Kimberly Rivers: An Old Question with a New Answer

kimberly-riversEvery summer of my life has been spent in my home state – North Carolina – and that has been very comfortable. Easy trips to the beach and long days spent by the pool. This past year, though, something changed. For the first time in my life, I wanted to make myself uncomfortable. It was my last summer before graduating from college, and I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone a bit. By sheer luck, I found out about Wild Rockies Field Institute from a flier all the way across the country from Montana, in a classroom building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Fast forward through the application, the invitation to join, and my decision to take the Environmental Ethics course – that’s when I first asked myself my big question of the summer: “What have I gotten myself into?”

Before taking the WRFI course, I had never been to Montana, never backpacked, and had never even been outside of North Carolina for longer than a week or so. After learning more about the intensity of the course and all the equipment we would need, I wondered: “What have I gotten myself into?” When literally everyone I told about the course warned me to watch out for bears, I asked it yet again. I had no experience and really didn’t know what to expect. The closer it got to the start of the course, the more nervous I became. I packed my new, huge backpack before I flew out to Montana, and after struggling to lift it up and put it on, I asked the question yet again.

For our first day on the trail, my new WRFI friends and I were only hiking about 3 miles into the Bob Marshall Wilderness to get to our first campsite in the backcountry. It became clear very quickly, however, that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Our instructors estimated that our packs weighed about 45 pounds each, (which is heavy, y’all!!), and of course we got rained on. I just knew that I had made a mistake, and that I was going to be miserable for the three weeks of the course.

I started off the trip doubting myself and the course itinerary, but let’s fast forward one more time – I made it through the trip, and ended up having an incredible time. Together, my classmates and I backpacked in two different wilderness areas and Glacier National Park, spoke with members of the Blackfeet Tribe, swam through a canyon to a secret waterfall, scrambled up to a mountain peak, and engaged in meaningful conversations about climate change and life itself, among other really cool things. I learned so much about myself and could feel proud for what I had accomplished. My whole perspective about traveling and the world changed – I knew I loved traveling and wanted to do more of it before I came on the course, but new ideas about what I could do were exploding in my head. I again began asking myself the same question: “What have I gotten myself into?”, but now it had begun taking on a new meaning.

Before the course, my question had been one of doubt and fear. Now, it’s a door to new opportunities and possibilities. By taking the WRFI Environmental Ethics course, I have gotten myself into a new mindset, and a new perspective. I cannot thank my instructors Pat and Katie, as well as the rest of the WRFI crew, enough for everything they did for me to ensure that an inexperienced girl from North Carolina had the best experience possible through their amazing program. If you’re thinking about taking a WRFI course, I urge you to find out what you can get yourself into. I’m so glad I did.

 

Linden Maurer: Regeneration in the Rockies

 

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As I walked through the blackened and bare burn area of the Scapegoat Wilderness, I contemplated how my view of fire ecology and wildfire had completely changed. Before my Montana adventures, I associated wildfire with destruction, terror, and human loss. In my home state of California, massive unnaturally large wildfires have been raging every summer for the last couple years due to severe drought conditions and the fire suppression policies that began in 1906 with the creation of the Forest Service. However, our instructor Trevor, who does research in fire ecology, opened my eyes to the regenerative qualities of wildfire in an ecosystem.

The lodgepole pine depends on the periodic wildfires to disperse their seeds. According to Kershaw et. al in Plants of the Rocky Mountains, the lodgepole pine “thrives in areas that are periodically burned by forest fires. Although these thin-barked trees are easily killed by fire, their cones require heat to melt the resin that seals their scales shut. Following a fire, huge amounts of stock-piled seeds are released, producing dense strands of young trees” (Kershaw 34).

On our journey out of the Scapegoat Wilderness and into the front country, the charred skeletons of the lodgepole pines lingered on my mind. I continued to ponder the regenerative power of fire and other natural disturbances, expanding my thinking into human-land relations. Not only plant species, but also animal species—including humans and buffalo–can experience a profound sense of rebirth and renewal in nature.

