Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Society for Wilderness Stewardship by Ashley Balsom

            When I first began my internship with the Society for Wilderness Stewardship, I had no idea 
SWS logo
what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even really know what Wilderness stewardship was. My internship supervisor, Mark Douglas, had been my teacher a year prior, so I gravitated toward him originally because I was familiar with his teaching style and I knew I would enjoy working with him. When he said his internship was about finding stories through Wilderness, I was sold. I’ve never been much of a story teller, but I have always loved listening to and learning about other people’s stories. The backgrounds that other people come from fascinate me, so I figured I would enjoy an internship where I just listened to other people tell me about their lives.
Header for my Zahnie article
Starting the internship, it was not entirely what I expected. The first two articles I ended up writing for the website involved researching famous Wilderness stewards Edward Abbey and Howard Zahniser and writing 1600 words on each of them. Because I am not the strongest writer and I had never written anything for the public sphere, these articles both ended in all-nighters. I was stressed out about real people actually reading them, as opposed to my teachers who I knew wouldn’t judge me too much for a mistake in my writing. However, after discussing the future of my internship with Mark and getting my first two articles published, my nerves calmed down and I was able to get to business.
Header for my interview with Christina Mills
            My second two articles were both interviews, per my request. I had really been looking forward to talking to real people during my internship and asking them my own questions, so these two articles were the most fun I have had so far. I first interviewed Christina Mills, a Yellowstone Outdoor Recreation Planner who went to graduate school at the University of Montana. I got to brainstorm what I wanted the interview to focus on, and come up with my own questions to ask her. My second interview was with Alex Weinberg, a classmate of Christina in graduate school. Much like the first interview, I got to come up with my own questions and really think about what I wanted to ask Alex.
            Through this internship I have definitely learned the value of time management. My first two articles were so incredibly stressful, due in part to the fact that I waited until the last couple of days to write them. I have also learned how to conduct successful interviews, think on my feet, and talk eloquently on the phone (something I have always struggled with). I also learned that, without fail, transcription will always take longer than you think it will.
Alex Weinberg, subject of my last interview (unpublished as of 4/23/15)
            My internship is valuable to me both as a woman trying to get experience in her field, and as a current Wilderness and Civilization student. The stories and connections with Wilderness are incredibly important to it’s conservation, as I learned through my classes last semester. Without a valuable connection to the land, people would unfortunately not feel much need to save it. Telling these stories and inspiring others to seek out similar experiences is an incredibly valuable part of conserving our wild areas. With more and more people connecting to things via computers, the importance of creating a sphere of Wilderness Stewardship online is growing. The idea that someone may read my articles and be inspired to go experience the Wilderness is nothing short of incredible to me.

Header for my first article

            I’m still figuring out what Wilderness means to me and how I can become a Wilderness Steward after this internship is over. By writing these articles, I feel that I am not only contributing to the vast need for online Wilderness Stewardship, but I am discovering how to answer my own questions. What does Wilderness Stewardship mean to me? What was my transformative Wilderness experience? I don’t entirely know the answers, but I do know that at the end of my internship I’ll be a lot closer to finding out

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Community, Bicycles, and Fresh Food with Free Cycles by Claire Compton

In the first week of January I went out to lunch with one of my oldest friends.  We shared stories of important events gone by and made predictions for the year to come.  When the conversation quieted, she asked me, “If you were to sum up everything that you want for this year in one word, what would that word be?”  I panicked.  I had no idea what to say.  I laughed and gnawed on my salad when all at once, the answer barreled into me.


This semester, my internship has been working with Free Cycles to build community.  Over the winter, I came up with this hair-brained idea that I couldn’t shake: what would happen if we started planting vegetable gardens in shopping carts?  Could that address our dependence on packaged grocery-store food?  I met with Bob Giordano, Free Cycles’ director, and we started bouncing ideas off each other.  It didn’t take long for this hair-brained scheme to begin to take shape. 

Since the semester began, I’ve been working with Free Cycles on a project aiming to bridge the gap between people and our food sources both physically and metaphorically. 

