Ella Mighell: Rainbows of the Dirty Devil

ellaEight days into our sandal and sock slodge through the Dirty Devil, we left behind a campsite with an endangered Mexican Spotted Owl and fossilized Grallator tracks, headed for higher ground. Today we would be hiking on a road, in the middle of a Wilderness Study Area on BLM land in a canyon described as “extremely isolated.” As we hiked we stopped to observe purple blooming fishhook cacti, changing geological layers from the Paleozoic period, petrified wood, pictographs from the ancient Fremont, and a 2007 mining claim preserved in a PVC pipe. Standing on top of a Shinarump Formation terrace, the late morning sun was still on our backs as we faced the yellow, red and purple layered Chinle Formation. Below our feet were water-weathered stones from the ancestral Rockies. We were on “roadless” Wilderness Study Area (WSA) land, but were using an illegal mining road from the late 70s. My mind wandered to what this landscape would have looked like if large-scale mining had taken place in the uranium filled Chinle, Shinarump and Moenkopi Formations; would it even be open to the public, and what would these canyons have become if gas prices increased and uranium became more profitable?

I was finding that the Dirty Devil was a place of contrasting truths. At first it welcomed with its varnish stripped canyon walls and blooming desert primroses. Then it betrayed, the sun blistering my neck and quicksand engulfing me to my hips. Land management of the Dirty Devil is also bewildering in its conflicting and complex ways.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contorts its management plans to fit several contrasting missions. Through a presentation and discussion with a BLM manager, I came to understand the muddied management practices, why I had never heard of the BLM before coming to Utah, and why there was a mining road in the middle of WSA land. This includes their complicated history of admittedly poor public communications and original agency formation from the 1946 forced marriage of the US Grazing Service and the General Land Office.

The BLM was created to manage public lands for grazing, mining, oil and gas. It wasn’t until 1976 with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that BLM management was expanded to include recreation and wilderness in their 270 million acres. The BLM multiple use management gets pretty contradictory when they are mandated to facilitate resource extraction, and also preserve the natural integrity of that land. Things get even more complicated when we include state sections. Basically the state of Utah is strongly incentivized to sell or swap school sections to extractive energy companies. Ironically, the state is also pushing their industrial tourism sector in neighboring areas. According to the manager we spoke with, BLM offices, while trying to base their management plans on science, are mostly driven by social values.

To throw some more sand in this Dirty Devil, local culture is often at odds with federal land control, but many ranchers have subsidized grazing leases on this public land. The BLM’s relationship with environmental groups is often just as polar. The state wants the BLM to give more access to the extractive agencies, while environmentalists think the BLM has given too much. Basically the BLM is at the center of a complex love triangle where one spouse supports the BLM while in litigation with the opposing love interest, and the other way around.

One of the main takeaways from speaking with the BLM manager was that people value public land for different reasons. My relationship with natural landscapes most likely looks very different than yours, but both views have equal value and salience. Public values are multidimensional, and as values change, so must management practices. The complex mission of the BLM’s multiple use management was created in a conflictive system where collaboration and compromises were not encouraged. Yet here I sit on a Shinarump Formation overlook, surrounded by orange canyon walls contrasting with the blue sky. This section of the Dirty Devil has been determined to have “designated wilderness characteristics” and is a Wilderness Study Area. Tomorrow we will hike out of the WSA, and although a fence does not mark the divide, the complex history of this landscape does.

Many Utahans support a mining future, finding hope in the extractive industries and continuing their culture of freedom and rebellion in the wild west. Others, from both in-state and out, hold a similarly strong love and hope for these wild lands, but expressed very differently through federal protection and land use limitations. I fall on the latter side of this divide, but I know that no issue in southeastern Utah is simply environmentalism versus extraction. However, I do question the standing of my opinions as a visitor on these publicly owned lands, without a tie to the local economic well-being of the area.  As I hike further down the Dirty Devil, black and white issues are further greying in complexity, or as Dave, one of our instructors says, it is simply rain-bowing.

Isa Caliandro: Reading Between the Lines

Horseshoe Canyon 3

Horseshoe Canyon. Photo by: Nick Littman. 

