes are where I actually do most of my lateral thinking. If I’m struck by a good idea about how to present material in class, or if I have a research insight, it’s almost always something that comes to me during my walking meditation commute.”

While some professors opt for a briefcase or tote as their work bag, Liebl brings a hiking backpack.

“Everybody jokes that I’m going on a camping trip, but I say, well, how big is the trunk of your car? I have my rain stuff. I have a light. If you were going to drive to work in a convertible, would you not have a top for the convertible? Would you not have lights in case you have to stay later and it gets dark? I’m prepared to walk home no matter what.”

For over half a century, the Bio Reserve has served as a destination for both academic and leisure activities.

“It certainly makes me aware of the broad world of biology. I mean, I’m a molecular biologist and a geneticist, but I’m very aware each week of how far the wildflowers are progressing. I always send a picture to the department when the skunk cabbage first comes up, usually through the snow. So although I’m a molecular biologist, I feel connected to my more organismal and ecosystem-oriented biology colleagues.”

From hiking clothes to formal attire, Liebl is ready for a quick change.

“When I come into campus, I change into what I call the professor uniform. I have a collection of shirts, socks, and pants in my office, so I come in, I change clothes, and I wash up in the restroom, and then I’m ready for my job. And then when I go home, I have my muddy stuff that I put back on.”

With his mud-caked hiking boots on, Liebl is free to walk wherever he decides. On or off the trails.

“I have had some fun experiences walking around, but I’ve also seen stuff that a lot of people don’t see. I mean, there was one year I ran into three box turtles. They were just crossing the path at the same time I was. It was crazy — the year of the turtle. Sometimes I walk back at night and then I see foxfire — these bioluminescent fungi. It was a long time ago, but I remember when the Hale–Bopp comet was clearly visible above the field station. So if you get away from the light, you see the things that you normally don’t see.”

Published June 2023
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