Devon Calvin: Lessons from Munching Burnt Quinoa

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There exists some sacred, indefinable core between people who you have munched burnt quinoa with, slept beneath shooting stars and howling coyotes, and shared alpenglow sunsets with. Between our group of students this core transgressed our contrary backgrounds, histories and interests. It caused each and every one of us at the end to be utterly nostalgic at the prospect of heading our separate ways with nothing left but sweet memories and phone numbers. Yet it also taught me to value relationships much more than I ever have before.

Throughout the turbulent years of late high school and early college, I lived by a “wilderness essence,” a vision of a lawless, untouched paradise that I could reach primarily through reckless exploration: commonly alone, running along some mountain ridge and without bear spray or cell phone. This perspective characterized my relationships with people and the outdoors. During college I became infatuated with planning out the places I would go, and only became friends with other climbers or skiers. The realization that I was spiraling into a routine and not having the new experiences I had hoped for in a college experience caused me to take a leave of absence for the following fall semester to find something more meaningful than just my personal athletic development.

Coming into the first day of WRFI my head was very much centered around managing a life back home in Central Oregon, and scrambling to find something meaningful to do in the gap semester after the course was over. I felt distant from my peers- and slightly confined by the group dynamics where conservative decision-making took higher precedent over the familiar pursuit of freedom. On our first front country camp at the Nature Conservancy’s Pine Butte Preserve I ran down winding trails at 5:30 AM to experience the area in the way I was used to: quickly, more solitary, and without a plan. The wild morning encounters with skunks, deer, grouse and winding rivers confirmed my belief in a wilderness essence and in a singular mode of experiencing wilderness.

On our second day of a 30 mile, 8 day hike through the Bob Marshall Wilderness, I decided to wet a line on a small section of the South Fork River during a little free time before dinner. I moved downstream, and found myself a mile down the river casting into deep turquoise holes before I thought to check my watch. When the sense of urgency at returning in time for dinner finally hit, I scrambled up the steep creek bank and started running back. After a few minutes another realization hit me- I had left the borrowed fly box and rod case as well as my license down beside the river! I cursed myself, and took off again back to the fishing grounds. By the time I sheepishly ran back into camp, the group was circled, munching burnt quinoa. It was an illuminating moment. At that moment I recognized that my egocentric wild desires were self-inflicting, isolating, and were less valuable than the time spent with others.

Throughout the span of six weeks I learned that happiness cannot be found just in wilderness, alone. On our last night of WRFI as we munched on burnt quinoa, I looked at each and every fellow classmate, adventurer and friend with a newfound appreciation for giving me a sense of clarity about wilderness, relationships and myself. I learned that my happiness originates through friendships over a mutual enjoyment of experiences. I learned to slow down, and focus on the moments spent outside with others rather than the speed or mode of travel. Within six weeks I began to appreciate others not for their level of gnar, similar perspectives, or granola personalities, but for their enjoyment of life and indomitable spirits. As I forge new relationships and revisit old ones, I believe I will now see in people not only what qualities they possess, but rather the soulful fire that drives them to be such diverse, inspiring people. And as a friend, I will stoke it as best I can.

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2016 Wild Rockies Summer Semester Students

Lauren O’Laughlin: Where the Heart Is

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Flathead River. Photo Credit: Julien Rashid

When I was a kid, I thought the best thing to be was a poet.  I would write simple, horrible poems and ask my mom to edit them for me.  She was kind enough to point out maybe one in seven of my spelling and grammatical errors, always encouraging my reflections.  All of these poems were inspired by my adventures in my backyard or just beyond.  My world was small, but I knew all of it.  Gary Snyder describes these adventures, “The childhood landscape is learned on foot, and a map is inscribed in the mind going out wider and farther.” Though this landscape was inscribed inside me, I would argue it was etched not in my mind but in my heart.

It is strange that now, as I am paddling down the Flathead River, I have been doing these explorations outward over a decade later.  We passed my childhood home near Whitefish, drove through the town I inhabited as a teenager, and caught a glimpse of my first college as we drove through Kalispell.  This journey will end in Missoula; the place I now call home.

In many ways, I feel as much a child in this place now as when I grew up here.  I have spent care free summer afternoons laughing and playing Sharks and Minnows in river waters with my peers, I have knelt down in forest floors to peer under mushrooms, overcome with the same magic I felt as a child that inspired me to look for fairies.  In evening walks around our camps in the Jumbo valley, I have felt indescribably small in the face of great mountains.  Throughout this journey, I have been more present for each moment, I have been curious about and moved by the natural world around me, and I have rediscovered my childlike sense of wonder.

My experiences here have also reminded me of what I later thought was the best thing to be: an outdoors-woman.  And through WRFI a better outdoors-person I have become.  The trees, flowers, and shrubs are familiar to me, and in recognizing them I feel in on “the gossip of the place,” as Gary Snyder would say.  I am happy to see fields dotted with the bright scarlet paintbrush, and I feel greeted and welcomed by the waves of trembling aspen.  I now need no trail to find my way, only some mountains and a map.

