August Schield: The Hypocritical Oath

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I am a hypocrite. I preach conservation of lands, understand the importance of biodiversity, believe in climate change, and spent my precious free time recreating in wilderness and national forest, observing and learning of the natural processes that dictate the ways things are. Yet I play the devil’s advocate because I promote and consume more than the necessary amount of wanted commodities influenced by my mother culture that in turn harm and diminish the world I aim to save. I am no longer, by definition, a wild animal. So I choose or more-so feel the need to have these synthetic objects in order to survive comfortably in these wild lands. I advocate for protection of watersheds so geese can migrate to safe healthy land, but own a $300 sleeping bag made of goose down. I am in the harshest of terms a hypocrite, continually operating on the hypocritical oath. This oath to me is advocating for the environment, against issues such as fracking and booming oil developments and in contrast consuming oil industry products such as skis, jackets, kayaks, cars, you name it. These realizations have been haunting to me as a young environmentalist, and at times make it difficult to find solutions to move forward. However, being receptive of the land and my culture, I am humbly yet shamefully able to ask and answer this question: what is your role in the dying world?

I am only human; consumerism is my way of life. I have realized that conscious thought is the first step to realizing and reducing my own footprint. I am against the 21st century’s oil and gas developments in delicate ecosystems, specifically in the Beartooth front, the ANWR region, and the Badger Two Medicine area; but I drive a truck, own a quiver of 3 pairs of skis, and a plethora of highly advanced synthetic outdoor garments (most of which I replace yearly due to wear and tear). In realizing this hypocrisy I shall move forward into conscious decision making. In such a diligent practice, I can dictate my cultural consumer wants and won’t end up with an abundance of things I do not need. If I continue down this destructive path based on my hypocritical oath, complaining about lack of snow pack, shorter summer ski seasons, and increased frequency in wildfires; then I am a hypocrite. So how do I move forward?

Conscious thought and decision-making are just a part of the process. Taking what I need and leaving what you want to consume does not, in my mind, complete what Thomas Fleishner describes as the “spiral offering,” a way to give back to the land that created your livelihood in the first place. How can I give back to a world that I have, until now, blissfully reaped? It is easy to want all the latest and greatest gear to be comfortable in the wild so that I can focus on my mind experiments and allow myself this wonderful and forever-growing environmentalist mindset in the first place. Now I must take action, learn as much about the natural world as I can and how I can aim to conserve it scientifically. Then I must communicate my knowledge and make noble decisions that set examples for others. No, I am not going to strip down naked and run into the wild to live with the lions and tigers and bears. However, to be a student of the land does not require lavish abundance of gear. I just need to get out there and explore, be receptive and humble as I have the last few days been wandering with an open heart and realize that all I have ever wanted is right in front of me. I am an environmentalist, and although my culture may never able me to break the hypocritical oath, I can practice my ethics to the land day in and day out. In doing this I hope I can inspire you to do the same.

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Ben Warzon: What a “place” can mean

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we left the shore of the muddy Missouri, we crossed a cow burnt field and started up a draw. We worked our way through the rolling hills, which flanked the mouth of what would soon be Neat Coulee. We bobbed or way up canyon, slowly pristine white Virgelle Sandstone rose like the walls of Zion. Juniper and limber pine dominated the plant community, species hardly seen down the river. Moist, white sand replaced the gumbo mud and welcomed our softening steps as our heads craned skyward. My neck creaked with the stark contrast from staring at the flat surface of the ‘Mo’ for days on end. With this tinge of pain, I was flooded with confusion. Are we still in Montana? We surely didn’t teleport to the Southwest. But there is no way we are on the plains, or in the mountains for that matter. As we sit at the head of this bizarre slot, all it takes is a moment of presence and it all comes together.

What do I mean by a moment of presence? Basically the simple awareness of where one is by feeling the soil, hearing the wind, and just engaging with the surroundings. The familiar can often let presence slip away, but an unexpected or large change snaps us back rather quickly. For me, the experience of Neat Coulee on the Missouri River was certainly one of those moments.  The initial feelings were definitely unsettling, almost a loss of where I was. Such contrasting landscapes must mean a new place. In reality, however, it meant a deeper understanding of this complex place. This was not an anomaly, rather an important step in understanding the breaks. A billion years of processes have created this place and the experience it provides. It is these intimate interactions that create a sense of a place.

This is a phrase we often hear thrown around but rarely stop to think about what it means. There are many pieces to an individual’s sense of place, but it starts with simply being present.  A sense of place is not an abstract or conceptualized idea. It cannot be defined by science or really even words. A sense of place is as simple as the feeling that you are home after a long day. It might just be a touch of fabric on your bed or the smell of the trees. Truly it is just an awareness of where you are. Without that small awareness, though, we lose our culture, traditions, values and roots. That is place.

