Kaitlin Kenney: What Today Leaves and Tomorrow Brings.

After five backpack trips, roughly 28 days total spend in the woods, and 57 nights of camping, here are at our last backcountry campsite of the summer. As Jerry Garcia puts it ever so perfectly, “What a long, strange trip its been.”

Thinking back to day one when we were all strangers driving together across Montana seems like ages ago. I was a different person then, who loved life and the outdoors but always took both for granted. I was in support of conservation and protecting wildlife but hadn’t done anything personally to promote those concepts. Sure, I recycled and rode by bike, but I never paid attention to the issues going on right here in Missoula or even the greater Yellowstone to Yukon region. I just remember thinking how awesome it sounded to learn outside AND get college credit while backpacking. Little did I know I was about to be more deeply impacted by the journey ahead of me in these two months than I’ve experienced in all my schooling to this point.

The WRFI 2012 Wild Rockies Summer Semester spent two months studying the connectivity of the greater Yellowstone to Yukon region. By foot and by van, we extensively studied conservation biology, community-based conservation, ecological restoration and traditional ecological knowledge. As an anthropology major, I felt slightly overwhelmed at points. We kept daily journals or our experiences, met with incredibly inspirational activists embedded in the issues, hiked with a compilation of articles, wrote letters to environmental managers, and critically analyzed important issues facing the environment and thus all life that’s a part of the Earth’s biosphere. That’s just the academic portion of our summer. We woke up every morning by 7am for breakfast, packed up our campsite , hiked to mountain peaks over many different landscapes of loose talus, snow, mud, river crossings, and glaciers. Once at our day’s destination, we’d explode our packs, set up camp, cook dinner, have class, catch up on schoolwork, go to bed and wake up to do it all over again. Talk about making the most of each day! Experiential learning such as this taught me so much academically and way beyond. I was forced to develop effective time management skills as well as figuring out how to balance school with my emotional and physical health on top of the group’s well being and communication. The lessons we learned as a group tied interchangeably with the academic side.

It’s hard to put into words how stellar experiential learning with WRFI has been. Exploring the environmental concerns around the connectivity of the Y2Y region has simultaneously allowed me to dive into myself and really find out where my values and ethics stand in the collective scheme of life here on Earth. There’s a lot of injustice when it comes to the environment and how people interact with it.  Learning about what is and isn’t being done to protect life made me reevaluate what my priorities in life are and actually feel like I can make even an insignificant change.  A big question that we were faced with daily is what can we do individually? How can we take forth this experience and make a change? Being able to be in the field backpacking to some of the most beautiful mountain sites in the West engraved these questions and topics so deeply in me. After seeing such spectacular sights while simultaneously reading about Grizzlies in that same area is profound. There’s such an inspirational amount of meaning and sincere care that arises while being in the heart of these topics that differs significantly from just reading a textbook in a classroom.

So here we are, in a subalpine Larch meadow in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. Everywhere I look now I’m reminded of the connectivity between all life and the natural world. I’m sitting in a meadow watching snowmelt flow as streams interweaving which will soon meet the glacial runoff from across the ridge which flows into the source of the Columbia River which supplies humans and other forms of life with a critical water source. Seeing first hand the connectivity of humans to CO2 emissions which affect the rate of glacial melt which we and all life on western North America relies on is extremely powerful. Being embedded in our study topic is such a significant and effective way to truly learn about the environment.

After such an impactful summer I ask myself, what will I take away from this experience? We’ve been practicing “Leave No Trace” which entails leaving the environment we travel through in the same if not better condition. Humans as a whole have made extensive impacts to the environment that we feel its appropriate to leave no signs of our presence. I must say though, the natural mountain environments of the Northern Rockies have left quite the trace on me. I feel humbled by the innate beauty of these places that are so ingenuitive and efficient without any human touch to make it this way. I feel connected to, even tapped into the web of life that exists here. Being able to wake up and go to bed as the animals do and feel what its like to be in a magical place, untouched by human hands is refreshing, revitalizing, and awakening. For each day leaves with us a new perspective, a heightened sense, an experience that builds upon the previous day’s, an experience that’s mystical and life-changing. As for tomorrow, it brings hope and change, adventures to be had, people to meet, and lessons to be learned. What yesterday leaves and tomorrow brings is up to us. “Yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” Our memories make our beliefs which make our dreams ultimately making the future.

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