Zoe: Water is Life

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Listening. To the wind, whipping the Colorado River into a frothy turquoise skin. To the sound of rain pattering across my sleeping bag.  To the slow hollow slap of Lake Powell against the washed out rim of Glen Canyon. To the voices and experiences of multiple speakers and hosts: Steve, Dorothy, Buckey, Richard, Clorinda, Deryl and his sons. To our brand new instructors Uncle Ben and Aunty Eva. To the crackle of a fire burning apple wood and juniper.

This third section of WRFI has been one of wide open spaces, and open ears.  As we’ve traveled from Utah to Arizona, we’ve driven over mesas, past the Vermilion Cliffs, and over the Rainbow Bridge and Glen Canyon Dam, to visit Hopi and Navajo reservations. The sky has opened up and the wind has rushed south easterly across the land.

We have had MANY speakers share with us their lifestyles, thoughts, history, truths, and culture. We visited Glen Canyon Dam, looked down into the carp filled waters of Lake Powell and swam in the deep clear blue waters of the Colorado. We worked at the Star School, saw the application of solar energy and hydroponic food growing systems, and stayed at a home “off the grid.” We drank from a spring on the Hopi reservation, and used its water to plant cloves of thick stemmed garlic.

A reoccurring topic that comes up is water.  In the Southwest water is scarce, yet companies like Peabody Western Coal Company use it to slurry coal across the country and the Bureau of Reclamation has created an evaporating bathtub called Lake Powell. One of our hosts this section, Dorothy, let us work in her garden and described to us how Hopi people farm without irrigation using a method called “dry farming,” yet rely on springs to sustain themselves. She talked about how the water on the Hopi reservation has levels of arsenic so high she always hauls her water from these springs or buys bottled water jugs, to avoid drinking the contaminated tap water.

An elder from the Hopi Reservation, Bucky, shared with us information from an organization called Black Mesa Trust, also related to water. He also wouldn’t drink the reservation tap water and discussed how Peabody Coal, the company that runs the Navajo Generating Station, is depleting the springs, washes and aquifers that the Hopi people depend on for drinking water. He organizes the “Water is Life Run” a truth that is becoming an increasingly used expression.

When we stayed with Steve who lives off the grid outside of Flagstaff, it was clear that interacting with the resources you consume, by growing your food, or hauling your water, creates awareness for the source and scarcity of the things we depend on. I find in my own life complacency sets in when I live in a city where any food item I want is available year round, and water is always potable if it comes from a tap. So many systems are in place to support this instant gratification consumerism, so many corporations profit off it, and it is dangerously distancing people from the reality of the land.

Hearing the phrase “Water is Life” and learning about all the issues relating to water in the southwest made me think about how these issues parallel the Dakota Access Pipeline. Peabody mine is wasting water, depleting springs and aquifers, and the whole generating station that provides jobs to many people who live on the reservation is closing in 2019. The tap water is contaminated with high levels of arsenic. The reservation economies are dependent on coal and natural gas.

This is not so different from the high profile situation with Dakota Access in North Dakota. This pipeline has desecrated sacred burial grounds and threatens the land and water of the Sioux.  It puts the Missouri River, and drinking water of 7 million people in the Midwest at risk. A similar thing is happening in Utah and Arizona with coal and uranium mining on Hopi and Navajo land.

How many more front-lines or instances of fossil fuel companies exploiting the life giving water and land of Native people, and all people, are there?

How many corporations get to do their own environmental assessments and investigations when things go wrong?

Is there no accountability or responsibility to the people and land?

How many people are so distant from the resources that they consume, so used to a culture of fresh vegetables in cold winter climates, that there is no understanding of resource scarcity, availability and the reality of what the land can provide?

In the midst of these questions that swirl around my head daily and nightly, one of the things I have realized is the power of listening. It is a skill to be able to observe, absorb, and hear what people tell you, rather than make assumptions and automatically begin to analyze things before you start to even understand them. It is overwhelming to sit round a fire past bedtime, and hear so many stories, histories and current realities of exploitation, and not feel your brain jumping to guilt ridden solutions.  Randy Ramsley told us, “The land will show you what it wants to give you.” I believe this is something that can only be discovered through observation, and listening to people and the land they live on.

