My name is Moira Bruce and I just finished my freshman year of college at the University of Montana. I was born and raised in Montana, so I am exploring more of my state and the area around it. I excitedly signed up for this course because it fit right into my major, resource conservation, and I quickly realized after the first couple of days learning in the backcountry that I am ready to live the rest of my life enjoying the outdoors.
I am at the young age of 19, which is a time in my life where everything seems to be in constant motion. Decisions, adventure, family, friends and responsibilities are carrying me in a whirlwind of action and emotion. It is a time of transition, growth, and reflection on my past and present self, on my attitudes and my decisions, and on my beliefs and values.
Our first trip into the backcountry took us into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. For eight days, I was surrounded by rugged beauty. That first week has already helped ground me and allowed me to plant my feet a little deeper against the frantic tilt of time. Time moves differently out in the woods; it slinks past, quietly, allowing for reflection and deeper thought. Back home, it felt as if some days I would spiral out of control into a galaxy of questions with unknown answers. I would awake each day wondering what existential thought would cross my mind and hover around my head, reminding me that I don’t know who I am or who I want to be, telling me that I am caught in a trap of false social constructs, and urging me to wander until I find whatever it is that I am searching for. Most days, I would welcome these thoughts. It’s exciting to question everything about yourself and the world around you, maybe even a little dangerous. However, the constant influx of doubt was a distraction and caused me to feel distant from what had once comforted me.
Being out in the “Bob,” as we Montanans refer to it, has already tamed some of my restless feelings. The focus of staying organized, healthy and aware of your surroundings while living outside has allowed for some of my frantic energy to disappear. What has given me the most healing is that nature, similar to myself, is in a constant state of transition. If you look closely, you can see it happening all around you. Meadows recede into forests, new growth replaces old, and water is constantly moving from one place to another. The turmoil I feel as a young adult is shown to me in a natural form, and it is presented with a sense of ease and assurance.
We hiked through quite of bit of burned area while in the “Bob.” Despite the destruction that had occurred, the process of succession was already mending the ragged wounds the fire had inflicted. We learned that succession is actually needed for biodiversity, a measure of species richness. New species take over what was once dense forest, and species that have evolved with fire, such as lodgepole pine, are able to survive in burned areas. The vast destruction that rampaged with flames over acres of land is welcomed and is restored slowly over time. The transition from disaster to new life is slow, but clearly visible over a few short years. This was a reminder to me that change, while it may shake what I once knew upside down, will allow for my life to continuously improve, just as forests need fire to maintain biodiversity. The succession of plant species over burned areas showed me how well nature copes with change and how change is a resource we can all benefit from.
Reflecting on the process of succession, I realized that instead of pushing change away I should fully embrace it. Change and transition have morphed into cycles rather than obstacles, and they are cycles that will guide me into the future with a gentle push. Looking at nature both at a distance and up close has allowed me to observe different levels of transition. While studying a particular plant called the Shrubby Cinquefoil during our plant study, I noticed how old growth is still present on the plant while new growth pushes upwards and outwards. This inspired me to write this poem.
Old growth gracefully extends into new.
Red, woody stems blossom into vibrant green leaves.
Lush prairie dissolves into dense groves, shrouded with shade.
But where is this image of change on my body?
I am one.
Bone and flesh knitted together with consciousness.
Spun together out of stardust
Stitched together with emotion.
Parts are recycled, fitted together
Piece by piece like a puzzle.
Fingertip to toe tip, my soul
Intertwines with old and new
As each year I grow slowly, steadily.
But where are my roots
Where is my center of creation
And how can I see
Where I began.
Unlike the plant, there is no clear place on my body that shows how much I have grown since I was a child. However, the landscape around me, the trees giving way to bare rock on mountain tops, the replacement of the dead and the dying with new life, is a visual reminder of transition that I can use to symbolically represent my own personal transition from a child to an adult. The effort of understanding is no longer a mere mental feat, it is now a visual image projected in front of me anytime I step out of my tent. What is interesting is that nature has always abided by the cycle of constant change, especially through the many systems that govern the flow of life. My own mind took in what I saw and interpreted it as a reflection of myself. However, the truth is that I am the one that is a reflection of nature, and the grand wildness surrounding me is more humbling than anything else. I have nature to thank for my new-found humility and acceptance of my transitioning, and I will never forget what nature can draw out of me and open up for my own understanding.