Historically, the prairie along the Rocky Mountain Front burned about every 17 years. Native Americans used fire to manage a historic buffalo-run down by the fen in the Pine Butte Swamp Reserve. The local Blackfoot tribe would burn the area every four years as a management practice to keep the trees from encroaching upon the buffalo run. The tribe would then chase the buffalo through the cleared buffalo run to trap them between the cliff and the river, where they could be easily ambushed and harvested. This relationship between the Blackfeet and the buffalo is central to the tribe’s identity. The Blackfeet use the hide of the buffalo to make the black moccasins that give the tribe their name, and tribe lore predicts that the return of the buffalo will usher in a time of prosperity for the tribe.

In my own life, I have recently experienced a major disturbance and eventual rebirth. In 2014, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which impaired my academic abilities and precipitated my medical leave from college. Although I spent the last two years struggling to manage and heal from my disease, it was not until a recent family backpacking trip that I realized that the backcountry is a powerfully restorative environment in which I can continue to heal and re-enter my academic life. This morning as I watched the sun rise over Ear Mountain from the top of Pine Butte, I felt a deep sense of joy and peacefulness enter my heart. Like the pine sapling rising out of the ashes, I have come to understand that the natural world can truly be a space of regeneration and rebirth.

Rosie Cohen: Heart Map

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Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

Six weeks ago, our instructor, Nancy, read Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” to us in a lush meadow sprinkled with wildflowers in the heart of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I remember sensing the power of her poem. But in many ways, it was a collection of sweet words that I didn’t yet understand. After spending these past six weeks immersed in the tangled beauty of wild lands, I live her words more every day.

Through some sacred, ancient process, or perhaps a wild miracle, I emerged from my time in the wilderness knowing my place in the world. It was fascinating to discover a feeling that I did not know was missing. Before, I remember living with an amorphous feeling of unrest. A vague dissatisfaction that was too subtle to taste or ever fully process. I moved around a lot, yearning for something unknown. Fulfillment slipped in and out of my life like water through my fingers.

In the backcountry, with my beautiful WRFI babes by my side, I felt completely emotionally fulfilled and at peace. Every day, these feelings got stronger. Every day, the vibrancy of the world around me announced itself. There were moments when I would look at the people I was with and the beautiful life we had created for ourselves and I would feel so good I thought my heart was going to explode. I honestly had no idea such a thing was possible. Happiness was a familiar feeling, but it had never before been a lifestyle.

Fascinated with this transformation, I longed to figure out where all this goodness had come from. I wanted to map the path to this feeling so I could always find my way back. I distilled four lessons that I had learned in the backcountry, four ingredients that together made perfect peace.

First, humility. The wilderness, in more ways than I could count, shook me to my bones. It showed me unquestionable reminders that I was small. I remember the deafening cracks of thunder. I remember feeling the soft pulse of a lightning bolt that traveled through the earth to my toes while they hung innocently off my sleeping pad, meeting the ground. I remember being pelted with hail and winds while I tried to cook dinner, clutching the pots to keep the boiling water from spilling on my lap. I remember seeing the fresh tracks of grizzlies in our campsite, and pleading for the sun when the sky wouldn’t stop raining.

These moments bled into my discovery of vulnerability. Vulnerability is no different than honesty. When you’re shivering and you crave warmth, announce your needs. If you’re lucky, soon you’ll be wrapped up in the center of a cinnamon roll hug, or nestled into the heart of a noodleneedle nap. Ask and you shall receive. Be honest about your mushy insides and people will feel safe with you. It’s easier for people to love you when they can see all of you.

Humility and vulnerability settled in my heart after I learned that I was susceptible to the same natural forces as everything else. I fought off the same chilling winds as the wildflowers. I survived the same thunderstorms as the wolverines. I feared the same predators as the elk. All the while, we shared the same joys. We all rejoiced under the hot, sleepy rays of the sun. We all knew how to appreciate a good meal, and how to work for it. After recognizing this unquestionable unity, I saw myself enmeshed in the fabric of the world.

Despite my exposure to certain dangers, simply knowing my place in the world made me feel safe. The world, befriended, was welcoming and comfortable. I was ready to explore. Empowerment, my third ingredient. The rush of scaling a rocky cliff by myself and yearning to climb higher. Scrambling up rocks. Sliding down snow. The unbelievable feeling of gratitude and pride after peaking out on a ridgetop and seeing the contours of the earth carved out beneath me.