There is power in stillness; in slowing down from a culture of constant questioning and accepting the words of others. There is respect in silence and peace in the moments where all you hear is the raging of the wind as the sun sets over the sagebrush. However, I can’t help but wonder, what will happen to the world’s water, here and everywhere, if we continue on this trajectory of taking not giving, and masking the reality of the land?


Sra Feigelman: A Resilient Culture

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“What happens when life gets easy? You get lazy. You lose your momentum, your morals, your values,” a native Hopi woman and our host explained to us at her farm on the Hopi reservation. “That’s why we’re still here. Because life has never been easy for Hopi.”

In this section of the course, the group has been incredibly lucky to spend time on both Hopi and Navajo Reservations, where we’ve learned about their respective cultures first hand from the people that live it. One of our hosts welcomed us into her farm for a few days, a property which has been in her family for hundreds of years. In great detail, she enlightened us with the traditions, practices, food and beliefs of her people; concepts totally novel to us as participants of modern Western culture. She was also careful to explain the systematic and diabolic oppression unleashed upon her people by the U.S. Government throughout history; an oppression that remains seeded in Western culture today. However difficult, she explained Hopi history to be, she maintained a strong notion of resilience by the Hopi people.

Through waves of forced movement, murder, and religious imposition upon the Hopi people throughout hundreds of years, they have endured. In recognition of this cultural strength, I was dumbfounded. How could a culture such as the Hopi live on in the face of an entire country that wanted nothing less than to obliterate it?

In class we have defined the concept of resilience as a system’s ability to constantly return to a balanced state in a sea of positive and negative forces. However, given the presence of these ever-acting forces, resilience can also exemplify a system’s ability to change and adapt to great disturbance within its environment, however maintaining its ability to come to a regular, balanced state.

In Hopi culture, our host explained, it is deeply engrained values and practices that have maintained such resilience. Hopi tradition millennia old, like celebration of mother earth and father sky, culturally unique organic farming and technique, and a society structured by staunch equality and reciprocity represent only some of what has perpetuated Hopi peace and strength over such a grand and complicated tapestry of time.

Although peace has been declared, reservations set aside and formal apologies made, the struggle of the Hopi endures. Although Hopi Nation is sovereign by definition, the overarching presence of Western culture continues to weather Hopi. New age Western value of individuality, success and capital gain remain at war with Hopi tradition. Hopi youth are often incentivized to leave their reservations in search of better education and employment, leaving behind the wobbly economy and infrastructure left for them by the U.S. Government. Our Hopi host explained that to survive in the modern world, many young Hopi leave behind their culture so as to embrace these Western values of individual success, which often run opposite to Hopi thought around community and societal balance.

She described the subsequent weakening and loss of Hopi language, values and tradition.

However, she happily noted the persistence of Hopi heritage. Time has shown a revival: her children have returned to the land on which they were raised, and all in her family are encouraged to re-learn the language and participate in ceremony.

Growing up Jewish, my parents explained to me how important it was to stick to my culture. As a youngster, I don’t think I really ever understood why: my rationale was clouded with resentment for Sunday school and difficulty reading Hebrew.

Instead, as a confused adolescent, my values resided more with myself. Fitting in yet standing out, being liked by my peers, keeping up with fashion trends and possessing talent constantly swirled around my developing brain, leaving very little room for attention toward, let alone appreciation for, my culture. My culture that taught me morals and values, life lessons and the importance of family, gratitude and humility. I threatened my parents relentlessly with the promise that after I became bat-mitzvah, I would ditch my culture and everything I had learned for good.

However, Judaism too thrives off of its own resilience in a world that has never wanted it to. It wasn’t until I learned about these impositions of threat and violence throughout history that I came to understand the resilience of, and pride, I have for the Jewish culture. For no matter how hard survival has been for the Jewish people, it too remains, through tradition, community and celebration. And even in a society of aggressive individualism, I find that my Jewish heritage is always something I can draw back to.

In a world of change, culture is dynamic, culture is resilient.

Anna Martone: A Chance to Listen

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The crisp morning air pierces the only visible skin on my body, reddening my cheeks as I slowly move from the warmth of my sleeping bag to the cold outside world. Gradually, awareness enters my body as I begin to realize the bathroom isn’t the closest tree, but a code locked door behind which lies conveniences only the front country can provide. We are no longer scrambling down slickrock in Horseshoe Canyon, trudging through quicksand in the Dirty Devil River, or cozied up in Richard Begay’s Hogan. Today we find ourselves in Blanding, Utah. Situated in the southeast corner of the state, this small town may have more controversy than the passerby might have originally perceived.

