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


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.

Natasha Vadas: Don’t Underestimate the Mountain

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There are certain moments in one’s life in which a person finds him or herself faced with a seemingly impossible challenge.  At these times, we are left with the decision to either calmly walk away or to stare into the fire and embrace the difficulty that lies ahead.  In my opinion, the prospect of climbing a mountain is one of these times.  Standing at the base of a mountain I am unfamiliar with, I am simultaneously filled with both anticipation and dread.  These feelings are in response to the recognition of the challenge that I am being faced with, as well as the thought that the view I will be granted at the peak will make every step of the journey well worth the effort.  However, as I stand at the base contemplating the adventure of which I am about to embark, I must remember to never underestimate the mountains.

The Rocky Mountains were here eons before me.  These mountains are home to a vast and intricate ecosystem, carved out through the ages by glaciers and wind, rain and rivers.  Nearly 180 million years old, these mountains broke through the surface of the earth before the dawn of civilization during the Mesozoic Age.  They were home to the most minuscule insects and the largest carnivores.  They breathed life into the conifers and wildflowers, as well as the natives who drank from their sacred springs.  These mountains stood tall and erect as Lewis and Clark paddled through their shadows in 1803, gazing upon the grand peaks and questioning their secrets.  These men did not underestimate the mountains, and neither will I.

As I begin my ascent, I am wary of every step that I take, aware that the rocks I plant my feet on can tumble out from beneath me at the slightest touch.  Upon entering the hidden meadows and deep valleys, I will not underestimate the fierceness of the mountain.  While it may present itself as a calm mosaic, the low roll of thunder and sharp crack of lightning can appear at any moment.  Those calm, refreshing breezes that make the aspens quake can turn to icy sheets of rain, leaving me cold and vulnerable.  And while these turns of events may seem harsh and unforgiving, I must not underestimate the mountain.  For as the cold winds subside and the rain fades into the horizon, I will listen for the sound of the first songbird, thanking the mountain for the gift of shelter.

Climbing higher still, I must remind myself to not underestimate the beauty of the mountains. Slowly gaining elevation, I pass through harsh terrain, up long hills of stone and burnt, fallen lodgepole pine.  Despite the blackened landscape, the mountain shows amazing signs of life as silver lupine and sticky cinquefoil scatter the meadows with their bright colors.  I follow paths lined with beargrass, whose luminescent white bulbs guide me along the trail.  As I continue on my path, I suddenly find myself mesmerized by the sparkling beauty of a pristine alpine lake.  The clear blue water and pebbled shores invite me into the cool depths, giving me sweet relief from the long journey.

Continuing higher and farther into the depths of the mountain, I may feel my energy begin to fade.  I walk along difficult trails, all leading to the same place.  And while the long day and full weight of my pack cause me to doubt my endurance, I must not doubt the path of the mountain.  Because as I finally crest its peak and gaze out upon distant ridges, I will reflect on the long, hard trail that was unbelievably rewarding.  And I will be thankful that I did not underestimate the mountain because it is, after all, a lovely and terrible wilderness, and I had the opportunity to experience every aspect of it.  The experience of climbing a mountain is as difficult as it is rewarding.  The path to the peak can be likened to the journey through life; it is quite often difficult and there are times you will want to turn away and return to the comforts of life, but in the end it is well worth the experience.  As J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, it is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.  In the end, the ability to persevere and never underestimate the experience is the key to fully appreciate this crazy thing we call life.

Sadie Koch: From Abstraction to Action on the Colorado Plateau

13384877_10205445711816865_46492133_nAs we near the end of this course I find myself peering back up into Horseshoe Canyon, were we completed our first backpacking trip together. Looking at towering rock walls, meandering Green River, and bright green cottonwoods, of this place I begin to think about how I got here. As a Social Work major, coming on this course directed at increasing environmental literacy was out of left field. It was a complete switch of topics, and I left my studies behind for the semester to learn a whole new set of skills. But why did I make this choice?

I have always been passionate about being in the outdoors whether I am backpacking, climbing, or having a picnic. As someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors, I have always been surrounded by people who are passionate about protecting the Earth from its current threats of climate change and environmental degradation. These people feel a passionate emotion that leads them to change their own lives to protect their environment and often to speak out against the ways it is being damaged.  I always felt some type of abstract emotions over the possible loss of the places that I loved the most, but it was never as intense or as driving as I wanted it to be. I think that I came on this WRFI course because I hoped that I would learn to feel something deeper about the places I love; something that would push me to be a more involved participant of environmental protection.  Through the physical and emotional journey of this course, I think that I accomplished just this.