Finally, purpose. Just like the elk, I did not spend my nights awake, anxiously processing fears that life is meaningless. I slept deeply, anchored to the earth by the soothing weight of my full heart. Under the stars, there was no question of what my purpose is. I learned, as I know now, that I am here on this earth to be and to love. To love the earth, to be with the earth, to be of the earth and for the earth. To love and be with all the little creatures, and the big creatures, the people and plants that make up the fabric of life.

Now, with every uncertainty, I remind myself, “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” I gaze into the beauty and mystery of the world around me, I see my place in the tangle, and I let my heart guide me forward, stepping graciously into my future.

Natalie Stockman: Spirituality and Place

Natalie blog 2After spending a few hours unsuccessfully pushing Dolly, the WRFI van, off a sandy road as the sun set, we walked up the dirt road that rose to meet the mesa. Our host’s car headlights were shining on her willow branch topped hut. A large pot sat atop an open fire with aluminum foil maintaining the surprise of dinner. Everyone smiled, elated to be at our host’s farm.

We stayed with Dorothy on the Hopi reservation for three days to help her tend to her new garden. Every night we sat around the campfire while she shared her cultural teachings with us. The land is central to the long-lived Puebloan religion. Even though our host quickly shared what she felt comfortable with, I learned some of the complexities of Hopi tradition.

My original idea for this journal was to demonstrate the resilience of Hopi culture with what I learned from our host. After thinking on it, I ultimately decided against it because of what we experienced on Hopi. She told us that most research and books published about the Hopi people were published without proper permission or were incorrect. This incredible breach of trust is sometimes used merely for personal profit, with little regard for the effect it might have on the Hopi. The history of information abuse and fabrication by outsiders made me feel all the more honored that our host shared what she did with us.

I grew up in a relaxed Catholic tradition where, as a young adult, I was able to choose what I wanted to participate in. Along with being an American, I feel that my spirituality was never catered to my place. Looking back on it now, my faint sense of place on Lake Champlain as a child was never referenced as a relevant factor of my spirituality. In this way, I can understand how non-native Americans are attracted to a spiritual tradition that is centered in specific landscape. Cultural appropriation can become construed in that way because it often disregards the aspect that makes native religions unique, the place. When we visited our host on Hopi, she described the significance of corn to the Hopi people. But it seems wrong for me to attach an artificial spiritual connection to corn, because I don’t feel interconnected with corn and I don’t consider it mother corn.

It is not unusual for non-native Americans to have a fascination with place-based spiritualties. The nature of European colonization lacked respect for the earth, its resources, and the native people that inhabited it. While ironically after so many decades of brutality and disrespect of Native Americans by non-native Americans, many non-natives have developed a romanticized view of Native American spirituality. Romanticism and ignorance have led to inevitable misappropriation of spiritual traditions. The dominant religion and general mindset in the USA originates in the Christian tradition. Although the religion originated in the eastern Mediterranean, also known as the Levant, because of its history in Europe and it’s use throughout the rest of the world, (often by means of colonization), Christianity has largely lost its connection to place. Christianity transformed to relate to the lives of many different people on many different landscapes; therefore, once in the United States, it became clear, when compared to indigenous spiritualties, it didn’t connect to the landscape or many of the earth’s natural system.

Even though many Americans don’t identify as Christians, it is the predominant religion in the US and it played a large role in the formation of this country and its laws.  I believe that our innate curiosity with native spiritualties stems from this uninformed and disconnected aspect of dominant American culture. While this curiosity should not be completely stifled, as non-natives we can sometimes make uninformed assumptions, exploit the knowledge that we obtain, or inappropriately take culture out of context. Anthropologists can overstep their boundaries in this regard. While the intention to share unfamiliar cultures and religions can be pure, it can often do more harm than good. Native Americans should have complete control over texts and information that attempts to disclose details about their way of life, because it reflects who they are. For that reason in particular I choose not to divulge all the information that was gifted to me and I recognize that though I was granted some new insights with what our host shared, she doesn’t represent all Hopi people nor do I understand the complexities of the Hopi tradition or identity.

 

Bonny Filker: Flooding Happy Canyon

Bonny's Blog 1It could be the wind’s optimism that pushes up against our burly tents. We’ve set up camp in an alcove uniquely colored with ancient shades of rose and orange layers, deposited sand. I could not have grown to such a point of appreciation for rocks without having walked through these geologic bouquets. This is the White Rim Sandstone.