As Chamomile lavender tea steeps in my blue enameled cup, my hair sprawls out in every direction, unwilling to be tamed, and eye boogers still resting comfortably in the corners of my eye, I sit daydreaming of the adventures soon to come in Dark Canyon. Suddenly, a big red ford truck pulls up behind our overflowing trailer at the base of the campsite. As I sit, still fully immersed in my thoughts, I barely notice a short, stout man sporting a camouflage jacket and hat walking up to our picnic table. As he slowly approaches the table, decorated with food from the night before, he states in a deep voice, “I believe you are the ones I am looking for.” Thrown off guard, as the speaker wasn’t supposed to arrive for another hour, we scramble to adequately prepare ourselves for him. Malcolm Lehy, a native of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe has graciously agreed to come and speak with WRFI about the Bears Ears National Monument.

The Bear’s Ears National Monument, designated through the Antiquities Act by President Obama in 2016, is a diverse landscape of approximately 1.35 million acres filled with as writer Anna Brody described it, “ deep sandstone canyons, high red rock mesas, aspen studded mountains and wide turquoise sky.” In the heart of the canyon sits two distinct buttes, jutting out forming what is commonly referred to as the Bears Ears. These sagebrush filled hills hold sacred and historical importance to many native tribes in the region, still being used for ceremonies and spiritual rituals yearly. The ears; however, aren’t the only areas of this land in which indigenous peoples use, but scattered around Cedar Mesa, ruins and ancient sites can also be found, leaving remnants of the original inhabitants of this land. As Malcolm speaks about the importance of this land, what it means for his tribe, and the reason he speaks out about it, I am enamored by the passion and vigor he holds in his voice. Sharing cultural significances, personal thoughts, and historical events, Malcolm spins us a web of stories, all of which express the importance of knowledge. As he asks what the most powerful thing in the world is, he points to his head and states, “This is. Use your mind. Your mind is the most powerful thing in the world.”

As I sit on the picnic table, my hair flying everywhere, my long underwear and fleece jacket pasted to my body and my tea untouched, I listen intently to a man, so willing to share his knowledge to anyone who will listen. Questions fly around my head, as I wait for a chance to ask them. I wonder about the formation of the Tribal coalition, his role, if any in advising the land management of the monument, his thoughts on the opposition to the designation, and the list goes on. Waiting for a chance to ask questions, a chance that never comes.

Just as Malcolm started, he finishes; abruptly and suddenly, leaving only gratitudes and pleasantries left before he is off. As I sit there waving as he drives away, I am reminded of what Barry Lopez has said, “When we enter the landscape, we are obligated, I think to pay attention rather than constantly pose questions.” I believe this also can apply to listening to people. Although I was ready to ask questions, the need wasn’t there. All I needed to do was pay attention, listen.

I am thankful for the opportunity to meet Malcolm Lehy. I am thankful for his willingness to share. I am thankful for the ability to listen.



Sra Feigelman: Growing through disturbance

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Photo by Nick Littman

I snapped into consciousness by a cold gust of wind and a smattering of rain across my face. The fly of our tent, the only thing that had separated us from the storm that bore down upon us, had cast off into the wind. It was my second night in Horseshoe Canyon, and my second night ever in the backcountry of Utah. In a sleep-smitten frenzy, my tent mates Calla and Zoe sent me out into nature’s brewing violence to retrieve our weather-protection apparatus. After struggling to get out of my new sleeping bag, I finally made it out to grapple with getting the fly secured to the tent. I retreated to home base, soaked and shivering. I stuffed myself into my sleeping bag and shut my eyes tight, putting tomorrow on reserve to consider what the hell I was getting myself into with the Wild Rockies Field Institute.

I signed up for WRFI on a whim, for a change. My study abroad plans had fallen through (not enough people had signed up to go study food systems in Mexico). Nonetheless, I was still itching to expand my academic and physical horizons. I was craving movement, perspective, and realistically I only had a sense of what went on east of the Mississippi, never mind west of it. I hadn’t any idea of how other corners of the country operated in culture, in politics, in environment. Plus, I heard that backpacking builds character.

