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.