Are the Troubles Really Over?

By: Mercedes Becker

While traveling through Northern Ireland, I was deeply touched and even a bit disturbed by the lasting influence I could feel still lingering from the Troubles. Peace was finally established with the St. Andrews Agreement in 2006, but tension still exists in places like Belfast and Derry, where murals dedicated to the Nationalists and Loyalists cover the walls and “IRA” is graffitied on the street signs. I wrote a sestina-style poem describing my experiences in this part of the country. This is it:

Our gazes shift to the infamous walls
Block letters and portraited figures painted in blue and green and red
Some faces heated, enraged, some cold
They have picket signs, and weapons, and nothing in their hands
My eyes fixate on the guns
A symbol of violence in a time of peace

Politicians create pen-and-ink peace
But paper treaties aren’t castle walls
In 1998 the IRA still had their guns
And continued paint-splattering these walls red
The blood of innocents on their hands
Children suffering bombs in cold blood, their blood cold

I hide my hands in my pockets from the cold
Remember a conversation the day before about peace
I met a man in Belfast, we shook hands
And I asked him what it would take to tear down the walls
“Integrate the schools!” he shouted, his face red
But he wasn’t angry with me. He was angry with politicians, separation, and guns

In Derry, there is a painting of a broken gun
Placed next to a girl who long since turned cold
The girl wears green, the gun is red
One the symbol of tragedy, the other peace
How can Derry find peace with tragedy written on her walls?
When will the communities of Belfast be able to shake hands?

Funny, how when you unfurl your fists they turn back to hands
How handshakes are easier when you drop your guns
How people have always felt safer behind walls
But skin is warm and mortar cold
The people of Ulster have just tasted peace
But the city walls still turn their vision red

We’re but travelers here, trying to experience the things we’ve read
Trying to paint Ireland on the backs of our hands
Trying to understand a place that hasn’t always known peace
We’re told the Irish aren’t fond of guns
I’m apt to believe, but don’t tell me their spirits don’t turn cold
When they’refacing the murals on these walls

These days, the Republicans and the Loyalists have holstered their guns –
The Troubles have nearly passed and the streets are grey, not red

I walk these curving streets of Derry eager to place my cold hands in front of a pub fire,
But I don’t know if it will do much for my chilled spirit

There is sadness here in Ulster; even a traveler can sense the tension. May I offer my opinion on peace?
Paint over the walls.


The Land of Saints and Scholars

By: Mercedes Becker

Ireland is often referred to lovingly as “the land of saints and scholars,” a name I’ve come to learn fits the country very well. Ireland has a long history of religious and scholarly influences and after traveling there I’d say these themes remain still. Although there are many religious figures I could and probably should talk about, for this post I’d like to focus on one of my favorite Irish scholars, national poet William Butler Yeats.

I listened to a recording of Yeats reading one of his poems in the Irish National Library in Dublin and was so inspired I decided to look up more of his work. I found the poem titled, “The Heart of the Woman,” a sweet, thoughtful poem written from the perspective of a young woman and wrote a responding poem mimicking Yeats’ style from the perspective of the man. Here are the two poems:

The Heart of the Woman
W.B. Yeats

O what to me the little room
That was brimmed up with prayer and rest;
He bade me out into the gloom,
And my breast lies upon his breast.

O what to me my mother’s care
The house where I was safe and warm;
The shadowy blossom of my hair
Will hide us from the bitter storm.

O hiding hair and dewy eyes,
I am no more with life and death,
My heart upon his warm heart lies,
My breath is mixed into his breath.

The Heart of the Man
Mercedes Becker

O what to me the midnight chimes
Twisting the knob to her bedroom door;
Hands clasped in mine, from bed she climbs,
Bedclothes dragged to heaps upon the floor.

O what to me her father’s estate
For now she’s safe within my care;
A Dublin drizzle deems us immaculate,
I bury my face within her hair.

O buried faces and blushing cheeks,
I am young as Celtic gold,
If only this night were days and weeks,
Our breath, two mists, mixing in the cold.