I had spent my whole life thus far on the east coast, in similar bubbles of lifestyle and approach toward success. In high school, knowledge was quantifiable, in the form of letter grades and GPAs, which put heavy constraints on qualitative understanding of what I was studying.

Truth be told, I felt my life as a collegiate beginning to dwindle in momentum. Although my studies had begun to pick up in content, I couldn’t help but participate with lagging initiative. I was beginning to sense a cap on what I could retain in the classroom, in a chair nailed to the floor, enclosed in a lecture hall, furiously copying notes from a screen, alongside 50-100 other students; every single day. Valuable conversations were going in one ear and right out the other.

And so, without much thought and minimal experience, I jumped into a two month alternative semester of schooling on the other side of the country.

Oh, how unprepared I was for what was to come. Within days of arriving to Green River, Utah, our group of nine was miles deep in a canyon of what seemed like infinite sandy desolation. Any green was manifested in the form of a stunted shrub. To the common eye, water didn’t exist. In 24 hours, the temperature dropped from high 80’s to 30’s. To myself, I thought, “How could anything survive here? How am I going to survive here?”

Through the days that followed, my being was jostled by great discomfort. I was bombarded with all sorts of stimuli unfamiliar to my system. I could barely process what was in front of me. I was wandering through an environment of alien flora and fauna, shapes and shadows, formations, faults and climate. At first, I saw nothingness in this odd terrain, in the rocks that I stumbled over, in the bristled juniper bark that tugged at the netting of my pack, in the pale sand that I clobbered through in new hiking boots. Sand stuck to us with magnetic force, and got into every available crevice within our gear. The daytime sun was so strong that my eyeballs often burnt. The nighttime air was cold, and the moon bright. After dinner, my stomach cranked laboriously through our meals, consisting of mostly carbohydrates and cheese. We stacked miles upon miles into our days, and after finally reaching camp and collapsing into the dirt, we still, as a group, had to make time for class and discussion, homework, and sleep. I had to quickly make way for a whole new routine, set of knowledge, and way of life. I was exhausted and confused: it was hard to tell which way was up.

The intermediate disturbance hypothesis states that at moderate intensity and occurrence, disturbance to an ecosystem can encourage and maintain the system’s overall resilience (Noss & Cooperrider, 1994). Too little disturbance leaves a system vulnerable to shock beyond repair when it is disrupted. Too much disturbance might push a system over its edge immediately. Essentially, an intermediate amount of force can prompt an ecosystem to stay on its toes, making it able to adapt to the chaotic forces that ebb and flow around and within it.

Systems ecology is defined as a way to, “understand the processes and structures that define the working of ecosystems of all kind, from microbial to global” (Think Academy, 2016). The natural world, indeed, is a massive system in itself, and a conglomerate of dynamic systems that interact with and respond to each other. However, systems ecology and theory extends further than the “natural world.” It encompasses humankind and all of its happenings as well, giving, “equal attention to the human dimension” (Think Academy, 2016).

Humans obviously operate within ecosystems. Although we are encouraged to see ourselves as something separate and above Mother Nature, in reality, we operate in and as a part of it (Cronon, 1995). Subsequently, humankind, in all its chaos and complexity, can learn from the behaviors and patterns that encompass the natural world. Systemic disturbance keeps any system (or organism) in check, prompting its ability to adapt to different conditions and environments and maintain diversity within them.

Indeed, the Colorado Plateau is a harbor of disturbance. Given its harsh climate and terrain, one might consider the impossibility of life to thrive here. However, over time, the Colorado Plateau flora and fauna have adopted this variability and unpredictability into their design and behavior. For this reason, the Colorado Plateau serves as a hub of species diversity and ecosystem resilience, as organisms have learned to thrive in many different extremes, from aridity to flash flood, from frost to heat waves.

A plant I’ve been privileged to spend some quality time with, Mormon Tea (also known as Ephedra viridis), embodies said resilience. I’ve found it alive and well in the parched sands of Horseshoe Canyon, alongside the muddy waters of the Dirty Devil River, freckling the Four Corners front country, throughout the alpine zone of Dark Canyon, and up on the banks of the Green River. This singular species has acclimated to each of these unique climates and their extremes. Over time, Mormon Tea has developed characteristics in response to the variable disturbances that shape its lifestyle. For example, instead of photosynthesizing through leaves, Mormon Tea has adopted scales of chlorophyll, through which it processes sunlight. This reduces the plant’s water loss and keeps its temperature regulated, enabling it to tolerate various environments. By embracing the spectrum of disturbances offered by the Colorado Plateau, Mormon Tea is able to thrive throughout different environments.

