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The day began as it had for the past few, getting up with the sun just cresting the mountains. I woke up reluctantly, put on my warmest gear, and wandered down the dirt trail to the river. A daily walk to the best part of Glacier National Park.

I delighted in these quiet visits while peering into glacial depths. These morning visits left me feeling invigorated, which was needed and after a while, demanded. I was at the Glacier Institute as a student. The mass knowledge I was consuming was tiring and daunting but still worth it.

I was on the path to becoming a Montana Master Naturalist and what better place than Glacier?

Subtly Sublime

A naturalist by definition is a “student in natural history”. I get frustrated with definitions that include the word that is being defined.

“A curious person who delights in discovering the life that inhabits a landscape and willingness to sharing that knowledge with others” is a better reflection of a naturalist. It is still difficult to define the complexity of life from the flittering mourning cloaks to the centurion Western Larches.

Alas, the pleasure and pain of enlightenment.

When I first saw the Montana Master Naturalist course, I was daunted by the depth of knowledge. I can barely figure out how to use my new smartphone in a week let alone the entire field of a naturalist!

That’s when I tightened my hiking boots and braced myself for a knowledge deluge, similar to what’s experienced at the wrong end of a firehose.

The Knowledge Path

The goal of naturalist training is simple: preparing a human for the public’s inquiry of nature. If I was to give a tour, what could I tell the public about this landscape through the lens of a naturalist?

Possible questions like:

  • Why do these plants prefer this open, recently burned landscape?
  • What animals live here?
  • What is that brown pile that looks suspiciously like eschewed cocoa puffs?

This immersive training was an opportunity to become a user-friendly field guide for the public. Gesturing and reenactments included free of charge!

Dirt Roads

The most scenic paths in Glacier National Park are off small dirt roads made for boots. As the Australian maven at Burning Desire for FIRE says, “It’s worth it to take the road less travelled.”

A dirt road with its extra grit and gravel is the road less travelled.

I can’t find solitude while sitting in a car, instead I have to earn it with steps and sweat. Lots of sweat.

I’m average in many things but not sweating. I’m an Olympic sweater.

I hike a few feet from the road and I’m sweating, my trail motto is, “sweat happens”.

Even sitting on the couch typing this I’m wondering why I’m sweating.

After glistening like the vampire I’m not, my glorious destination feels magnificent. It could be the endorphins or exhaustion but either way it feels better than straight As and no traffic delays.

The Master Naturalist course was like this too.

Trails & Trials

Becoming a Master Naturalist was challenging. It wasn’t all beautiful rivers and delightful scenery. At least, not all the time.

Knowledge was stuffed into our heads from 8 am to 9 pm. A long day of learning even for this nature nerd. I picked this path even with its challenges because I hoped for a better human on the other side.

I hoped to for the good fortune of making friends, developing goals, or having perspectives changed.

There are times when life forces change and there are times when I need to push myself into a crater of change. I like to choose my trials with an extra nature and a side of trails.

Our daily instructor was a former forester with a lifetime of Forest Service experience.

He was an expert in landscapes so as we hiked up, though, and over he identified and explained the full range of plants from the fragile and frail orchids to the large and always-in-charge pines.

Towards the end of the week, a different instructor came in and we absorbed birds and bugs from the OG who developed the MT Master Naturalist course.

If there was an audio version of a field guide to take while hiking Glacier, would be an accurate summery of the classroom portions. Then a test to ensure everyone was paying attention and not completely distracted by the birds, bees, and butterflies.

Montana Master Naturalist

The best gift of this experience was the confidence. Memorizing every word and encounter was impossible, I have hard time recalling what I did last year let alone the difference between a sparrow with some brown and a sparrow with all brown.

However, the universal ideas were valuable. With the backdrop as the most scenic landscape in an America, it’s a playground as much as a classroom. Perfect for my inner naturalist wanting to upgrade to a certification.

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