Monday, October 27, 2014

Glacier Slough and Visit with Kari Gunderson written by Claire Compton and Juno Boland, images by Claire Compton

Glacier Slough in the morning light
Nestled away just west of Highway 83 and east of Lindbergh Lake is a little place called Glacier Slough.  It’s a beautiful slough (another word for swamp or marsh) especially in the fall when the water has receded and the sun, low in the sky, illuminates multi-colored leaves of trees preparing for winter’s sleep.  Just a mile and a half of light hiking will take you there.  Along the way you’ll pass myriad landscapes: from a small meadow showcasing grasses, shrubs, bear grass, and baby pines, to a young forest closing its canopy cover and dominating its domain.  As you get closer, you’ll find the trees are getting bigger and the plants more diverse.  When the young forest had been harvested, this had been left.
A lunch break under the ponderosas

Allow me to pause a moment and explain a phenomenon that I refer to as the “ant syndrome.”  When hiking in a group of people along a trail only wide enough for one at a time, the footsteps of the person ahead of you can become hypnotizing.  You hike, but your surroundings tend to fly by as you get lost in conversation or in your own thoughts and you feel as big and important as you always do.  That being said, when your group stops and your eyes break off their love affair with the ground and all at once you see that the trees are no longer slender and uniform, but huge or dead or covered in other forms of life, then all at one moment, you shrink.  Old growth forests have the ability to take away your ego and self-importance.  Life teems around you, above you, before you, and it will after you as well.  They are awe-inspiring. 

The class admires old growth
After our hike to the Glacier Slough we drove to Condon to meet with Kari Gunderson, a forest ranger in the Mission mountains and an adjunct professor in the College of Forestry at the University of Montana. She was a fascinating woman to talk with. We sat next to her garden beside the pond as we ate lunch and introduced ourselves. She wanted to know where each of us was raised and which Wilderness area we were closest to geographically growing up. Her knowledge of the United States' Wilderness areas is very extensive and she had a personal connection with each Wilderness that we named, having worked in or travelled to many of them. Her stories about working in the field were captivating. 

Kari Gunderson chats with the group
She said she is planning on writing her memoirs and after listening to her speak for only a few hours, I cannot wait to read them. From what I gather from her anecdotes, the techniques she implements in the field are unique and effective. She approaches a situation with an open mind and her solutions to the problems she faces are so simple yet ingenious at the same time. For instance, she told our group what she would, if ever she were to encounter a mountain biker in a Wilderness area, simply inform them that she's a forest ranger and demand their front bicycle tire with the intension of returning it to them at the trailhead once they had packed their mountain bike out of the restricted area. She is full of simple yet unorthodox solutions to everyday issues regarding backcountry management. It was a pleasure to listen to her matter-of-fact and good humored way of speaking. I hope there are many more forest rangers like Kari Gunderson but whoever succeeds her when she does decide to hang her hat, has big shoes to fill.

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