After days of hiking down the opaque Dirty Devil River, involving escaping quicksand and bushwhacking through buoyant whips of Russian Olive, and thorns of Russian Thistle, we’ve made it to Happy Canyon. At the base of these grandiose walls, about the local resilient species, the slot canyon in front of you is only offering one direction and that’s forward.

The faded walls are meandered by the wind. Curves make it impossible to see much farther past the layered pastel maybe 15 yards in front of you. Describing this scenery is important because it’s at risk of being lost to flooding for Tar Sand development, an energy resource scientists’ have been outspoken against. Its development isn’t cohesive to meeting the 2 degree Celsius global average temperature increase, which holds value in mitigating so we can keep our planet habitable for coming generations of humans and other living beings.

It’s the Bitumen U.S. Oil Sands, a company based out of Alberta, is trying to extract from the sands, which would flood this canyon in the process of diverting the water. The White Rim Stone layer is the remnants from a time where the Colorado Plateau was an ocean. The Bitumen being the ancient, dead algae and plankton after it’s been subjected to the pressures of the ‘Oil Window,’ temperatures between 90-160 degrees Celsius. Tar Sands are essentially expired oil deposits, having gone bad after microbes had the time to eat the lighter hydrocarbon materials with relatively lower Viscosity. That’s why Tar Sand deposits are referred to as ‘nonconventional oil deposits;’ trying to extract the thick, molasses like tar isn’t cost effective because the refining process, which breaks down these long carbon chains, is wildly expensive (notably in energy costs) and wouldn’t even be thought of if there weren’t subsidies for the grime.

Reasons why Tar Sands are propagated include reduced reliance on foreign oil and as an opportunity for job creation. But then why aren’t there subsidies to make cleaner renewable energy sources like solar cost competitive? The state of Vermont employs over 16,000 people in the renewable energy sector, which sees about a 10% employment increase every year since subsidizing Solar, making it cost competitive and a viable option for more Americans. This reduces the energy dependence while creating good paying jobs, facts that disassemble the foundation of these arguments. Also, solar is a renewable resource. When these extractive resources and done what will be left of the landscape and employment opportunities.

Extracting in the Dirty Devil proses devastating risks to the area. The extraction process uses massive amounts of water; a scarce resource in the arid climate. Steamstripping and Sandwashing are the processes in which the Bitumen is extracted from the Earth then refined to become more viscose. In the first year of the Keystone pipeline’s existence, there were over 14 spills the company didn’t know about until community members reported their water being flammable and smelling of oil. If there were to be a spill here, which is statistically likely, no one would be around to report about the spillage. All the life in the area relies on this water source for life, then it flows into the Colorado River, to be used by the Glen Canyon Dam and further down Lake Mead. The Glen Canyon Dam provides water to Page, Arizona among other uses. Further down the water is used by the Lake Mead dam, which provides water to Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and other communities. Plus the long carbon chains will continue to retain solar light energy and convert it into heat energy perpetuating anthropogenic climate change whose physics’ suggest that the arid areas, like this desert, are only going to become drier. Tar Sand development doesn’t make sense to a person who values human health, so why would this be considered and economically rewarded when people are imprisoned for manslaughter. Proud to oppose.

 

Nathan Huck: The Resilient Range

Nathan's Blog 1As our group began our seventh day on a backpacking trip in Horseshoe Canyon, we started using the phrase “Hike like a wild cow,” trying to follow cow prints to find the easiest routes through the canyon.  After decades in these canyons, the feral cows have found all the best routes.  Their trails are extremely welcoming to a groggy group of backpackers still waiting for the morning coffee to do its magic. As we walk down the canyon wash, we are careful to avoid microbiotic soils – a combination of fungi, lichen, mosses, algae, and bacteria that facilitate plant growth in arid regions.  As we walk, however, I notice a substantial amount of hoof prints in the soil, likely made by the feral cows and wild burrows in the area.  This is slightly upsetting, especially knowing that patches of the soils may take decades to a few centuries to grow.