Looking up the fence the differences on either side were subtle at first, yet the closer I looked the more obvious they became. On the right there were grasses, hillsides unmarked by trails, and cottonwoods peeking around the corner. I could just see around the bend where sunshine was streaming through tall grasses. To the left there were shrubs, sagebrush, and terraced hills. The only trees were pinyon pines, their twisted lines a replica in plant form of those of the towering sandstone around me. On the right, bright greens; on the left sandy soils, together they represented a difference.

Our journey to this line began one prior. We had been following the curves, patterns, and streambeds of Horseshoe Canyon at a naturalists pace. Taking the time to inquire, examine, and take note of the nuances of the species magically thriving in this landscape. Hailing from the Northeast this new flora and fauna, coupled with the landscape was completely new. Each day, travelling deeper and deeper into the heart of the earth I was growing to love it more and more. Finding sand in my shoes at the end of a day of walking, and getting to explore alcoves tucked away in small side canyons I was beginning to find desert treasures. After a week I was beginning to be able to trace my hands along the softer desert plants and echo their names in my head. It was all beginning to come together, why certain plants had spines and grew on the higher up rocky soil, which animals were avoiding. I had learned how to follow and scout for cow paths so as to not disturb the fragile desert crust. These cow paths mark the driving force between the differences on each side of the fence: grazing.

In Horseshoe Canyon there are two ruling designations that have come to shape the landscape: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and The National Park Service. The BLM is an agency in the U.S. Department of Interior that has multi purposes.  Its roots are in grazing and land distribution. The BLM leases out land along the canyon to ranchers, which allows them to graze their cattle on the land. This is the land designation for the start of the canyon until about halfway down, at which time the land designation switches to the National Park Service, whose mission is recreation and preservation. They strive to survive and want everyone to be able to see the gems in the nooks and crannies of the great and vast American Landscape. These two approaches to land management ultimately determined the ecological composition of the landscape.

After the fence we followed a very different canyon. As Barrier Creek, the river that flows through Horseshoe Canyon and eventually into the Green River, grew to that of a trickle and the banks completely changed, we began to learn about a new kind of desert ecology. The grasses now grew above my head, dead leftover from last summer and fall; they swayed with the gentle cool breeze. Cottonwoods, previously a rare sighting, now filled the creek banks. They grew tall, sideways, and were full of leaves marking the warmer temperatures to come. They provided shade for the creek gathering strength, and a stunning contrast against the cornflower blue sky. A few days past the fence the canyon melody began to grow. The canyon wren threw its call down the canyon walls where it was met in patches of willows by the industrious hum of bees. Around each turn there was more and more life, and the song grew stronger. It felt as if the birds, especially the canyon wren, was ushering us deeper, and deeper, among the contours and sandy hues to a more magical place. The further we wandered from the cows, the further past that line and the deeper between the lines of sandstone the more deeply the canyon breathed and came to life, it was lush. This stark difference has really made an impression on me, yet more importantly a greater one on the landscape.

A naturalist, and fellow enthusiast, of the Colorado Plateau Thomas Fleischner has detailed the history of the area around Horseshoe Canyon in his book “Singing Stone.” He said, grazing was introduced to the United States by way of Mexico in 1540. Its spread, development, and regulation or lack there of has become deeply rooted within its own culture. Largely out of the public eye, grazing wasn’t a cause for concern until the Dust Bowl when over grazing contributed to the loss of topsoil. It was only in 1934 that the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, mandating government control over grazing. This led to the creation of the U.S. Grazing Services; that was eventually joined with the General Land Office to become the BLM. Then it wasn’t until the 1980’s when the livestock industry and grazing truly came into the public eye. I was surprised to find out Regan even included it in his campaigning in the west. It was only until a few days ago that this livestock issue really took stock in my life but I can safely say it has my attention.

I am by no means an expert on ranching, Utah, the West, or even Horseshoe Canyon. Yet, I do know that in the layers of sandstone, hidden alcoves, and the gentle sway of willows I find great joy. I know the ecosystem on the side of the fence where it lies protected, and un-trampled feels more vibrant. I know without munching, stomping, and tramping this vibrancy thrives and the canyon is just that much more wild. I feel that I can even go as far as to say, the grass is truly greener on the other side.