In today’s cities food is obtained by driving to the grocery store, grabbing a shopping cart, and loading it up.  Whether your food choices are local or imported, organic or conventional, the act is the same.  My goal was to take a symbol of this disconnect, the shopping cart, and transform it into a bicycle trailer mobile garden to bring fresh food to those most in need. 
In order to do this, I had to get well-acquainted with bicycles and bike trailers.  I found myself ogling the hitches of every trailer I passed in my daily life.  It took a lot of trouble-shooting and problem-solving, but Bob and I managed to make two shopping cart trailers out of entirely recycled materials, mainly bike parts.  This meant I had to learn every part of a bicycle in order to find the exact part to fit a specific need.
While I was still working out the kinks, I began looking to the future.  I really wanted to get community involvement, but building the cart was so complicated that it was hard to imagine getting volunteers to come help.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to host an event to plant the gardens.  When I told Bob about this, he suggested that I tag along with an event that was already planned: fixing up bicycles for the Boys and Girls Club at Council Groves Apartments.  So I contacted the manager in hopes that she would be interested in hosting me so I could teach the kids about gardening.
I had never organized anything like this before.  Everything had to be timed perfectly.  First, I went to the Library and checked out some vegetable seeds (if you have never used this resource, I highly recommend it!  Go to to check it out).  I borrowed seed starting supplies from a friend and hoped that the seeds would germinate in time for the event, but not so soon that they would out-grow their four-packs.  In the meantime, I finished up the construction of the trailers and attempted to work out any kinks.  I mixed up a special light-weight soil blend that would allow for easier toting.  I did a few practice runs before the big day to make sure that everything would go smoothly.
The event was perfect.  All of my hard work paid off.  The kids were so excited, they raced each other, pulling the trailers behind them.  They all gathered quietly and respectfully in order to get their hands dirty and plant some vegetables.  It was wonderful to experience the joy that gardening can bring to kids.

During fall semester, the Wilderness and Civilization program got me thinking a lot about the problems that we face as we lose our connection to the land.  Some moments, I got overwhelmed worrying about the future of the interface between civilization and the natural world.  This internship has helped me to understand the many ways in which a person can foster care for the land.  While mobile gardens don’t solve the world’s problems, they encourage people to get dirty under their fingernails.  They have the potential to help feed communities and plant the seeds of sustainable agriculture even on the smallest scale.  I can’t wait until, a few weeks down the line, I bring the gardens back to the Boys and Girls Club and show them the magic of fresh food.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Afternoons at the Forge by Christian Lipscomb, Photos by Jocelyn Catterson

I've been frequenting the forge lately. The seasonal shift between winter and spring in Missoula, wildly bipolar in day to day climactic norms, lends itself to bursts of creativity. After long winter nights spent inside on the couch reading about the wonder and opportunities of the world, I'm ready to do everything all at once as soon as the sun rifles its way through the dingy gray. I popped out of my den on queue with the sun's angle reaching the tipping point of warmth and thereby growth, and sought out ways to create. No better way, I think, to bring to fruition all the pent up energy building through winter than by pounding on hot iron. 

My mentor still officially lives in the Swan Valley of western Montana, a relatively remote depression tucked between two of Montana's most jagged mountain ranges. He owns a cabin up there, has for a long time. He came down to Missoula for business over a decade ago, however, and has since not fully resided in the Swan. Lucky for me, he got himself a forge for his more urban setting. While living in the Swan he taught himself to simply make parts for broken machinery and equipment rather than making the haul into Missoula, and now that he's living here he's more than happy to pass on his knowledge. 

The hammer, the anvil, and the forge. The key ingredients to shaping metal into a thing of your desire. Other spices serve to enhance the product, such as abundant scrap metal and a strong grip. 

In the past I always experienced what I thought of as art from a detached perspective. From abstract landscape paintings in bizarre color with hidden political and metaphysical depth to incredibly lifelike alabaster sculptures, I saw the beauty but often couldn't relate to the consciousness the pieces had arisen from. In a way that I thought of as completely separate, I would spend long amounts of time examining the craftwork of a particularly simple but elegant wooden bench, eyeing all the different pieces and steps that went into the creation process. I didn't think of a simple but elegant bench as art, but rather just a well-made utilitarian accessory. 

I realize now that what I was seeing as art and what I was seeing as a useful tool are, of course, quite intimate with one another. The best bench is made through the eye of an artist, someone looking beyond the initial comfort of taking a seat and towards the subsequent wandering of the sitter's eyes and hands for interesting and beautiful things around them. I feel the melding of the utilitarian and the artistic very strongly when working with metal. To make a hook from a piece of rebar, I merely have to pound one end of the piece over the horn of the anvil. I could stop there, and I would have a perfectly viable hook for my coat. My capacity for seeing and appreciating beautiful things, though, would be left to wander in search of something more worthwhile. By tapering the rebar before bending, by adding a twist, a curled end, an ornate top, I can make that necessary step of marrying form with function. 

Plus, nothing helps a person sort their thoughts better than hammering a glowing piece of metal into submission. Add good friends, a hot fire, and a little beer, and the wintertime blues melt away.