After walking for another hour or so, many of us notice an old livestock stable that looks as though it has been abandoned for almost a century.  The fence was made from graying and twisted wood logs, possibly made from the local pinyon or juniper trees, and you could tell it had been broken in several areas.  Walking a bit further, we made it to a fence which separates BLM land and an area of Canyonlands National park containing many mixtures of Native American petroglyphs and pictographs known as the Great Gallery.  On BLM land side, the microbiotic crusts, grasses, flowers, and the bushes seemed to be very scarce and dispersed.  On the Canyonlands N.P. side, it was like stepping into a new world.  There were the same plants, yet everything was much more thick and prospering, with much more vegetation everywhere you look.

What was the cause of this?  People often argue about the amount of grazing that should be in this region.  Feral cows and burrows are species introduced to this area during the 19th and 20th century, and were abandoned along with ranching operations.  Over the last few decades the National Park Service has tried to round up all the resident feral cows and burrows.  The difference this makes in an area is astounding.  Resilience on the Colorado Plateau, as well as every other environment on earth, is essential in order to allow humans to prosper and maintain ecosystem health. Resilience, according to ecological scientists Brian Walker and David Salt, is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure.  Too often we see humans destroying ecosystems across the globe in order to make a quick buck.  The idea of optimization, or exploiting a product, such as rangeland, for maximum yield, never works in the long term when applied to limited resources.  Since the National Park Service round up, the resilience of the environment in Canyonlands N.P. allowed it to bounce back to what it is today.  Although it is probably not the same as it was prior to grazing, I can see it has improved quite a bit over several decades.

Overgrazing has been an issue in America for hundreds of years.  The impacts of overgrazing have had a profound effect on ecosystems and humans in the past.  Prior to the Taylor Grazing Act, ranchers across the Colorado Plateau and many other western states ran cattle all over the land with little outside regulation. So many cows and so few regulations allowed cows to trample top soils in several ecosystems, often causing large amounts of erosion in riparian ecosystems, and often allowing sand once trapped under microbiotic soils to blow away with the wind.  This lack of management strategy helped cause the great dust bowl of the 1930’s, destroying farms and ranches and bringing dust storms all the way to the east coast.  Regulations have since been passed to help reduce the impact of grazing on ecosystems.  However, change only came when humans were being directly affected by the consequences.  Does this always need to be the case?  Do people need to always wait until a problem is directly affecting us in order to fix it?  I don’t believe people, at least most of them, wish to disrupt the resilience of an ecosystem and watch it wither away, leaving it useless for future generations.

In The Rediscovery of North America, Barry Lopez writes, “In forty thousand years of human history, it has only been in the last few hundred years or so that a people could afford to ignore their local geographies as completely as we do and still survive.”  People have become extremely disconnected with the environments around them, a connection that once was at the foundation of our basic needs.

Most people still believe they know what is best for the land, and refuse to acknowledge other ideas on what land should be used for. The tendency we have of trying to get the most we can out of the land has proven time and time again to bite us in the long term, but competing markets often make people feel the need to do so, thinking about the short term rather than thinking resiliently of the future.  It is my hope that mine and future generations will begin to clearly see the possibilities of thinking resiliently, and together we will be able to once again work with the world, rather than against it, and truly begin to reach our potential for sustainability.

Julien Rashid: Meditations on Bison, Wild Chives and Pad Thai

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It was a frigid and beautiful afternoon. The WRFI crew and I were taking an observational stroll. We were walking near the shore of Goat Lake, an isolated alpine lake close to the northern border of Waterton National Park in Canada. Every few minutes the sun would poke her head around a cloud, illuminating the verdant conifers, pellucid blue lake, and a panoply of wildflowers. Our pace was slow, our senses observant. We were attentive to the shape of every plant that glistened and the color of every animal that scattered. Being a naturalist is an intrinsic capability that every human has in order to observe nature’s patterns and to find her or his place within those patterns. On our walk, I liberated my imprisoned naturalist within. The key, I discovered, was attentiveness. Attentiveness using all of one’s senses is not only important for becoming a naturalist, but also for living a fulfilling life. For most of us students, it seems, this attentiveness had either been learned or refined since the beginning of the course. One particular event that led to the rediscovery of our attentiveness began ten minutes outside of Browning, Montana, across a cattle guard, down a gravel road, and over a few grassy knolls.