Looking back into Horseshoe Canyon after eight weeks exploring the Colorado Plateau, I remembered my first time in this canyon.  It was the start of this adventure and the dramatic cliff walls, sandy washes, and chips of chert were all so new to me.  Seeing the beauty of this landscape and feeling its mystery connected me to this canyon.  And then we saw the pictographs.  The eerie figures painted by people who existed in this canyon thousands of years before me made me feel a connection to something much greater than just me and the canyon.  All such poetic feelings, I know, but the sense of wonder I got from this strange new place was overwhelming.  As humans it is very hard to value and care about things that we are not personally connected to.  Having this personal connection to a landscape built my ability to experience other emotions surrounding the land more fully because I cared deeply about this landscape.

After Horseshoe we hiked, scrambled, and splashed our way through Dirty Devil Canyon.  This canyon felt even more dramatic than the first because of the murky river that ran through the canyon walls, carrying their sediment and reflecting the landscape around it.  However, we also walked across old roads once used for uranium mining in the canyon.  We also learned about the potential for tar sands extraction in the area, one of the most environmentally damaging ways to extract fossil fuels, and the lack of protection against these practices.  I imagined the pollution of the solitude, silence, and ecology of the landscape and I felt a pang of sadness, loss, and regret while imagining the slow destruction of this canyon.  I knew that I could picture the destruction so clearly in my head because it had happened to so many other wilderness areas, and would be the loss of a place that we could not afford to say goodbye to yet.

The sadness I felt quickly dissolved into anger, especially after our time in the reservations of Navajo and Hopi.  We saw the environmental destruction of their sacred lands and that their inequality of voice left them relatively powerless in the face of environmental exploitation that was often supported by the government.  An example of this that we saw was the exploitation of the water from the Navajo Aquifer from the Black Mesa Coal mine.  Since the mine’s creation, it has decreased water levels in the aquifer by around 50%, overusing the primary source of drinking water on the reservations (LaDuke 380). We saw this in our Hopi hostess’s cistern which she used to be able to swim in. Because of the decrease in water in the aquifer that feeds her cistern, the flow has been reduced to less than a trickle.  Many Hopi elders have spoken out against the mine’s practices, but their voices have been ignored and the water use as it has been was allowed to continue.  I saw the environmental injustices involved with the fight against environmental degradation, where high emitters make the decisions of the rates at which this degradation will happen, while those most highly affected are not given a fair voice to speak out about these practices.

The inequality of this system made me angry in a personal way.  This I could connect with Social Work, and it reminded me of why I chose this path in the beginning.  Feeling this personal anger is important because it drives people to speak out against the ways that things have been happening and initiate change.  Jack Turner talks about how a personal anger, “presumes how things ought to be and aren’t, presumes caring” (Turner 22).  Although dwelling on this anger can often be unhealthy, it is important because it is the catalyst for change, and it is obvious that we need to change how we live if we want to protect the Earth.

However, for me, anger is not enough.  I think that in order for action to occur, we need hope.  Many people, when asked why they became involved with protest, talk about an anger rooted in a sense that their actions could make a difference, and hope for the future.  An idea that their anger was not ignored.

In Dark Canyon we entered our first Wilderness, designated by Congress.  Although this designation did not mean a lot for our trip it did signify a legal action taken to protect a beautiful area.  Wilderness designation is permanent so the longevity of this canyon was guaranteed by the wooden sign at the trailhead.  To me, this signified a call to action that was answered on a national level to fight for the preservation of our remaining wild places.  While there is a lot of work to be done, and a lot more places to protect, the process has begun, which gives me hope.