Before WRFI began, I functioned within one corner of life, one basin of attraction. This system that I call my life was accustomed to the same structure and forces, to my East Coast lifestyle. I was so well-adapted, so comfortable in my basin of attraction that nothing moved or changed. I had no push to explore or learn, and minimal space to do something different.

WRFI shocked my system. It scooped me up right out of my familiar lifestyle and placed me in a new realm of understanding. I learned to work with unfamiliar physical and social environments, and to practice group dynamics in a new backcountry setting.

In the wake of the Colorado Plateau’s challenges, I’ve learned to adopt a fresh set of skills, values and perspectives. I can pack my life onto my back in 30 minutes in one morning, traverse an 11 mile stretch of a canyon in one afternoon, dive into a fervent class discussion before dinner, and make it to bed before 10pm. Indeed, I will carry this new knowledge across the threshold that separates me from my pre-WRFI self. With practice, I know I will be able to move between the two, incorporating new skills with old and vice versa. Perhaps with time and exploration, I will learn to acclimate to more basins of attraction, lifestyles, and ways of understanding and interpreting the world.


Eleanor Babcock: The Beauty of Backpacking


“Look down at your legs,” Isa’s positive voice exclaimed. “They brought you here!” Twelve days hiking through the chocolate silted waters of the Dirty Devil River Canyon had induced sore muscles, blistered toes, and soil streaked faces, but also incredibly happy campers. Isa made sure to proclaim our collaborative success as we looked out over the entrenched dirty waters, glazed over by daytime dust. We left the Dirty Devil behind, holding the memories and the beauty of the place we called home for those twelve days close to our hearts.

The past two months permitted us to walk our way through sandy washes in Horseshoe Canyon, trudge our way through muddy quicksand in the Dirty Devil, and march through beaming sun rays in Dark Canyon. These extensive trips gave our footsteps purpose and new stories about place to tell. Backpacking is no easy feat. Each morning we dance our way through the packing routine, filling each open space in out packs with loose socks and canvas tent bodies, hoping the weight will balance out well on the trail. As we chugged, deep into the folds of the earth, sunbeams warmed our noses and happy shouts from out group echoed off red canyon walls. Just as Isa notes, our legs power us forward, building strength with each step.

We endure and embrace this type of travel so we can experience portions of the world very few others have seen. We enter into disjointed places from developed civilization which, in our society, we classify as wilderness. These places are defined by the untrammeled characteristics of its earth and its community. Places where taste, touch, smell and sound differ from the developed lands we call home. While backpacking through wilderness, the beautiful rhythm of our step pulses from the arches of our feet to the bounce of our unkempt hair and settles back into the earth. The earth greets our presence by blowing sand particles through our hair and chilling our blistered toes at night. The give and take from the earth while backpacking creates a sense of harmony between us and the untrammeled characteristics of wilderness.

Our time in society and ultimate search for comfort has evolved to dissipate our connection with nature. William Cronan, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has critiqued societal views of wilderness to be “the dualistic vision in which the human is entirely outside the natural,” separating the developed world from perceived wilderness. The beauty of backpacking is that it allows us to break the division between humans and nature and carry our lives, packed tightly and held close to our backs, into wilderness with the purpose to temporarily live in harmony with nature. My experience backpacking in Horseshoe Canyon, the Dirty Devil Canyon and Dark Canyon has given me harmony with nature as I allow the earth’s red sand to rest in my hair and as I practice attentiveness to the non-human world. This attentiveness allowed me to touch papery Aspen bark, fuel my body with spring waters and smell the damp red rust rock waft through the air. How can we take this harmony backpacking creates and break the dualistic vision Cronan describes between humans and nature? Can we work to apply attentiveness to the non-human world in our own backyards to bridge the gap between wild places and us?