In the middle of open grassland, we met with a man named Sheldon Carlson, a member of the Blackfeet tribe who is in charge of maintaining around 200 undomesticated bison for the tribe. Bison reintroduction in Montana has been a contentious development for the last several years. Many ranchers worry about the potential spread of brucellosis, a disease that causes miscarriages in livestock. They also fret about the potential grazing competition between the bison and their livestock for public lands. On top of this, bison are not docile animals like cattle. They are capable of growing up to 2600 pounds, are defensive of their herd, and carry no qualms about charging perceived threats—including humans. And yet, there we were, less than 50 yards from an overwhelming herd of 200 undomesticated bison with Sheldon, their sole caretaker.

Sheldon was a burly, warm-hearted, middle-aged man with double-braids and a plaid flannel. He pulled up next to us in a pickup, the bed of which carried several gorgeous, smelly animal hides. When speaking with Sheldon, one gets a sense that he has a special respect and appreciation for the bison. He understands their movements as a herd and recognizes each individual and her or his personality as if they were old friends. Sheldon was not a bison whisperer, and he had not worked with these bison his whole life—in his estimate, it took him six months to understand their activity. No, what Sheldon embodied was attentiveness. In his own words, to work with the bison, one has to “learn to pay attention.”

Sheldon’s attentiveness to the bison had redounded to his personal life, which seemed to be on the upswing. Tribal elders had offered Sheldon his job right before he was about to join the fracking rush in eastern Montana and North Dakota. His life today is very different from how it may have been. Although he works long, arduous days—sometimes from 6 am to 12 am—he has a strong cultural and spiritual connection to the work he does with the bison. This is rooted in the attentiveness he has cultivated, an opportunity he may not have found in shale.

For Sheldon, it was attentiveness to the outer world that allowed him to excel and find purpose in his work. However, a few days later, we also found that attentiveness can be found within one’s self as well.

***

At the grassy edge of a lake, all thirteen of us were seated in a circle, completely silent—a rare occurrence for our group. Our eyes were closed. Sounds of the wind softly brushing the conifers and the grass dominated, occasionally perturbed by a “plop” of water from some mysterious creature. One of our fantastic instructors, Danny, was leading us in meditation. Sitting tranquilly for a seemingly timeless period, we focused our attention to our bodies and passing thoughts. We were learning to pay attention to ourselves as Sheldon had learned to be attentive to himself and the bison.

In that silence of mind, I felt serenely enlivened. My mind was lucid, focused on my breath. I was balanced on a slack line between the future and the past—two areas that occupy my mind too often. Fully present, life seemed refulgent with vastness and complexity. Next to that lake, I felt within that I was connected to all that was without. When the meditation ended, there was a warm afterglow. I felt my place within what Mary Oliver has called “the family of things.”

***

For the past week we had been refining our attentiveness. Finally, we were putting it into practice on our observational walk in Northern Waterton. To the untrained eye, our surroundings would have appeared to be a chartreuse blur spotted with tiny dots of Crayola flowers. However, we were being trained in attentiveness and our vision was becoming sharper. At that point we were able to tell the difference between an Engelmann and a White Spruce, two trees distinguished only by the length of their needles and a slight difference in cone shape. At the zenith of our walk, we approached a thirty foot waterfall. While taking in the scene, one of my peers found a patch of wild chives, a felicitous complement to the pad Thai on the supper menu. The joy was halted abruptly when Danny convoked our attention to another plant that could have been mistaken for the twin of the wild chive—the Death Camus.

The Death Camus is a gorgeous plant with a white flower, but is absolutely poisonous in small amounts. According to Daniel Mathews in his book Rocky Mountain Natural History, the Death Camus has caused more deaths in the Rocky Mountain area than any other plant probably will.  It was fortunate that in our elation and heavy appetite, we slowed down and “learned to pay attention” to the difference between these two plants.

Paying attention is not always an easy task. It is the indication of a great naturalist and the distinguishing factor between those who enjoy the present and those who lose themselves in the past and future. A life well lived is a life that is attentive—with all senses—to the present. I will even go as far to say that the quality of attentiveness decides whether we have a good meal and live fully, or whether we live our lives dying, inattentive to the deadly, but beautiful flowers near the waterfall. I am still working on the illimitable task of improving my attentiveness. For now, the least I can do is enjoy supper.