On a grander scale, a sense of place means being an engaged participant where you live. We can develop a sense of place by exploring our world–both near and far–all it takes is walking out the door and paying attention. Through these explorations we will become invested in our neighborhoods and communities, we will know more about them and understand what they mean. As I sat in the sand of Neat Coulee, I was able gain a greater understanding of and connection to the mighty Missouri River and the state it is born in.

Shane Randle: Environmentalism & Religion

14976471_1357390087606854_8557159165283576829_oIs environmentalism a form of religion? Environmentalists all share a view on what is important to us in the world: the animals, the land, and the natural processes that surround us. Environmentalism gives us a set of broad ethics that translate into a belief on how to treat the world around us: with respect.

In class we were talking about renewable energy and how solar and wind power are now accessible, cheap, efficient, and being integrated into our national (and global) grid. This discussion followed a tour around the Judith Gap Wind Farm, where we learned about how companies like Invenergy are building large-scale wind farms to accommodate our society’s energy needs and [hopefully] take the place of other types of energy production such as the use of coal. To many of us on the course, we have an ethical obligation to not only support that change, but to also be vocal advocates for that change.

As Derick Jensen wrote in his article “Forget Shorter Showers: Why personal change does not equal political change,” changing our personal habits (in terms of energy use or any other environmental issue) isn’t going to cut it. The amount of water you save by shortening your shower won’t truly help the water issue on a large scale. Instead, we need to work on social and political levels to effect the necessary broad-scale environmental change that we seek. He doesn’t tell us to forego personal changes, however. He simply tells us that those changes are not enough. We need to become activists.

As environmentalists, we generally agree that sharing our views and affecting change is for the benefit of everyone (and everything). We preach saving the earth in order to save humanity. Isn’t this very similar to the evangelizing prominent in many religions? This realization has opened my eyes and changed some of my views on evangelization: people coming to your door to preach religion or talk to you about important environmental measures are just doing what they believe is good and right. Both environmentalism and religion give people not only a moral way of thinking about the world, but also a moral way of acting within it.

These are simply guidelines. Through the lens of environmentalism, or religion, people are able to create their own personal sets of ethics by which to live their life. That’s exactly what we are doing out here. By traveling through the mountains, rivers, and towns of Montana, I’m able to take the general ethics I’ve been taught through environmentalism and make them my own. Then, taking into account my personal ethics, I can become a heartfelt advocate for what I truly believe in.  I can become someone I’ll be proud to be.

Bonita Pernot: Power and Place in the Big Snowy Mountains

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Our group dispersed along the ridge of Great House Peak—the highest point in Montana’s Big Snowy Mountains, standing 8,681’ high—to find a spot to take in the expansive view. It is said to be “the best view in all of Montana,” but all I know is that it had me feeling a little wonder-struck. I looked out onto the plains and distant mountains, felt the wind’s constant rush, and thought about the beauty and power of this place.

I thought that this moment on the summit of Great House would be the highlight of the venture, but this was not the case; on our way down, we stumbled upon a dead bird. We hurried to gather around and see what kind it was and speculate on how it may have died. Initially, I was shocked to see that the bird was a Northern Flicker. What was it doing so far above the tree line? I was in awe over how intact this dead bird was. What caused this bird to die in such a way that it was able to maintain its form? The only sign of distress that the bird displayed was a neck that was weak and cranked to the side. Could it have been caught in an unfamiliar wind current, carried away, and then crashed into the mountainside? These kinds of questions were speeding through my head.

Soon after contemplating these mysteries, a new wonder began to captivate me; the Northern Flicker is a common bird, and while I had often marveled at its flash of orange from under the wings as it flies from tree to tree, I had thought that it was otherwise fairly simple. From afar, the flicker had always looked like a plain brown bird that displayed an occasional flash of orange, but seeing this bird so close, so still, offered an entirely new perspective. There was so much more intricacy to the Flicker than I could have ever conceived. The feathers that had appeared to be a flat brown were actually littered with black speckles, crescents, and spots. Just as I thought that I had observed the full extent of this bird’s intricacy, we flipped it over and opened its wings to reveal even more: the chest was covered with fluffy white feathers that were speckled with black, the tail feathers were sleek, black and long, with orange undertones, the wings revealed a lateral white streak with orange accents surrounding it and black stripes going horizontally near the tips, and a layer of white fluffy plumage created a line near the front of the wings.

