Martha O’Kennon, professor emeritus of mathematics, computer science and Chinese from Albion College, now runs a blog consisting of weekly entries about the different flora and fauna she’s observed in her yard, along with photos of every organism that stops by. From butterflies and jumping spiders to goldenrods and asters, O’Kennon documents and appreciates them all.
Her fascination with wildlife started as a child. O’Kennon spent most of her time outside, observing and jotting down all the different kinds of bugs she would see in her front yard. As she grew older, her love for science stayed the same, but she branched out and began exploring with astronomy and mathematics. Later on, she began studying computer science and language as well.
In 1969, O’Kennon graduated from the University of Richmond. She went on to get a Master’s degree in mathematics in 1970 followed by a Master’s in computer engineering in 1981, both from Clarkston University in New York. For seven years, she worked as an adjunct professor in mathematics at Clarkston. Afterwards, she got a job in China teaching computer science where she also learned Mandarin.
After her two years in China, O’Kennon became a professor of mathematics, computer science and Chinese at Albion. Her main area of work was writing computer schemes that translated languages like Mandarin, Irish, Xhosa and some Native American languages into English, allowing people to learn the grammar for each language easier.
After retiring from Albion, O’Kennon picked up some of her childhood hobbies again. She began taking pictures of her backyard community and writing emails to fellow nature-lovers, subsequently creating an online blog to reach a wider audience.
Starting the blog helped O’Kennon re-establish her connection with nature and the communities that live right outside her door. She’s slowly growing out of her fear of spiders and has developed a new appreciation of her arachnid neighbors, particularly jumping spiders. She has also grown fond of leafhoppers and treehoppers or really anything that, as she said, “has more than three colors.”
Although O’Kennon started the blog as a way to communicate with other nature-lovers, she hopes to spread an important message about the planet.
“What I try to do is convince people that these things are pretty, and they’re not out to get you. They’re part of our environment, and we’ve got to work to keep them going,” said O’Kennon.
“Everything’s related: The trees, the bugs, the ants, me. It’s just wonderful to watch how things work together, and I’m worried that if the planet gets discombobulated, things won’t work together, and it’ll be a faster elimination of species.”
O’Kennon is also in the process of identifying an unknown insect species, similar to treehoppers, that she discovered in her backyard.