It was not long before my outdoor pursuits led to environmental ones.  As I fumbled through my introductions to being an outdoor recreationalist, I bled many times into the mountains.  I found those mountains bled back into me, and I found wild places became essential to me in some way, and their protection even more so.  For years, I have been studying the methods of environmental protection at my university, been steeping myself in the sciences relating to natural resources.  Western science is analytical and without passion, ideology, or emotion.  Without realizing it, I have been seeking to find ways to justify my love for the wild through this language and in ways that fit nicely into these boxes.

This is where WRFI has taught me my greatest lesson.  This experience has been a demonstration and practice of a science that is passionate, emotional, and idealistic.  We have spoken to countless people whose lives are devoted to the protection of natural spaces because they feel within themselves that without them they are diminished.  John Fredrick, founder of the North Fork Preservation Association, spent years advocating for the protection of the Flathead Valley because he believed its beauty was worth more than any coal that could be harvested from its grounds.  Debbo Powers and other residents of the area now speak with reverence about this place they live in and love, and it is this bias that drives them.  With them, and with each of our speakers, they are driven by passion and their hearts are clearly in their work.

Every paddle stroke now takes me toward home.  Soon, I will unpack all the physical things I’ve carried these six weeks, but some of the insights I’ve picked up I’ll never put away.  I don’t know anymore what the best thing to be is, if I’m thinking about careers.  But I do know the best things I’ve been are present, passionate, and full of awe.  That the best place to read poetry is in a quiet forest, and if in being on a mountain top overwhelms me with a joy so immense it brings me to tears, then that is reason enough to protect it.

The best thing I can ever be is where my heart is.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lindsay Ashton: Road Watch in the Pass

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Starry night skies, the satisfaction of settling into a cozy sleeping bag after a long day of hiking, the soothing sound of a nearby stream; these are a few of the things that make sleeping outside so enjoyable. After two months of sleeping in the backcountry and quiet camp sites, I have grown accustomed to falling asleep to the sound of running water. Following a six day backpack in Waterton Lakes Nation Park, my WRFI group had the privilege of staying with our guest speakers, Rob and Loretta Schaufele. Access to indoor plumbing, a delicious meal, and s’mores around a bonfire made camping in their backyard a special treat. Their outstanding generosity and hospitality reinforced the stereotype that “all Canadians are really nice.”

However, rather than the sound of a trickling creek, the background noise throughout the evening was the rush of traffic on Highway 3, a busy road just behind the Schaufele’s home in Western Alberta. While this couple has become accustomed to the din of cars and RVs zooming by, I was surprised by the noise. Yet this highway creates more than just an annoying sound—it acts as a death zone to crossing wildlife and a major source of habitat fragmentation in the region.

After over a decade of living along Highway 3, the Schaufeles may not mind the noise, but they do dislike seeing the frequent and bloody roadkill along the highway. Most people, including myself, often see dead deer and other wildlife along roads, briefly mourn the “poor animal” and zoom past without a second thought. The Schaufeles, on the other hand, look at road kill as a source of inspiration and take the time in their busy lives to address this issue. Rob is the director of “Roadwatch in the Pass”, a ground-breaking program created by the Miistakas Institute (of the University of Calgary) to collect roadkill data along the Crowsnest Pass region of Highway 3. Their aim is to gain more knowledge about how many animals die each year due to vehicle collisions and record observations of wildlife movement.

Over the past several years, the program has been collecting data through citizen science. Citizen science implements local knowledge and allows research to be augmented by the participation and insight of everyday people. While this may not be an effective method for all types of research, it has worked well for the Roadwatch program. Part of the program involves a set of volunteers that hike along the highway in search of roadkill that escaped the roadsides. We got to experience this as Rob and Loretta took us on a walk through fields of grass and mud near the highway in search of bones and bodies. While it may sound morbid, the work is fascinating. During the walk, Rob proudly pulled out his smartphone to show us the program’s new app, which allows volunteers to record the duration of their hike, identify where they find signs of roadkill using GPS coordinates, and to submit a picture of the find. All this information is sent to a database that synthesizes it. A plethora of useful data has been collected. Now, that information is being used to determine the best place to construct underpasses or overpasses that would help animals cross the road safely. Though it takes time for animals to learn to use these bridges, they have been successful in protecting both animals and people from collisions. These structures have been effective in nearby areas, such as Banff National Park, where we drove on top of underpasses in route to another backpacking trip.

The Crowsnest area, Banff, and other regions of Alberta make up a small part of the much larger Yellowstone to Yukon bioregion. Connectivity is an essential part of efforts to conserve this area, and roads act as a major source of fragmentation. Not only are roads a direct source of wildlife fatality, fragmentation also causes in-breeeding depression, local extinction, and many other problems. It’s easy to get discouraged when faced with the challenge of conserving such a large and complex area, but the Schaufele’s efforts in their community and other local initiatives give me hope. As Barry Lopez writes, these people are “local geniuses” and their “intimate” knowledge of the land “rings with the concrete details of experience.” Success, I’ve learned, comes from the combined efforts of people who truly care about their homes.