We don’t all need to trudge through murky waters, or carry half our bodyweight on our backs to experience wilderness. Wilderness is what brought our societal norms to be. Wilderness helped us create cities and fuel our modes of transportation. The beauty of backpacking does not need to be experienced through backpacking. We can walk through our everyday system of life in harmony with the land as we choose to recognize the value of nature shaping our lives. The islands of wilderness do not have to be islands if we drain the sea of dichotomy between nature and development through the application of attentiveness to the non-human world. Awe and wonder can be experienced through our front door if we choose to open it and embrace the sunbeams which radiate over the world, potentially bridging the gap between humans and nature.

Garrett Hartley: Life of a Dammed River


It was extremely energy draining as I sat in the WRFI van melting into my seat due to the extreme heat we experienced while driving into northern Arizona to Navajo Bridge. Upon arriving at Lee’s Ferry campground I was forced to leave the air conditioned van into the even hotter and drier world outside. Coming from the coastal community of Laguna Beach, the lack of water to swim in to lower my body temperature has definitely been the hardest part of this course for me. Luckily on this day I was told by my instructors that the Colorado River had a chilling temperature of about 45 degrees and if we wanted we could run down for a dip.

A few other students and I immediately took advantage of the opportunity and quickly made our way down to the shoreline. Once we arrived at the small beach I noticed an extremely murky section of water extending about six feet from the shoreline before jutting up to crystal clear blue water of the main water flow. I had noticed many fly fishermen standing in the murky water casting their lines only to the clear water. What I experienced next really intrigued me and provoked even more questions.

As I prepared for the cold water, to my surprise this strange murky layer was incredibly warm! Then at the merging of the murky brown and clear blue there was a bone chilling, skin numbing change of what seemed like a twenty degree difference of temperature. Why is there such a drastic change in temperature? Does the increase in sediment result directly in a higher heat capture? Telling my instructor James about this, he informed me that the murky water is the Paria River merging with the crystal clear blue water of the Colorado River. Why is there such a difference between two rivers flowing in the same general area? What are the effects of this difference?

Just up river from Lee’s Ferry is the Glen Canyon Dam which splits the Colorado’s flow into an upper and lower basin. Craig Child’s writes an article specifically addressing the effects of the Glen Canyon dam and how “when rivers are slowed by dams, the water can no longer carry its sediment.” Furthermore he explains “the Colorado used to carry about 90 million tons a year through the Grand Canyon…it now carries about 15 million tons.” What effects does this loss of sediment have on the environment?

“A Biological Mandate” by the United States Geological survey described how four native fish once endemic to the Grand Canyon are now endangered or extinct. The humpback Chub, Razorback Sucker, Colorado Squawfish, and Bonytail all face major threats from altered water chemistry, flooded habitat from reservoirs, and predation from introduced non-native fish. After asking a fisherman what he was trying to catch, he told me trout which is a non-native species introduced after the dam’s construction. After dams are constructed, fish hatcheries will often be put in place.

Looking at this day when I saw the confluence of the Paria River and the Colorado I can see the direct effects of how a dammed river looks compared to a non-dammed river. Naturally rivers like the Colorado have a very diverse watershed and if we keep imposing changes to the watershed with things like dams the system will suffer. Low sediment levels result in changes to water chemistry which in turn affects the native species ability to thrive.

Ella Mighell: Beyond Bioregionalism

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Halfway through our Green River, Labyrinth Canyon final section, we stopped at Trin Alcove for a layover day to work on our final papers and take in our surroundings. Midday we were given some “silent solo” time, a specifically non-academic chunk of time to hike up one of the three side canyons, find a spot to sit, and simply be.

After turning around at a poison ivy fenced alcove, I walked to the opposing wall of the canyon. Hidden in the shade, a puddle of life existed. With red rock dust caked into my legs and warmth soaked into my shoulders, I submerged myself into the small pool. Cold sand formed around my legs and I noticed a group of minnows hiding behind a rock. Their yellow and black bodies graced through the settling water as they swam up to me, unsure of this foreign object. Precautionarily dancing around my feet one grazed my skin, surprising my nerves and causing a sudden jerk. Realizing the fear I had caused when they fleeted back to their rock, I tried to relax into the system. Emerging once again, one of the minnows swam up to a clawed mini-crustacean that I had not seen before. I felt as if I were watching them converse. As suddenly as I had seen it, the crustacean flew backwards in the water, jumping away from my movement.

