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Know This Place

Essay // published Aug. 16, 2018 // Parks & Points

The month after I moved to Montana I went to an environmental conference in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. There, I heard a Blackfeet elder say this: “We are bound by breath to honor and take care of this place.” The elder was speaking about conservation, and how it is important to care for all parts of an ecosystem—the watershed, the soil, the plants, the animals. To care, the elder said, you need to settle in a place and let it settle in you. Once this happens, you are bound by breath to honor and care for that place.What does it mean to be bound to a place?

Both a restless soul and my work as a seasonal field biologist lead me from field site to field site, generally in a different state, every three months or so. I mainly study birds, and over the years I’ve watched and listened to thousands of them, sometimes as they do very specific things, like build a nest or feed their young; at other times, I am simply documenting their presence for population surveys. My favorite jobs involve bird banding. This entails catching live birds, carefully taking a series of measurements, and releasing them unharmed with a tiny metal identification band around their leg.When I hold a small bird in my hand, I am mesmerized by details—minuscule wispy feathers covering a bird’s ear, and how the plain brown color of a sparrow becomes toffee and beige and chocolate and dry mud and wet dirt and chestnut and russet and cinnamon. A bird’s chest heaves as I work quickly to record numbers. There is no column in my data sheet for the number of breaths we each take.

Visit the Parks & Points website to read the rest of the essay: Know This Place


This Is How Much

Essay // published Summer 2018 // Alpinist Magazine, Issue 62

The day before my grandfather died, I went climbing in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. Two friends and I headed to Mill Creek Canyon, near Missoula, where we all lived. South-facing walls of beige and toffee-colored rock, marbled with streaks of black, absorbed the late winter sun. It was unseasonably warm, more spring than winter, even in mid-February. Ravens soared in the blue sky, and we soaked up the light. It felt good to be out touching rock again after a grey winter of slogging through graduate-school classes, alternatively staring at the blinking curser on my laptop screen and out the window at the chickadees in the lilac bush, its dusky branches blended into drab snow and ashen clouds.

The rock at Mill Creek felt solid under my fingers, tangible in a way my keyboard never did. Across the valley, swaths of ponderosa pine covered the tops of the Sapphire Mountains, their dark green smudged into the soft hues of sagebrush covering their slopes. I was too far away to make out the individual trees, and the whole scene had the look of a watercolor—a storybook vision of the American West, a scene out of someone else’s reality. I hadn’t yet told my friends about Grandad: I wasn’t ready to say it out loud, to acknowledge his impending death, to embed it in language. I just wanted to climb.

To read the rest of the essay, purchase Alpinist 62 here: Alpinist Magazine, Issue 62