2023 Land Stewards Field Note: Jared Keeling

by | Field Notes, Land Stewards, LS 2023

I grew up in the city of Billings, MT, where I first started exploring hiking and backpacking with my dad. We spent many summer weekends in the nearby Beartooth Mountains, enduring all kinds of weather while experiencing the powerful solitude of that rugged Wilderness. I carried those memories into college, where I studied Biology at Rocky Mountain College, hoping to become an orthopedic surgeon before meeting my eventual wife, Anne. While I earned my degree, her aspirations, and aptitude for medicine were admittedly far greater than mine, so we decided I would support her wherever that journey would take us, working whatever odd jobs would present themselves to me.

College had largely distracted me from the outdoors, and it took me several years to reunite with it meaningfully. Anne and I relocated to Yakima, WA, where she attended PNWU while I unexpectedly became a middle school teacher – a fateful turn of events that would impact my life significantly. I confess that I was very hesitant to become a teacher, but that experience genuinely changed me in ways I never imagined were possible. Being an introvert, I felt little choice but to flee to the mountains with my dogs each weekend both to escape the heat and to recharge my batteries in some fashion. I quickly fell in love with the Cascades of Washington and began to find wonder upon wonder in those mountains. Combined with my educational background (and photos and videos of my charming dogs), I brought that wonder to my classroom each week and excitedly instilled in my middle schoolers a fascination and appreciation for the natural world. While I can only hope many of my students carry those experiences to this day, I know that the Cascades awakened something in me personally, and I felt called to wild spaces wherever I could find them. 

Enjoying my time in the mountains only on the occasional weekend or odd holiday didn’t feel like enough. Having returned to Washington after 3 years in Alaska as a Biologist, I wanted to spend even more time in nature and found myself envious of those who worked directly in the outdoors occupationally or on a full-time volunteer basis. When I saw the opportunity to work with Mount Adams Institute as a Land Steward in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of the Central Cascades, I felt I had found a perfect match. I am pleased to report that it has been everything I had hoped for so far. Not only have I maintained and patrolled countless miles in this beautiful Wilderness, but I know I’ve improved the experiences for others through my efforts and personally benefited from time spent in nature. 

I’ve sat in solitude and caught my breath to the sounds of birdsong and the cooling encouragement of an alpine breeze; I’ve watched ominous storms roll over craggy mountains in the distance; I’ve cursed my legs as I turn to face yet another set of switchbacks; I’ve rejoiced in awe at the panoramic views I’ve earned at the top of those long climbs; I’ve comically shepherded mountain goats away from trapped hikers; I’ve removed what feels like a mountain of trash and destroyed more illegal fire rings than I can count; I’ve been licked by just as many dogs and laughed with strangers as we share stories and experiences in this great Wilderness. There are days where I swear I can feel the sun’s weight on my shoulders, or the wind has apparently made a truce with clouds of biting insects. But at the end of each week, as I look back at my photos and memories, I only feel blessed to have such a unique opportunity as this.