Quickly thereafter, I noticed the sunscreen from my arms seeping into the water. Worried for the effect it would have in this ecosystem, I hopped out and observed from the shore. With the afternoon sun on my back, I embraced the wonder. The awe of this ecosystem and all that happens within it. The humility of its more than human existence and the imposition that I had caused. I wondered about the future of this pool. In the coming months would a flash flood connect them to the greater Green River? Or was it their path to end their lives with the beginning of the dry summer heat? What would the effects be of the chemicals I unintentionally spewed or the sand that I stirred up?

While questions of their future, species names and habitat zones circled in my head, I was also taken with the simple beauty of this singular ecosystem. The “sudden surprise of the soul,” as Descartes worded, that had taken control of this moment. Dorsal fins reflected sun while water skeeters’ shadows formed dots on the sand below; beautiful, whole, interdependent, resilient. This system existed without me, but how lucky I was to have been able to see it.

Further downstream in Labyrinth Canyon, the article “Introduction to Bioregionalism,” by David Barnhill, synthesized many of the place-based experiences and emotions that I have had. “Bioregionalism is an ecological movement centering on one’s local geographic area – one’s bioregion. On the personal level it focuses on cultivating an intimate personal connection to the local bioregion. On the community level, it seeks to develop social, political and economic structures in harmony with the specific land of the area” (Barnhill). It encompasses ideas of decentralized politics, economy, agriculture and power. The idea fosters localization and intention towards interdependence. However, one thing this article and other readings on bioregionalism have failed to acknowledge is the Indigenous ecological knowledge and spirituality that bioregionalism “synthesizes.” In quoting Peter Berg, a bioregion activist, Barnhill writes that “a bioregion refers to both the geographical terrain and a terrain of consciousness – to  a place and the ideas that have developed about how to live in that place.” While this consciousness includes ecology, geography and a sense of place, I would argue that a “sense of wonder” should be included in defining bioregionalism.

During the course of WRFI, I have come to learn some of the bioregional knowledge that the Colorado Plateau has to share. With time I have come to learn the orientation of mountain ranges and water arteries, the geologic layers and environments of deposition that we have hiked through, which plants are invasive, how to identify a swift verses a swallow, tricks to reading canyon topography, and knowledge that goes beyond identification and classification. What I have learned about natural history and bioregionalism here will now be a part of my perspective in any bioregion and landscape that I travel through.

Beyond this, I have an awakened sense of wonder! Kathleen Dean Moore, in “Ethics and the Environment- The Truth of Barnacles: Rachel Carson and the Moral Significance of Wonder,” poetically states how “wonder is the open eyes, the sympathetic imagination and respectfully listening ears, seeking out the story told by nature’s rough bark and flitting wrens, and by that listening, entering into a moral relationship with the natural world.” I shall continue this sentiment and pursue the idea of wonder as the morality of interconnectedness.

In describing Rachel Carson’s piece “The Edge of the Sea,” Moore explains how “Carson shows us that a sense of wonder is not just a way of feeling or a way of seeing, it is a way of being in the world. To contemplate, and thereby acknowledge the meaningfulness and significance of the other, opens the door to a moral relationship.” Imagine the possibilities of cultivating a wonder relationship with every bioregion that is inhabited by humans, the awareness, humility, intent and sense of community that it would bring to many aspects of life. But rather then imagine, this way of being can be lived.

“Some philosophers and scientists would have us believe that they are separate worlds, the “is” and the “ought.” But I believe the worlds come together in a sense of wonder. The same impulse that says, this is wonderful, is the impulse that says, this must continue. A sense of wonder that allows us to see life as a beautiful mystery forces us to see life as something to which we owe respect and care. If this is the way the world is: extraordinary, surprising, beautiful, singular, mysterious and meaningful, then this is how I ought to act in that world: with respect and celebration, with care, and with full acceptance of the responsibilities that come with my role as a human being privileged to be a part of that community of living things. Wonder is the missing premise that can transform “what is” into a moral conviction about how one ought to act in that world.”                                                                                 – Kathleen Dean Moore

We must “savor the rush of remembered delight” (Ibid), “live openly, deeply and gratefully” (Moore), live with respect, relationship and reciprocity towards all life, have an inclusion of interdependence throughout all movements, and cultivate, embrace and celebrate a sense of wonder so deep it goes beyond a childlike sense of curiosity to include a humanlike sense of true being.