“When we enter the landscape to learn something, we are obligated, I think, to pay attention rather than constantly to pose questions. To approach the land as we would a person, by opening an intelligent conversation. And to stay in one place, to make of that one, long observation a fully dilated experience. We will always be rewarded if we give the land credit for more than we imagine, and if we imagine it as being more complex even than language. In these ways we begin, I think, to find a home, to sense how to fit a place.” –Barry Lopez
Nearly two months ago, I began working as a wilderness ranger intern with the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest’s Methow Valley Ranger District through the Mt. Adams Institute’s Public Lands Stewards program. In reflecting on my first two months of service, I cannot help but reflect on the first time I came to the Methow Valley nearly two years ago, when I first opened that “intelligent conversation” with the landscape I am now working in.
It was the fall of 2016. I had just finished work as the lead technician on a Pika research project for the USGS in Bozeman, MT, and I was itching to celebrate with an adventure. I set my sights on Washington state and planned a trip where I would explore Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Parks – until one fateful afternoon when a friend gave me a junior ranger patch from North Cascades National Park. North Cascades National Park, I realized, was conveniently located in Washington as well, and so I set to casually tacking on a few days to my trip to explore it. Approaching the eastern flanks of the park, I passed through the Methow Valley. As I breathed in the crisp autumn air and took in the golden light over the valley that evening, I felt something take hold of me. It was that evening I realized that this valley has a gravity all its own. It was also that evening that I began laying down roots.
I moved to the Methow two months later, and I have been finding my home in it since. As a wilderness ranger, I now get to protect that home and serve the wild places in my backyard that I love. My work as a wilderness ranger takes me into the backcountry of the Pasayten and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth wilderness areas on 8-day hitches to perform trail maintenance, maintain campsites, and educate visitors on wilderness regulations and Leave No Trace (LNT) principles. Thus far in my season, I have both patrolled sections of trail I had previously explored and have also delved deeper into areas I had once only stared longingly at on a map. In revisiting sections of trails, I have felt the memories I embedded in those places as a piece of living history walking alongside me down the trail. This land has an identity of its own, and I have felt how its identity has guided me towards mine. As my patrols take me to new places, I can feel new thoughts and new opportunities take hold and shape me. When you give to a place, it gives much more to you in return. “We cannot, of course, save the World because we do not have authority over its parts. We can serve the world though. That is everyone’s calling, to lead a life that helps” (Barry Lopez). As my season progresses, I will continue to ‘lead a life that helps’ these wild places and through that develop a sense of place here in the Methow Valley.