Anna Martone: The Sounds of Silence

Horseshoe Canyon

Photo By: Nick Littman 

HHEEELLOOO  HELLLOO hellloo hello………When you speak to the canyon, the canyon speaks back, echoing down through layers of Navajo sandstone. Now stop, stand still and listen. The silence will move over your body like chills in a brisk wind. Sounds can be deceiving in the Horseshoe Canyon, but if you listen closely, there may be more noise than you originally perceived.

As our WRFI group descends down one of the only accessible trails into the heart of the canyon, we become separate from the world above us. The steep canyon walls enclose us in a world unknown and mysterious, and my excitement starts to grow. As we stand in the wash, I am immediately taken by the absence of noise and stillness that permeates throughout the environment. No longer do I hear cars rushing down a highway, doors slamming shut, cash registers chiming with every purchase, or day-to-day, white noise sounds I have become so used to. It is quiet.

As days go on and we casually stroll down the 30-mile stretch that is Horseshoe Canyon, my perception of sound begins to change. I begin to notice more. I begin to question more. I begin to interpret the world around me and traits of a naturalist start emanating throughout my body. Horseshoe Canyon has opened its doors to show a diverse, captivating ecosystem that encapsulate sounds around every alcove. If you listen closely you might hear a canyon wren whistling above, a cottonwood swaying in the breeze, a whiptail lizard scurrying across slick rock, or a burrow off in the distance. But to the untrained ear, canyons can become silent escapes; drastically different from the world we left behind.

As days pass, my ears become accustomed to the deservingly quite desert and I begin to recognize the silence as much more. For me, the absence of sound speaks greater volumes than anything outside these red stained rocks. As I begin to get acquainted with the environment around me, I start to question and ponder what sounds have echoed loud through these rocks long before we ever found our way down. What sounds are no longer present here but have shaped the biological and physical aspects of this canyon?

Millions of millions of years ago heavy rivers cut deep through layers of sandstone to form what is now Horseshoe Canyon.  As I look up at the escarpment of rocks that have fallen from high above, I imagine the vibrations of sound made as boulders crash and tumble on to hard ground. Desert varnish paints the walls deeper red, showing evidence of what was once a larger sandstone rock.  As I peer up at the stone around me, I start envisioning that last moment when the crack in a rock becomes its own boulder, flying high through the sky ready to make a grand entrance into the wash of the canyon………. BOOOOOMMMM. Rocks scattered across our trail shouting as we cross over them.

Stepping over rocks that once made vibrations through the narrow wash of the canyon, I notice the absence of water. As we walk through what used to be a river, flowing deep within the walls, water is now barren. No longer do sounds of rushing water, splashing against mud rock surround the area. The wash runs dry, but the water has not left without leaving its mark. Through dips in smooth rocks, branches pushed up along the base of cottonwoods, steep banks and muddy shores, we can begin to find clues to where the last floods seeped through. Interesting how what has shaped these giant canyons walls, is now nowhere to be seen or heard. The water that once flowed through can now only be heard through ones imagination.

Evidence of life permeates through every corner, and my imagination runs wild. A dinosaur track prompts our group to embody what we think this animal sounded like, walked like, looked like. Different interpretations travel through our minds, questioning what the world was like 65 million years ago. What sounds encapsulated the area as this dinosaur moved through the land? Through pictographs and petroglyphs sprawled over alcove walls, chert found between layers of other rocks, footprints of animals not to far head of us, and old bones of different mammals, I begin to recognize it wasn’t always so quite down hear.

On the count of three open your ears-1, 2, 3………..What do you hear?


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.

Haley Traun: The Future of the Wild

Dark Canyon Wilderness

Hiking through Peavine Canyon as part of a 40 mile loop around Dry Mesa (Woodenshoe, Dark, and Peavine Canyons) within the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area.

My experience backpacking through Dark Canyon Wilderness, waking each morning to the sight of the grand, high walled sandstone walls painted by desert varnish and the various green hues of the diverse set of plant species like ponderosa and pinon pines, aspen, doug fir, junipers, and more lush looking shrubs and plants then you would ever imagine could grow in a desert area, challenged my naturalist skills while teaching me about everything from stream ecology to land management and policy.