Research Abroad: Interviews with Homelessness and Mental Health Professionals in Ireland

By: Mercedes Becker

Hello Everyone!

It feels as if it was just yesterday that I was cruising the Irish countryside, exploring castle ruins and monasteries, eating pub “toasties” (toasted sandwiches), and listening to my fabulous tour guide Tom Quinn explain the ins and outs of Irish history. I’ve been back in the states for a few weeks now, but Ireland is still very much on my mind. In fact, just this morning I had to listen to some Johnny Cash because I missed the emerald isle so much (I heard Johnny Cash covers in three different pubs while on my trip. He seems to be very popular over there). My out-of-the-classroom experience was the trip of a lifetime; I feel so lucky to have been able to go.

I realize it may not be obvious how my trip to Ireland fits into my global theme and question, but I hope to explain here how the two tied together. I hope to discover the impact of the global phenomenon of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill on homelessness throughout the world. Beginning in the 1950’s mental patients in the US and many parts of Europe were released from hospitals to be cared for in the community, but as previous research in the US suggests, many of these patients were returned to lives on the streets instead. My questions are: did this effect occur in other places? How did different countries approach this policy change? What were the effects? How do countries address mental illness and homelessness now?

Ireland turns out to be a perfect place to start answering some of these questions. Throughout Ireland, deinstitutionalization is still occurring, as patients are being moved out of many of the outdated mental hospitals. In conjunction with this, the country is seeing an overall cut to mental health care funding for fiscal year 2014. I can foresee these two events being harmful to the community mental health care system, and potentially influencing homelessness in Ireland, but I thought conducting some interviews with professionals might give me more insight. While abroad I interviewed Louise Lennon, director of the Dublin branch of the  Simon Community which runs the homeless shelters in Ireland, and Orla Barry, CEO of Mental Health Ireland. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to talk with them, and surprised by some of the things they had to say.

I won’t copy my whole interviews here (I’ll be using the information for my GLI capstone senior year) but I will share some of the highlights.

1. According to Louise, 45% of people at the Simon Community shelter have a diagnosable mental illness.

2. Deinstitutionalization does not tend to contribute significantly to homelessness in Ireland, because mental hospitals may not release patients without a permanent address, although some people do fall through the cracks.

3. Only certain homeless shelters in Ireland collaborate with the mental hospitals.

4. Orla pointed out people with dual diagnoses (suffering from substance abuse and mental illness) are some of the most difficult people to provide services for and also are at greater risk for being homeless.

I talked about these things with Louise and Orla, and so much more. I’m really excited about where this information is going to take my research, and for my capstone project in general. The Irish perspective on this topic is so different from that of the US, which means I have a lot to contrast and compare, which can only mean good things for my project senior year.

Life Changing Days

By: Mackenzie Enich

June 12, 2013

A persistent rooster calls me to wake up from outside my window. It is 5:30 am. I lay in bed for several minutes, my weight dents the thin mattress and my head is cradled by a slice of yellow foam. I can see the sun peeking through the thick green curtains. The buzzing fan and sticky air reminds me that I am not home. I am halfway across the world, staying with a family in Ghana.
I am writing these last few posts after I have come home, for I have not been able to write about my experiences in Ghana until now. It was all too much to process. My experiences in Ghana changed my

life and are difficult to convey in words. As for what I did, I spent all my days in villages in Ghana living and learning with local people.

FishingbasketsI have done my fair share of traveling, and this is the way I like to see the places I go: by living with the people. When I arrange a “home-stay” experience I get to meet local people and through their eyes I gain an appreciation for a new culture that is different from my own. Instead of seeing the country as a tourist, I get a local, personal experience.
During this voyage with Semester at Sea I have been a part of three home stays – one in South Africa and two in Ghana. They have been some of my most memorable experiences on this trip. The people welcome you into their homes with such enthusiasm it is hard to not feel excepted. The energy of the people in the village is as vibrant as the women’s dresses and the children’s dancing.Goat In my first home stay in Ghana I had one experience that I will never forget. I spent the afternoon talking with a group of girls as we watched the boys play football. While talking I realized I had become a confidante for a short time. Having older women to talk to, to learn about themselves, is not a privilege young girls have in their village culture. When they finally opened up, their smiles grew and I realized that human connection is one of the most important things in life.
Some of these connections I find when I listen people’s stories and learn how different our lives are. I spent an overnight in Atonkwa village with the head master of the primary school. This was one of the most remote places I have ever been in the world. The village was so untouched by global influences. This was one of the things that shocked me the most. At this point in my life I am lucky enough to say I have seen many different places around the world, but I have never visited a place or met people who have little knowledge outside of their village.