Seeing this bird in such pristine condition and marveling at its intricacies was the most powerful moment of my hike on Great House Peak. I examined this bird with curiosity and reverence. I wondered how it had gotten there, but more than that I wondered what this individual had seen, done, and acted like through its lifetime. I longed to know more. Finding this Flicker had me feeling a greater amount of power than I had while looking out at the scenic view from the summit. It’s hard for me to tap into the exact emotions that I felt in this moment, but I know that it was something sacred. I felt the majesty and spirit of the Big Snowy Mountains in looking at this small, perfectly dead bird; a seemingly insignificant moment reminded me of the life and energy that had been surrounding me throughout our entire backpack. It was the dead flicker that filled me with joy, serenity, and reverence for the natural systems around me. My goal had been to reach the top of Great House Peak, but my true treasure was found on the downward slope of the mountain. There is no way of knowing what lies ahead and no way to tell where we will find our true connection with the wild world around us.

Power and place are found in unexpected moments.

 

Claire Anderson: Mad World

clairesblog“Effective protest is grounded in anger, and we are not consciously angry. Anger nourishes hope and fuels rebellion, it presumes a judgement, presumes how things ought to be and aren’t, presumes a caring. Emotions remain the best evidence of belief and value.” – Jack Turner, The Abstract Wild: A Rant

Have you ever walked into a place and been immediately taken aback by its overwhelming power? I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have felt that often. These instances stand out clearly to me because of the uninhibited emotion they provoke so naturally.

My classmate, Shane, and I took a walk along the Yellowstone River after climbing out of the vans following our drive from White Sulphur Springs. We had just driven into a glowing golden valley with the Yellowstone River perfectly framing our campsite and it was all a bit overwhelming. At this particular moment I told Shane I was angry. She was confused, which is understandable because this place is unbelievably beautiful and instead of being in a classroom, I was galloping through Paradise Valley just a few hours after getting cinnamon rolls from some copper miners. I had no business being angry. After thinking about it I decided anger probably wasn’t the correct emotion, but I was feeling something strong for sure. I was angry (for lack of a better word) because this place is stupidly beautiful and there is no way my camera or my mind and memories will ever do it justice. I want this place to remain this unfairly beautiful, I want other places of the same caliber to retain their charm and stunning beauty and I want everyone to be able to see these places and feel this power I felt at that moment.

We’ve seen the extremes when it comes to water quality. The Missouri River has been polluted over and over by agricultural runoff and its waters are murky and dark, whereas in the Scapegoat or the Big Snowies, the waters are clear and clean. Mining threatens the coveted Smith River near White Sulphur Springs, and heavy cattle ranching threatens sensitive prairie ecosystems that only exist in large quantities in a few places in the world. Threats such as these could drastically alter the heart wrenching beauty of these natural places.

I’m very aware of my own emotions and generally have very strong, gut reactions to things that make me happy, and even more so to things I know are wrong. Stories of injustice towards what I care most deeply about, such as my mom, dad, or brother hit me the hardest. I don’t like negativity, it fires me up, and I’ve worked really hard in the past years to sit on my initial feelings for a bit and think about what is making me feel this way. From there I am able to more rationally attempt to see the other side of the story and decide a plan of action. My parents have pushed my brother and I to take what we felt were undeserved attacks from other people and try to see their side of the story and understand the other person’s motives. Because after all, anger is a strong and often hard-to-sort-out emotion.

Anger and other gut reaction emotions reveal what we believe deep down in our core. This anger that builds, and the feelings that quickly follow it, despair and some hopelessness, then an absolute burning need to do something about whatever ticked ya off, that’s how you determine your fiery passions. That’s when you know things are not the way they ought to be, your beliefs and values are blindingly apparent, and a call to action has laid itself out. Rebellion is the only option at this point and deep down there’s that hope that Turner mentions, that change is a possibility, although at first the situation appeared bleak.

This is how we get change. People who are so fired up about something are the ones that get things done and don’t settle for anything less than what they feel is right deep down in their gut. Anger is not a very pleasant emotion, which is why it works so well as a propellant. People generally want to stop being angry, I know I do. So when people become angry, they figure out what this anger is telling them and they go out and do something about it, and if they don’t go out and do something about it, they darn well should.

We have an obligation to be angry about the environmentally damaging behavior that happens today. As upsetting as this damage is, I also fully realize that my lifestyle contributes to the degradation and that I have the capability to make changes to mitigate that. By not actively trying to prevent mining and sensitive habitat destruction, we are indirectly giving our approval of these practices and letting precious places slip through our fingers. We are preventing future people from experiencing these places and learning their importance. This course has certainly solidified in me the understanding that the best way to fully comprehend these beautiful places is to experience them first hand. I want people in the future to be able to do that as well, instead of only being able to learn about them through a textbook.

I struggled with the term anger ecology when I first heard it. I don’t like to be fueled by anger, so you can see where my discomfort stems from. Jack Turner’s paper “The Abstract Wild: A Rant” helped ease me into the whole idea. Anger ecology does not encourage staying angry forever about something observed in the world that appears to be completely unfair. It’s about finding a driver that helps us determine what deeply matters to us, this driver that starts out as anger turns into an unwieldy passion and love for something that may not have been obvious from the beginning. Anger is just the little bit of fuel needed to get the real fire going.