I first learned the basics of the 1964 Wilderness Act in a classroom in Wisconsin. I enjoyed learning about the history and politics of the eventual creation of this act, but reading material about contemporary land management challenges regarding Designated Wilderness Areas while in the state of Utah hiking through one of its strikingly gorgeous sets of canyons peaked my interest about the future of Wilderness. I didn’t have many questions about land managed for wilderness characteristics after sitting in a desk in the middle of a campus at least five hours south of a designated area. Dark Canyon awakened an interest of thinking about the fine details of who manages this land, how it’s managed, and what kind of characteristics, components, and systems these places ought to contain.

Before starting this excursion, if you asked me about my thoughts regarding certain types of public land usage and management, I most certainly would not have had many impassioned things to say. There was something about being in a remote place capable of offering solitude, journeying up side canyons for water most days, noticing which plants grew where and why, and finding worthy branches to hang our food each night and retrieve it each morning instead of having it readily available to my fingertips within seconds from the pantry, reminding me that my access to food and water for survival is not inherent or guaranteed just because I am human, that opened my eyes to importance of how people value land and for what reasons. These experiences helped me understand that my actions are not without consequence, and how societies perceive the importance of areas like Dark Canyon matters for the future of species from every biologic kingdom.

A few months ago, I read a Smithsonian article about a proposition from biologist and naturalist E.O. Wilson that 50% of the world’s land should be designated as human-free natural reserves. Half of the world treated as Wilderness – is that possible? What would it look like, and how could we convince private land owners that their land should be included? Should this proposition that half of the world must be free from the kind of development and impact humans impose, how might our cities, communities, priorities and lifestyles change? What legislative changes must occur, and how might we question our ideas and expectations about wilderness?

A book detailing Wilson’s argument and proposal published in March is on my list to read when I get home, but as I embark on our final section canoeing through Labyrinth Canyon, I’ll think about how the past ideas of wilderness allow me to explore these places today. I will appreciate the experience these wonderful landscapes provide; yet, I will remain critical about how humans think of wild and natural places, ponder what the next steps of land management could and should accomplish, and hope to discover how I can positively impact the future of diverse kinds of land this world encompasses.

Aly Kellogg: Why Natural History is Relevant!

Aly's Blog_chertIt can seem to the untrained observer that natural history isn’t very relevant in society today. What can a sophisticated urbanite learn from a bunch of plants anyway? Let me tell you, this urbanite has learned a thing or two from them already on this trip. Essential natural history practices can be applied to a realm well outside the backcountry. Vision, attentiveness, and accuracy play key roles in any social system and can improve ones understanding of the world around them.

Attentiveness has taken much energy throughout this trip. At each step there is something requiring observation and thought. An obvious example is the constant quest for beautiful chert – a type of jagged stone whose hues vary from white to red to purple. My eyes scan the ground for a glint of something unusual, something that calls my attention more than the rest of the rubble. I hone in on a particularly purple piece embedded in the fine sand floor. I lift it from where it lays to inspect it closer. Purple upon first glance – yes – but with more time a gradient develops, then a rainbow, then perhaps a pattern. The color and shape and angles become apparent and distinct. I rotate it in my hand to see all sides, trying to imagine the larger piece it used to be part of. Only by training my attention does it become obvious that this piece has been manipulated by a human hand and ancient tool. A bigger picture begins to show.

Vision is trickier to master than attentiveness. Our wonderful instructor Dave poured water onto some seemingly black moss clinging to a rock face. It turned green! By some miracle of nature, the moss immediately opened itself to the moisture. There were no signs that the moss would react that way but if you new that after a fresh rain most of the mosses were green, you could guess that water triggered this reaction. Natural history is seeing the unseen. Take nothing at face value. Make observations and try to hypothesize based on them. It is extremely important both in ecological and sociological systems to ask questions about what is happening outside of the obvious and examine the components that seem stagnant or simple. You never know what answers may lay there. One can use vision to prepare for future changes and see multiple solutions to current problems.

To balance vision, one must practice accuracy. Hypotheses are only as useful as they are true.  By assuming too much, one may make other hypotheses that lack a strong foundation. We were asked to spend two hours with a plant and make speculations based on our thorough observation. I thought my specimen was fairly solitary, standing alone for many yards in any direction. There were a few of its kind on the hill above but I wouldn’t have called it abundant or guessed that it was well adapted to the desert. As I continued to walk down canyon, I saw it everywhere! There hasn’t been a campsite since where I haven’t seen it. The assumptions I made based on the original site did not hold true. This is a perfect example of the necessity of accuracy and the dangers of vision. They need to balance each other.