That night I was sitting with my host mother, host sister, and host brother while I was watching them do homework.

grasshopperhouse Soon we all got distracted asking each other questions. The reaction that stopped me was when my 15 year old host sister asked me what my favorite food was. I told her things like pizza and hamburgers, different foods that people commonly know whether they have eaten them or not. She looked at me blankly. I tried to explain the foods and she just shook her head. She then asked how many goats I owned and how we got our food when we ate beef. I answered quickly with “well we buy it at the supermarket.” That stopped me. I sat for a moment, reflected on this life I am so fortunate to have and then said to myself, “stupid Mackenzie that is not how this works here, that was very inconsiderate and selfish.”
I tried to explain it as best as I could to her, but we come from very different ways of life. Even though we have such different lives, myself and my host family, we spent a fantastic evening listening to each other and explaining the different things that make up our livelihood. We laughed for half an hour while I tried to explain to them what a bear looks like and what snow feels like. Then I was

In both my home stays in Ghana I was lucky enough to be staying with teachers in the village. With my journalistic nature I like to ask questions, but there I was out questioned. My hosts had been endlessly curious about me and my life back home. One important thing I learned while staying with them is that not only am I interested in their lives, but they are equally interested in mine.
captivated by their stories, so interested in how they lived their day to day lives realizing that the world is enormous and everyone lives in it differently.

HandprintI spent a good portion of that afternoon sitting in the house talking to one of the teachers about how school works, what the neighbors are like, what church services are like, and how they feel about technology and media. He returned the questioning to me, curious to know how their village was different from my home. I could only say it is a simpler way of life here, not better or worse, it is just calmer in the village.

In all the conversations we shared, my host family was never looking for pity, only understanding, exchange, and connection.  I’ve found that being able to live with people all around the world makes it easier to understand them. In the first month of our voyage I wrote in my blog, “I love to travel, and it is always going to be a part of me. Whether I am at home or on the other side of the world, I am at my best when I try to understand somebody else.” I will continue to seek out home-stay opportunities because I believe it’s the best way to experience a new culture when you’re seeing it through a local’s eyes.

While I was gone someone told me I was “a pretentious little girl, swooping in as the hero pretending to save third world countries.” After this woman had read what I wrote about my experience in Ghana this is the opinion she formed of me. I certainly know, and hope others can see, that traveling has not made me into this person that was portrayed to be. I know that my experience in Ghana will be one of the most memorable experiences in all of my travels. Living with these people and hearing their stories made me respect and admire their values, morals, and way of life. Everyone I met in my time in Ghana was fantastically happy, open minded, and humble. The day I left Ghana I chose to lead my life like those strong women I met. I want to live happily, embrace every day with an open mind, and I have been humbled by the people I met around the world.HomeagainHomeagain

When I woke up that morning I was greeted by the smiling face of my host mother and a “Good morning.”  I promised them photos, thanked them for all that they had given me, and hugged them goodbye. As I walked down the dirt road I knew I witnessed something special, and will never forget what I learned.

We will never really see the world unless we leave our comfort zone, but that is what I fully intend to do. Only through breaching the uncomfortable will you be able to have the moments that change you the most.

