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.