Matt Gasper: Knowing Your Place

IMG_9483.jpgThroughout the second section of the Montana Afoot and Afloat course, I have been able to apply knowledge from the first section to understand this landscape more precisely. Being in Montana, first in the Scapegoat Wilderness, and now floating down the Missouri River, I have realized how small I am, but how enormous my actions can be. I wonder how these ecosystems would function without human intervention. Why are we here and what is our purpose? Looking out onto the landscape as we float down the Missouri has opened my mind to the preservation and conservation efforts this land needs to flourish.

The wide, murky Missouri River came as a shock after experience the fresh, vibrant, freezing, flowing mountain waters of the Scapegoat Wilderness. Paddling from Coal Banks to Kipp Landing, I learned about the various types of land ownership. This flowing body of water is in constant motion as it feeds the Mississippi River. This is one of the hydrologic features in the Rocky’s that essentially effects the majority of the lower 48 states.

The Missouri is the first stretch of river that I believe needs cleaning up. I quickly saw the overabundance of cattle and their impact on the river. Water quality is an issue around the world, so why would we promote this style of intensive management when water is one of the most important resources? If we use wag bags to prevent our feces from being engulfed by water runoff, we are simply disposing our waste in another geographic location (out of sight out of mind). I cannot see the nourishment that this river may provide to the species like the sturgeon, the rancher, or millions of organisms and people living downstream by adding more disposal to the river. If we want change, I believe it starts with a positive course of action and one that becomes a daily routine.

We have touched on the relationships ranchers have with each other and with state and national governments. I think we have forgotten about the landscape’s most valuable tool/nurturer, water. My experience on the Missouri has opened my eyes to our actions on this planet much more than what I have been able to grasp while in the classroom in Wisconsin. I believe we are here for some amazing reasons, but we have found a way to destroy valuable assets to our existence and we are the only ones that can repair the damages.

Water is the key component to this landscape and the interconnected body of the environment, society, and economic functions. A simple course of action can spark more people to adopt better methods, even without government or policy intervention. Positive actions for the environment should be the norm. A norm is created by securing some relationship or bond with the land that is acquired over time; in early childhood or even later in life. However, once a person obtains a relationship with the landscape, a deeper meaning and connection to the landscape will evolve. I have learned this through education and seeing how others perceive the landscape. Without the love of the ecosystem there may be a part missing from your soul or true character. I believe early education with our youth needs to include experiencing mother-nature so the next generation of future ranchers or tourists may see the land and water from a different perspective. A perspective that seeks to help preserve, not destroy with a blind eye.

Megan Harrison: A Journey through the Prairie

img_1145The Great Plains for the last 10,000 years has remained an arid grassland receiving less than 24 inches of rain annually. This makes one wonder how can one of America’s longest river be located in such an dry environment. The Missouri river begins its journey in the headwaters in East Glacier N.P., continues through central Montana to North Dakota, and eventually joins the Mississippi in St. Louis, MO. The Missouri river valley is comprised of unimaginable Virgelle white sandstone cliffs, carved out coulees, and a surprisingly diverse plant community. Prior to the dams in the upper Missouri river, spring floods would help establish new river channels, transforming riparian vegetation for cottonwood seedlings. The seedlings would then be placed high on the river banks to avoid being torn out by winter ice. Over many years, the meandering water of the Missouri has laid down inches of sediment like pages in a novel. While kayaking down the Missouri, the geological features that remain redirects my focus and I become deeply observant of my surroundings.

The beginning of my own journey to the prairie began in mid-September. It had been my first kayak down a major river. It reminded me of a three lane highway: cottonwoods, grassland and sandstone cliffs. Early into the Missouri trip,  our group rested the boats on the muddy banks of Eagle Creek BLM campground. When we awoke the next morning, we hiked  from the south end of the campground heading east into Neat Coulee. As the trail enters the canyon, I am soon restricted by the sandstone walls. The sandstone is a yellow tan, but look closer and one will be able to see white Alkali present in horizontal layers. Within the wall that white Alkali has percolated downward by groundwater and precipitated out when it has reached a less permeable layer of shale. Dragging my fingers across these tan and white walls particles of sand fall from my touch. How old and fragile this landscape seems, weathering before my eyes.

Landforms on the upper Missouri are unlike anywhere I have seen in the state of Montana; a sense that I am unaccustomed to in the western Rocky Mountains. The Great Plains are a complex system of large and small rivers. I have come to learn the history water has left behind over the years.  I will remember my kayaking trip as a trip through time, and I will be curious to see how the future landscape will be affected by the Missouri’s hydraulic processes.