Neptune Day

By: Mackenzie Enich

March 23, 2013 ·

Neptune Day is the day a ship crosses the equator and there are many traditions that happen. Those of us who have not crossed the equator by water are known as pollywogs and when we cross over we transformed into shellbacks. The night before this is the email we received:

“Tomorrow marks our sail across the equator and King Neptune usually pays us a visit. We will celebrate his arrival with Neptune Day! Around 07:00, the festivities will begin and you will take the journey from pollywog to shellback by paying your respects to his highness and his royal court. Participation is not mandatory but highly encouraged – participate to your level of comfort! Wear a bathing suit and clothes you don’t mind getting a bit dirty and get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!”

At 7:00am the crew came through the halls as a parade banging drums and ringing bells to get us all up to eat breakfast and get on to the seventh deck. We all crowded around the pool as the royal procession walked into the crowed. Many of the faculty became royalty like the queen, the royal shaver, and King Neptune himself (our captain painted green).

The traditions go in this order (at least for me). I stood in the side pool with my friends and we had fish guts poured on us. It was cold, red, and smelly. Then we turned around, held hands, screamed, and jumped into the pool. When we climbed out we had to kiss a fish and then King Neptune’s ring. If we didn’t, he would push us back into the pool. The last, most drastic, tradition is shaving your head as tribute to King Neptune. Of course all these traditions are optional. Of course I participated in all of it. Yes, I shaved my head.

Many people have assumed I planned to shave my head and they are shocked when I say it was spur of the moment. I won’t keep it this way, but no regrets.

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Mother and River

By: Mackenzie Enich

March 13, 2013

When I was a little girl my mother would take out the slide projector and shine the light on a little pop up screen that was wedged between two faded black arm chairs. The entire set up was old. The screen left green paint chips from the tripod legs on the carpet after it was put away and my mother always said the projector did not click through the slides as quickly as it used to. Even so, I begged often for the slides to be brought out so I could lay back on the carpet in the middle of the living room with my hands behind my head and watch the world go by through the photos of people’s faces to the tune of “Small Green Island.” I would say to my friends at school, “my mom has traveled the world” and smile proudly. And she has been around the world, she took a year to do it. All I ever wanted to do was grow up and do just as she had done; see the world.

eveningcandleMy mother is a retired junior high school geography teacher and one year during her teaching she applied for a sabbatical and bought an “around the world ticket” to see the places she was teaching about. I remember many of the stories my mother has told me over the years and I have even been lucky enough to visit a few of the places she talked about and have my own experiences. However one place with all of its stories has forever stood out in my mind, India.

The stories my mother told about Indian culture and people were always my favorite. I have leaned a fair amount about the Indian culture over the years and I am still passionate to learn more. My mother always said the Indian culture was a culture that existed in its own place and time.

I stand with my palms resting against a brass banister. I press the rest of my body up next to the cool gate to let the temperature seep through my clothes to my hot skin. I stand in front of the Hindu god, Shiva, the destroyer. The temple is cool compared to the outside air. It is especially cool on my bare feet.

I am in the inner shrine of a Shiva temple in the center of a Hindu University. This was one of the original temples in the holly city of Varanasi. This city is also known as the city of temples and the birth place of Shiva. There are over 100,000 temples in Varanasi dedicated only to Shiva.

As I stand against the gate I close my eyes and listen to the prayer. The voice comes from the man standing next to me, our guide and our Brahmin. His words soar around the room and fill its entirety. He knows the string of sand script words by heart and they pour out of him in a deep beautiful song.

It lasted three minutes. For three minutes my eyes were closed. For three minutes I wonder if I should be more religious. I am in my own way. I may not attend church or worship a particular deity but I am a religious person of the world. My spiritual feeling comes when I talk to people about their stories, when I begin to understand others. So for three minutes I give thanks to those who help me get where I am today, traveling around the world. For the rest of my life I give thanks to the people who allow me to try to understand and to those people who will always love me and support my passion for telling the truth around the world.

Later, I climbed two feet up into a bicycle rickshaw and Rebecca climbed in next to me. The hard plastic held our weight but the seat was questionable since it was only supported by two thin bicycle wheels. With the seat at a forward slope and there not much room for two people it was difficult to stay in the shallow seat. The only things holding us in seat was the fear of falling to the broken road and the dust. Our driver tightly wound a green and white striped scarf around his head, leaving a tail near his left ear before he climbed on his bike. Many of the other drivers tied similar scarves around their heads and climbed on their bikes.

