Prior to traveling with WRFI, I had never seen mountains in person. As I am writing this blog, I am sitting somewhere in Jumbo, surrounded completely by land structures that were only an image to me five weeks ago. I am also surrounded by students, professors, hosts, and speakers who were only names on an itinerary when I landed in Missoula.
There have been many times on this trip where I just stop and stare at the mountains in awe. Every time I look back at them, they are never the same as they were before. I see amazing beauty in anything that can stand tall while the world changes around them. It’s a quality that humans should adopt as life around us never stands still. The mountains take everything in and while expeditioning with WRFI, it’s as if our group has learned to do just that. Our team has taken everything in, from hail storms in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, to sunsets on snow-covered mountains.
Another lesson I’ve learned from the mountains is that nothing is black and white. . . except for the snow. The rocks that make up the mountains are primarily gray and I bring this up in regard to the large gray area in which environmental issues lie. At the end of almost all environment related conversations our group has had with anyone, it has been mentioned at some point that there needs to be a balance: A balance to sharing the land with indigenous people and first nations; a balance to seeing intrinsic values in the land versus utilitarian uses; a balance of industry and conservation. It has become more important than ever to protect our ecosystems and solving environmental issues will require a balancing of opinions.
I have seen mountains everyday on this trip and am sometimes reminded that when I get home, this landscape will not be here. Mountains will be replaced by forests and the great lakes. Dry air will be replaced with 80% humidity that slams Wisconsin a few times each summer. Although it makes me sad, I have learned not to take for granted the parts of life you can lose at any minute. This course has given me amazing opportunities to meet with members of the Blackfeet tribe and others to understand why this land means so much to them and how close they’ve come to losing it. Intrinsic value of the land is real. Native cultures have a spirituality that revolves around this type of value. We are here to live in harmony with the land. . . we do not dominate it. In the back of my mind, I always kind of understood this, but seeing how the coal and oil companies come into sacred land with no regard for the people is heartbreaking.
With the knowledge I have gained from this course, I hope to go back to my education system and start influencing those around me with different ideas of why the land should be important to us. Our land needs to be protected, not just for the sake of protecting it, or to prevent biodiversity loss, but because it is beautiful and will not be here for much longer with our current uses.