Attentiveness, vision and accuracy all need to exist in order to come up with clear definition of a problem and to see viable solutions. This is the usefulness of natural history. The same principles that help me make sense of this strange, anything-but-barren landscape can be applied to social systems.

Natalie Stockman: Shadows and Leaves

Natalie blog 1I picked up a branch of leaves and observed the shifting shadows as it spun between my fingers. There I sat, starring at an unassuming desert plant. My three-hour plant study had only begun. As I sat in the scorching sun, I wished the plant could create enough shade to accommodate me. I began my observations by noting the obvious features of the plant. Its leaves were garnished with sharp points on every end and grew out of snarly branches. Dusted winter green colored the leaves, with little evidence of possible flowers. Maybe it was too early to tell. After noting every distinguishable feature, I dissected the stem in order to gather a visual on its circulatory system. I noted the details detectable by my naked eyes. Then I moved to speculate about the location of my plant. It seemed to grow close to the stream bank as well as far up the steep canyon slopes. My plant could withstand direct sunlight and possibly had adapted to only living close to a water source, judging by it proximity to the stream and absence later down canyon where the wash ran dry. I hadn’t done much independent speculation of the natural world before the plant study. I’d grown accustomed to stifling the imagination that nature can inspire. Science books and nature guides were often my first stop before employing my own speculations.

During the plant study activity we were required to creatively express our plant in any way we seemed fit. I thought for a while about whether to write a poem or story. I decided that the words I had might not do it justice. I drew, instead, the shadows projected by one of the branches on to my paper. Every incremental movement, as it spun, created a different complex shadow. I soon began to trace the shadows and attempted to explore the myriad of shapes that appeared. I remember thinking they were oddly geometric as a result of the pointed leaf lobes. Each leaf seemed to shade itself while taking into account its particular position under the desert sun. The challenge of capturing one of these shadows on paper consumed me. Soon enough, three hours had passed.  I followed the small stream back to the head of the canyon to meet the rest of the group.

As we shared our findings, the depth of observation and expression of everyone’s plant study presentation happily surprised me. We engaged our scientific observational skills as well as our expressive techniques. During our discussions in class we talked about the two sides of natural history. The scientific and the interpretative aspects of natural history inform each other. Ella’s plant study offered a great example of this. She named her plant the pillow. She observed the composition of the plant. She speculated about adaptations the plant might posses and the ways it is best suited for its environment. Her creative component especially struck me. She wrote,

In the form of a tiny green bud

Not all of a flower or leaf,

But of a plume softer than fleece.

Its details are pristine

Fit for a fairy queen

Pink and black and white and green

They inspire a pleasant tune

That’s hummed about them by the bees.

She artfully used her scientific inferences to inform her expression. As a member of the audience her poem was memorable and incorporated her personal experience within the plant study. She was not alone in her creative expression; Nate wrote a short story about his plant relating it to a little brother. Aly personified her plant as a grandmother because of its small dusty petals that resembled hair curlers. In each case their close observation informed their interpretation, creating a greater depth to our study of the natural world.

Thomas Fleischner wrote in an article titled, Natural History and the Spiral of Offering, about the complexities of natural history. He suggests that a wholehearted naturalist employs a variety of observation methods to be more receptive and “cultivate awareness.” Fleischner emphasizes how important expression is to the practice of natural history. Ultimately the expressive component allows naturalists to present their experience and findings to their community. Expression is not only important to convey findings but it can also add a degree of humanity to the study of nature, for the people who might not be drawn to the natural world independently. In some circumstances the expressive portion can be crucial for inspiring other people to feed their naturalist spirit or to question their environment. The plant study demonstrated the importance of nurturing a creative lens when practicing natural history, not only to present your work but also to inspire others.

Before the plants study, I wouldn’t have looked at the pillow willow, formally known as the Coyote Willow, and thought of it in the same manner as Ella. Her presentation allowed me to have a connection with the plant as well, that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Nonetheless, it has encouraged me to see the natural word with a variety of lenses. Fostering unique personal expressions to nature could have a similar effect on a community as it does on a group of students in a remote canyon.    By inspiring everyone to be a naturalist in there own way, a new widely shared reverence could inspire us to take a second look at the way we treat our environment.