We headed for the edge of the city, the most holly part of the city. It is where the Ganges river touches the edge of the city. The center of the city appears to live on the banks of the river. The wheels of our rickshaw splashed through puddles and bounced over broken speed bumps. Faces and hands flew by as we swerved and dodged cows and tuck tucks in the streets. I held on as we hit every pot hole and laughed with every time we missed a cow. Thirty minutes and one thousand people later we reached the banks of the Ganges.


A set of 100 stairs leads down to the edge of the water. Holly men sit on the stair under orange tarp tents, entirely naked with their bodies painted in ash. The white ash makes their ebony skin grey and there long beards white. These men sit there on the steps, live on the banks of the river, and pray as the sun comes up until it goes down.

Every 12 years there is a festival (a sort of pilgrimage) held in Varanasi. The last one was in 2001 and 3.6 million people came to the city. The festival ended a few days ago. This year 5 million people made the journey to the city. That kind of energy would be incredible to see and beautifully dangerous. Someday, maybe in 12 years, I will get to see something like that.naked with their bodies painted in ash. The white ash makes their ebony skin grey and there long beards white. These men sit there on the steps, live on the banks of the river, and pray as the sun comes up until it goes down.

I step slowly on to the last cement step with locals and foreigners alike standing at the edge of the water as the river licks the bottom of the wooden boats. The boat gives into the water asI step on the front to get inside. The air is cool and the bugs hover over the water. Two men sit at one end of the boat with giant ores rowing us and down the river.

The set of stairs we came down is just one of 85 sets. There are 85 ghats up and down the bank of the Ganges, each 100 steps or more. They stretch as far as the eye can see down the river. Old buildings stand, on top of the stairs, with holes so the river wind can pass through them. These buildings were built by the wealthy over the years. The kings and queens of past lives left the bricks to stand as a guard over the river. Most of the buildings are empty although some are inhabited. They are all beginning to crumble toward the stairs and the color is starting to fade.

When the water turned dark with the reflection of the night sky the fires of the crematorium became more visible. Sparks flew as boys beat the burning logs with sticks. Massive logs, the size of whole trees were stacked ten feet tall all along the upper part of the bank. It takes 300 kg of wood to burn one body. Five fires glowed near the edge of the river. All the fires were being tended but all the funeral processions had left. Three bodies, covered in gold fabric, laid on the stairs to the right of the fire, waiting their turn to be burned. Down below the cremation four men stand in the shallow water, cleansing the ashes and taking what gold and silver is left over from the bodies. The families never come back to reclaim the metal.

Many people think there are bodies floating around the Ganges River and at one time it was true but not anymore. There are four types of people that are not allowed to be cremated. A monk, a pregnant women, a child under ten, and a person who died from a snake bite. In these particular cases the bodies are taken out to the middle of the river, tied to a rock, and left to sink. The only reason a body comes to the surface are if the river dolphin cuts the rope. The sparks of the fires drifted up to clouds as we sat and watched. Eventually we moved away up stream to say a prayer of our own.

I sat with a bowl in my hand containing a lit candle with small gold flowers around it. To my right our priest begins to sing a prayer in sand script again. I closed my eyes and held the candle close to feel the warmth of the flame on my nose and smell the flowers. I closed my eyes for three minutes.

After the deep voice of the prayer dissolved into the night air all that could be heard was the lapping of the river at the bottom of the boat. I opened my eyes, turned around, made my wish, and sent my candle down the river.

Every night seven priests do a light ceremony to give thanks to the mother river for allowing them to make it to the end of the day. Thousands of people crowded on the ghats and in the boats at the shore. We stayed in our boat and only tried to move through the hordes of people when the ceremony was over.