“Effective protests are grounded in an alternative vision” (Turner 23).  What Turner is describing is a need for a protest to have something to fight for, not just against.  The environmental movement has often had that problem, where everyone is working towards creating a better future but the idea of how to do this in not consistent within the movement.  In Labyrinth Canyon we learned about a variety of ways to act in the face of environmental degradation that are being explored.  One way that is being considered in the idea of Bioregionalism, where the connection of inhabitants to their land is encouraged to promote the feeling of responsibility to protect your land.  If we were more connected to our land it is presumed that we would be more involved in the governance of this land and learn to use it more sustainably.  I think that the idea of this is very interesting and seems like it would be effective, and as we paddled through the Green River I thought about ways that I could implement this in my own life.   Learning about the ways to create change in our lives made me think of a personalized path forward and validated the work we did on the course.

This emotional exploration from connection to sadness to anger to hope to action left me feeling like I could and needed to take this knowledge and use it.  It may not be directly involved with my career path but I think that it has taught me how to be the more knowledgeable, passionate environmental steward that I have always tried to emulate.  The personal connection both to this place and the lessons I learned of how to protect them will hopefully remain with me as I move forward.

Works Cited

LaDuke, W.  (2005).  Salt, Water, Blood and Coal: Mining in the Southwest.  In Recovering the Sacred: The Power In Naming and Claiming.  Cambridge, MA: South End Press.   

Turner, J.  (1996).  The Abstract Wild: A Rant.  Pp.  19-37 in The Abstract Wild.  Albuquerque: University                     of Arizona Press.

Hannah Joki: Natural history on the Rocky Mountain Front

Hannah_JokiAs my first backpacking trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness is coming to a close, I am humbled. I am humbled by the fear of bears outside my tent every night; I am humbled by the fear of injury in a secluded place; I am humbled by the scenery that belittles me; I am humbled by the nine hour days I spend walking through the woods; I am humbled. Not only has this trip tested my physical endurance, but also tested my place on this Earth.

I am just a tiny spec in a large ecosystem that can’t be controlled. Society has tried to become apart of this wild and raw ecosystem that we only force ourselves into. As we walk on the trails, we are faced with the realization that we have no control out here. This may be public land but we do not own it, the millions of species do. Being a Montanan also helps me understand the importance of living with the environment and understanding how important becoming a naturalist is.

In one of the readings, Thomas Fleischner talks about the eight characteristics of becoming a naturalist. The eight qualities are: attentiveness, receptivity, expression, vision, accuracy, gratitude, humility, and affirmation. These are the characteristics that keep us levelheaded and help co-exist with nature, not control it. More then the others, I relate to attentiveness, gratitude and humility.

I have become active in my attentiveness to the trail and the clover hoofs that shape the trail before me. The occasional bear track always grabs my attention, the large pad with five toes and long claws indicate the grizzlies nearby. My hand is only a fraction of the size, making me feel small and helpless.

I stood on the top of Sheepshed Mountain, realizing the small role I play on this planet. I felt a mass flood of humility. The snow capped mountains just miles away and the Great Plains stretching to the East. The sheer size of every land form brought tears to my eyes; the amount of respect gained for the land was unexplainable. “Wilderness is the raw material out of which has hammered the artifact called civilization” (Leopold, 1949). As I stood on the mountain I realized society has embedded itself into this raw, untouched, landscapes around me. Civilization is the tool people used to gain control over the land, to feel the ownership we will never truly have.

It seems that to be a naturalist is to understand the environment to a level greater than most people can imagine. Nature is the base of civilization and only a few people have taken the time to experience nature raw.

I’ve gained gratitude through my time backpacking. I am grateful for the fear of bears that keeps me grounded and for the land I may never see again. I am glad the fear of bears keeps me smart and vigilant, even though we have yet to encounter one. My heart flutters every time I round a corner, continuously reminding me of my place in this world. I am seeping with gratitude for I, and only a few others, have walked where I’ve walked. And once I walk out I may never walk back in, but my gratitude of this experience is endless.

Aldo Leopold states how, “only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf.” This observation is of a true naturalist, realizing the land is wise and the animals that roam it are raw and important to the mysterious complex. So many people will never know what its like to stand in the middle of wilderness and see nothing but mountains. They will never learn to appreciate the lifetimes the mountains have seen, the fires it has burned under, the deaths it has taken, the lives it has given.

As we walk our seven miles out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I will recognize the grizzly hairs on the trees as I pass, know the names of many plants in the area, and follow the path of many animals before me. The trail connects me to nature as the elk, deer, moose, bear and I walk step over step, me becoming connected to them. As my journey continues I hope to be humbled even more, becoming a true naturalist in my generation.