Exploring the Nature of the West from Rankin Hall

By Sarah Griffin

Cordiales saludos to all from Costa Rica’s Pacific side! My name is Sarah Griffin and I was a member of the Resources and Sustainability GLI group that graduated this past May. I was also one of the many GLI members whose Beyond the Classroom experience was thwarted by the pesky Covid-19 pandemic.

Initially, I was devastated by this loss. As a Spanish major and Environmental Studies minor, I had been anticipating my travels through Central and South America for years. I had serious doubts that any “at-home” version of said experience could come close to replacing it. But as soon as I stopped trying to turn my apple into an orange, a world of opportunity opened up before me, all from the comfort of 101 Jeannette Rankin Hall.

I took an internship with Camas Literary Magazine of the Environmental Studies grad program.¬†Founded by graduate students at the University of Montana in 1992, Camas is a student-run biannual literary magazine that aims to “cultivate fresh ideas and perspectives while remaining rooted in the landscapes and traditions of art and literature in the American West.” Their mission is to provide an opportunity for emerging writers and artists to publish their work alongside established voices while celebrating the land that connects us all. And that’s exactly what it did for me.

I was motivated to work for Camas because I am a nature writer myself. I have been copywriting for businesses for roughly two years, but I had never worked in print. While interning with Camas, I learned the ins and outs of print publication as well as improved my writing, editing, and critical thinking with thanks to the variety of work that was submitted. Whilst honing these skills I also got my foot in the door by rubbing elbows with renowned writers in the field.

In addition to the nuts and bolts of developing a magazine issue, I learned from the experiences of my peers: how they came to be editors, how they find publications to contribute to, how they pitch themselves, which programs one should have fluency in, and how they balance workload between pet writing projects, school, and day-jobs. It was challenging to work with a media as subjective as art and literature, but it helped me identify and hone my leadership skills. I had plenty of practice in clear communication, humble expression of opinions, listening, follow-through, and self-direction.

Something I particularly enjoy about this Beyond the Classroom experience is how it related to my Global Theme of Resources and Sustainability. At first glance, one might think it’s a stretch to count working for a nature magazine as a project toward the conservation of resources and implementation of sustainable practices. But in all actuality, Camas (and things like it) are the genesis of all successful environmental work; they are a discussion forum for why people should and do care. Without personal connection, accounts of direct impact, respect, or admiration, no amount of science-based policy will drive sustainable adjustments to our ecocide-al lifestyles.

My understanding of the diverse perspectives related to environmental challenges such as resource use and sustainability were stretched by authors and artists that contribute to Camas from all over the world. Somewhere between Fundamentalist Mormons in the dessert of Utah having their worldview shattered by dinosaur bones in their backyard and the transcendental experience of photo-journaling Grizzlies hunting from an Alaskan stream during the salmon run, we all share common ground. The questions that arose from participating in the curation of Camas Spring 2022 boiled down to: Collectively, how do we decide what to do with this singular, precious piece of common ground?

As the seasons keep turning, I look forward to exploring this question with people who look, think, speak, and interact with their corner of this common ground wildly different than myself.

I am grateful for the ways in which GLI prepared me to do so. I wish you all curious minds and open hearts.

Chao for now,