by Jack Michael, BMWF Wilderness Ranger Intern embedded with Spotted Bear District
Being a Wilderness Ranger Intern in the Bob Marshall Wilderness has definitely helped me learn about and appreciate the complex nature of wild places. It has also reconnected me to lessons learned through experience as a child. So in many ways, the Bob Marshall Wilderness brings you full circle with fresh eyes.
As an intern working closely with the Forest Service, I have been privileged to receive high level, professional training in many areas, and all have been valuable to me individually and as a part of the intern program at the BMWF. We were trained in bear safety, tool care and maintenance and fire fighting to name a few. In addition to being able to apply these skills to camp and trail upkeep as a wilderness ranger intern, this training has connected me back to the experiences I had in my youth with outdoor places. What seems at first glance as a random group of camping events now are clearly experiences that prepared me to be interested in and come to value the wilderness in later years.
As I look back, as kids learning to build fires and properly use saws and hatchets, shovels and pails, it was more than getting a safe fire going to cook dinner. We learned the difference in how woods burned and what to use to start fires and make good coals for cooking. What is now “no trace” camping was keeping a clean camp so the raccoons would not come and destroy our camp at night. We had to get a tent up and ready in wind, rain and clear weather and be able to keep it dry and standing through a storm. As part of getting camp ready, we got to know the weeds and grasses, the trees and where the best place would be for us to pitch our tent.
Spending time in camp let us get to know and understand the insects and other animals that we were sharing space with and which snakes we could pick up and how to catch fish. We had to watch the weather for safety in the river and learned to swim as part of just being in a river every day. We also had to depend on each other for safety in numbers and sometimes just to get across a current.
These experiences connect to today because they taught me not only to collaborate and work with others, but also to care about and enjoy the places that were still wild. They helped me develop a desire to become a steward for the future for others. They made me a part of where I lived, not apart from it.
While there have been many things that have been new and that I did not experience in my younger years, such as mules and airplanes, much remains the same as what I learned years ago—use what you have, improvise for what you don’t and leave things a little better than you found them. Take time to really see, hear and feel where you are and appreciate it. Make the time to treasure the wild, and above all else, be a part of making sure that the same places and values will be there for future generations.
Being a part of the BMWF intern program has caused me to think of a lot about how early experiences cause us to make connections that we might not have seen at first. The smell of a campfire or bear grass, the amazing variations of green from the water to grasses to trees, the sound of wind in branches or a raging stream, the feel of sweat on my face and callouses on my hands. It impresses me that early exposures really do form a foundation for more thorough and deeper understanding in later life, and reminds me how important it is to preserve these wild places for our own children so that they may learn to be good stewards and carry on the traditions of wild places that have such value in our lives.