It took 30 minutes to navigate through the streets back to where our rickshaws were parked. The lights were bright on the main road and all that could be heard was the incessant beeping of motor bikes trying to get through the crowd. It never works well. As westerners many people were trying to stop us and take photos of us. As women we often found ourselves surrounded by men. Orange, yellow, green, and blue sari clothed women rushed by. I only have six inches of space around me, less when a cow came walking down the street.

My mother always said the Indian culture was a culture that existed in its own place and time. She was correct. When I got to Varanasi I thought; this is India. Varanasi is all of what I thought my Indian experience would be. It is a whole other world. When I was a little girl and my mother showed her slides from India, I would close my eyes for three minutes and listen to her stories. For three minutes I would be in India with my mother. For three days I was here in my India. Someday I will be in India with my mother and we will experience it together. I take these few words to say thank you to my mother for forever inspiring my passion for traveling.

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Angels of God: Archbishop’s experience at the orphanage in Saigon

In 2013 spring semester I had a chance of a life time. For four months I studied on a ship and traveled around the world with the Semester at Sea program. We visited 12 different countries during the semster and I made some of my best friends in that four mounths. Here is the link to my blog and you can read it from start to finish if you like but I will be posting at least three of the posts. Hope you enjoy. If anyone is thinking of doing this program, let me know I would be happy to talk to you about it.


By: McKenzie Enich

“Did you notice that human is very close to humanity? That means you can’t be human without compassion.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In a room meant to hold 500 people, every chair is taken and many claim spots on the floor bringing the room over capacity. The room is utterly silent. For a while you could hear the shutter speeds of the cameras throughout the audience, capturing the speech. Now it was silent enough to hear him whisper, “You are all great. God started to cry and then a small angel came up to wipe the tears away. When he looked down at you and said thank you.”

He whispered thank you three times to the audience and walked away from the podium. The room was only silent for a moment. As he moved past everyone toward the exit, everyone stood. Applause erupted throughout the room. He kept walking and did not turn back when he reached the door. The applause did not stop until he was halfway down the hall.

Thank you.

Sage grouse will benefit from Farm Bill provision

This past summer my Beyond the Classroom experience was spent doing an internship helping a PhD student conduct an ongoing research study on the effects of juniper removal on sage grouse distribution in Lake County, Oregon. As part of my Wildlife Biology curriculum, I wrote a ten-page research paper addressing the effects of energy development on sage grouse (which have the potential for listing under the Endangered Species Act) using primary literature. The issue fits into my Global Leadership Initiative theme of sustainability. While my experience and research was helpful, I think continuing to follow the issue is important at a local and national level. I will use these blog entries to share and express my thoughts on some of the articles and information I run across while following the issue.

The article above was printed in the Great Falls Tribune on February 4, 2014. It discusses the effects of a proposed “sodsaver” provision in the farm bill. Under the farm bill, the government pays about 62 percent of crop insurance premiums, which helps ensure farmers keep their way of living economically in case of a bad season. In areas where the government pays significantly less of a percentage for insurance premiums, farmers are much more unlikely to cultivate land for crops.

The sodsaver provision is, you could say, an amendment to the farm bill. This amendment will change the farm bill to cover only about 15 percent instead of 65 percent insurance premiums on crops if the crops are cultivated on virgin prairies in six states: Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Virgin prairies are those that have never been cultivated. This does not prevent farmers from cultivating these lands, it will only make it more risky because the insurance will be put up privately.

If you read the rest of the article and the following fact sheet you will see why I think the sodsaver provision is a logical move.

sodsaver factsheet _v5 03-07-2013

Even after seeing the economical savings and ecological importance, someone may ask, well, what about the farmers? As the article above also states, the high price of commodities is driving farmers to cultivate more and more land. But, virgin prairies that haven’t been cultivated, haven’t been cultivated for a reason. They aren’t very successful. So, in my mind, I ask: Why get minimal amount of crop while you’re destroying land? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons farmers could give me and I understand. I really do. I’ve seen the amount of work people put in when they live off the land and it isn’t easy and it isn’t pretty. But ruining a habitat for minimal profit doesn’t sound like the moral thing to do. It also isn’t a very efficient use of taxpayer money. With that said, I’ll bring in sage grouse.

