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The day began as it had for the past few, rising just after the sun.
I wandered down the short dirt trail to visit the river. I visited her every morning.
She was a very gracious hostess. She patiently waited while I completed a round of mediation, reading, and yoga. Finally, I felt ready to receive her knowledge and bask in her beauty.
While seated on the banks of an eroded hillside, I became aware of her other guests. The mountains, stoic and regarding, seemed to guard her wealth. The tree swallows would swoop in for a quick visit. The river was gracious and provided a morning breakfast to these tiny insect-fighting jets. They seemed to rejoice in the bounty of her protein and never complained about the menu selection. A doe, silent in her approach, came to pay homage and request safe passage.
I delighted in these quiet conversations while peering into her glacial depths. Our morning visits left me feeling invigorated, which was much needed. I wasn’t at the Glacier Institute as a visitor, I was there as a student. The mass knowledge I was about to consume was tiring and daunting but well worth it. I was on the path to becoming a Montana Master Naturalist at Glacier National Park!
Grab your favorite guide, we’re about to make some nature observations!
Trails & Trials
Was becoming a Master Naturalist challenging? Of course, 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, occasionally, 9 pm. That is a long day of learning even for this nature-loving girl! However, there are times when I choose a more challenging path because I don’t know the human I will turn into on the other side. I may even be fortunate enough to make friends, develop goals, or have my perspectives radically changed. There are times when life forces us to change but there are times when I need to push myself into change. I like to choose my trials with an extra heaping of nature and a side of trails.
If you are wondering where the most scenic paths in Glacier National Park are I am about to disappoint you. Spoiler Alert: You can’t take your car because the best views are off a small dirt road made for boots. You won’t be able to find solitude while residing in your car, instead you will have to earn it with steps. And sweat. Lots of sweat. Fun Fact: I sweat. A lot. I hike a mere five feet from my vehicle and I am already sweating, my trail motto is, “sweat happens”. Sweatiness aside, once you have achieved your glorious destination, it feels much more magnificent. It could be the endorphins or exhaustion but either way it feels amazing. The Master Naturalist course at the Glacier Institute also encompassed this theme. It took a lot of mental and physical effort but the result was well worth it.
Similar to the various parts of a landscape, various levels of knowledge are acquired before becoming a Master Naturalist. A naturalist by definition is an “expert or student in natural history”. What an inept definition! I don’t like it when a definition includes the word that is being defined. Lame! “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 tiny flittering butterflies to the centurion behemoth of a Western Larch. That initial splash of realization at the depth of knowledge required, is in a word – daunting. I can barely figure out how to use my new smartphone in a week let alone the diverse field of a naturalist! That’s when I tightened my boots and got ready to brace for a knowledge deluge, similar to what is experienced at the wrong end of a firehose except with information. I may know something about this (as I side-eye Navy boot camp and UW-SP Treehaven).
The Path of Knowledge
The goal of naturalist training is simple: preparing a human for the public’s inquiry of nature. If you were to give a tour, what could you tell the public about this landscape through the lens of a naturalist? For example, Why do these plants prefer this open, recently burned landscape? What wildlife encounters can we expect? What is that brown pile that looks suspiciously like eschewed cocoa puffs? This immersive training was a unique opportunity to enjoy the splendors of Glacier National Park but also find how to become a user-friendly field guide for the public. Gesturing and reenactments included free of charge!
Gifts of Glacier
The best gift of this experience was the confidence. Memorizing every word and encounter is impossible not to mention uncomfortable. However, the unifying concepts and tools were valuable. With the backdrop as the most scenic landscape in an America, it is a playground of adventure for any budding naturalist wanting to up their game to a Master certification. Or any other nature loving human hoping to add another accomplishment to their life list.
Are you a student of nature or do you prefer to keep nature and its dirty path at a distance?