Currently, the biggest threat to sage grouse is habitat loss to energy development and crop cultivation. In these states, the revised farm bill will decrease potential cultivation, and in this case sage grouse habitat loss. Not only will the sodsaver provision help sage grouse but also preserve grazing lands for cattle, which helps the ranching community. I think the provision is a great compromise between economics and conservation. It should show as an example for future legislation.

So far, the revised farm bill has passed through the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. I would love to see it passed as a proactive step forward by the federal government.

Observational Ecology

In addition to our interactions with the local people, great emphasis was given to our understanding of the land.  We spent time everyday exploring the woods and the water.  We practiced the lost art of a naturalist; giving up end goals and destinations in exchange for close observation and timeless discovery.  Days were dedicated to finding mushrooms, catching aquatic species, and tracking wolves.   Keeping journals of our findings, we documented new sights, sounds, and smells.  We used group discussion to interpret our findings, map and compass to orient our path.

The Swan Valley is a geologic wonder.  Carved by glaciers, mountains rise on either side and hold acres of federally designated Wilderness.  Grizzlies traverse the diverse forest types and feed on the abundance of huckleberries.  We did the same.  Learning about forest fire regimes, plant communities, and the interconnected webs of energy throughout the ecosystem I grew in my appreciation for the natural world.  We spent days hiking the creeks, wading through ponds, and enjoying a fen (a rarity in this region).  I learned about new species on the macro and micro scales.  I learned the importance of a keen eye.  I learned the complexity of managing a forest.

My observation, experience, and memories will continue to drive me to be engaged in conservation efforts.  We as humans are damaging the earth, but ecosystems are resilient.  When we communicate with the landscape and align our goals with nature, the beauty can remain.

Students and Instructors stand at the edge of a pool dug by bears.  Black and Grizzly bears will frequent these holes during hot days to cool off and to play.

Students and Instructors stand at the edge of a pool dug by bears. Black and Grizzly bears will frequent these holes during hot days to cool off and to play.

The Human Aspect

A significant aspect of our course was the interaction with the rural community of Condon, MT population 548.  We spent many afternoons exploring the jobs of these people and learning the skills of the valley.  We toured the sawmill of Pyramid Mountain Lumber, we discussed policy with environmental non-profits, and we visited an active prescribed forest fire.  We explored the ways of ranching, timber harvesting, and value added products.  We tracked bears, debated fisheries health, and studied wolves with wildlife biologists.  For me, it was eye-opening to see the multiple layers of connection between the locals and the land.

Beyond understanding the community members’ beliefs and livelihoods, we had the privilege of listening to their stories, meeting their families, and sharing meals.  The homestead that we lived on had a large garden.  Before the first frost came through the valley, we harvested vegetables (picture below) and prepared dinner for over 30 people from the town of Condon, we spent a day working from sun-up past sun-down chopping and delivering firewood around the community, and we hosted a Halloween party for all ages.  For one weekend, each student was paired up with a valley resident to live as a local.  My peers spent their days with local artisans, young families, retirees, real estate agents, and avid outdoorsmen.  I was able to spend my weekend harvesting firewood, building a porch, and meeting neighbors.  My host was a long time Swan Valley resident who is well known for his animal tracking skills, winter camping adventures, and humility.

My field course allowed me to meet many of the dynamic and goodhearted people of the Swan Valley.  I thank them for opening up to us as students; for sharing their homes, their time, and their company.

Photo taken by Leah Swartz.  Students harvest produce and serve dinner to over 30 community members.  From left to right: Laura Arvidson (Northwest Connections), Madeline Rubida (University of Montana), Chloe Bates (University of Vermont), Cody Dems (University of Montana)

Photo taken by Leah Swartz. Students harvest produce and serve dinner to over 30 community members. From left to right: Laura Arvidson (Northwest Connections), Madeline Rubida (University of Montana), Chloe Bates (University of Vermont), Cody Dems (University of Montana)