Friday Field Report from the Wilderness Institute November 9, 2018

6:00 a.m.

Wake to simultaneous smartphone alarms – one twinkle, one stardust.

This is marriage.

Coffee and egg. Wheat Montana toast.

High Country News and big wonders.

What will Missoula Valley look like in 100 years?

Why did Connie disappear?  

Did ____ find a safe place to sleep?


7:00 a.m.

Meditate, shower.


7:45 a.m.

Chat with Dennis on the way to campus.

He squeezes the steering wheel. “I’m waging a war against dust mites.”


“You just gave me an idea,” I respond quickly. “Wouldn’t that be funny as a short story – about a couple wherein the husband is obsessed with ridding his home of dust as a way to avoid confronting problems in his marriage?”


“Yes. Funny. That would be funny.  Joanna, twice this week you’ve forgotten to lock the car.”


“Well, multitasking takes its toll.  All that stuff out there about multitasking as a skill is bullshit.  There’s a limit, and by the way, every time you move into the turn lane, you just barely miss hitting another car, so there’s that.”


In these last words, I willfully ignore all the good magazine advice about communication.  In this moment, I choose to be bad – I choose the low road, also known as pettiness.  The outcome tastes acrid.


8:00 a.m.

Climb to the top floor of University Hall.

Check voicemails, emails, open the mail.

Photograph the towering, snow-laden Engelmann spruce outside the office window.

Turn the electric kettle on.

Make a mental note to text Dennis this morning.


8:30 a.m.

UM Days in the University Center Ballroom.  

North end.  

Visit with fidgety high school seniors.  

Attempt to explain the intangible benefits of experiential, place-based education within a 40-year-old program whose DNA is rooted in resistance to social injustice and the mass degradation of landscapes.

“You begin with a 10-day backpacking trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness,” I say.  

“Sign me up!” they exclaim.  


9:30 a.m.

Pay delinquent USFS bills from 2016 and 2017.

Write one letter of apology and two letters of recommendation.

Write one appeal letter for a student who should be exempted from WRIT 101.

Reserve vehicles for next week’s fire ecology field trip.

Collect stink bugs and toss them out the window.


10:20 a.m.

Chat with Lisa regarding budget encumbrances.

Inquire about Connie.


10:35 a.m.

Research Cascade photo size requirements for tiles.

Make a quick website update: Wilderness Management Distance Education – Now Enrolling!

While posting to Facebook, the words, water bear, catch my eye.  No time to scroll.  Gotta move.


10:50 a.m.

Text an alum. Thank him for attending the recruitment campfire.


11:00 a.m.

Visit with a potential student at Liquid Planet.

Order chai and discuss possible internships that connect wilderness and neuroscience.


11:45 a.m.

Order “The Dude Abides” sandwich, to-go.


11:50 a.m.

Bump into a writing friend at Liquid Planet.

  • Chat about imminent global collapse, intractable dilemmas, how to navigate between wonder and despair.
  • “I don’t know anything. I don’t have any answers. Pull up a chair.” – Sentiments borrowed from Dennis.  
  • “Always have a plan, and always have something to look forward to.” – Advice from a 90-something female NASA scientist.
  • “I’m studying Computer Science,” he says, “but now I wonder about its relevance.  I wonder if I need to learn how to farm.”
  • “You could do both – both let you work from home.”
  • “I need to make more space for playfulness. I used to be really good at that.”
  • Discuss the differences between education and learning.
  • “Have you ever thought about Wilderness & Civ,” I ask.


12:00 p.m.

Walk back to University Hall. Shriveled pumpkin on the spire.  

Cross the Oval, the sounds of wild turkeys – but, there are no turkeys.  I look up: an echelon. And then, I see.  Sandhill cranes. I stare into the gray sky and follow the crane path south toward the Bitterroots.  Breathe in. Breathe out. This little moment. This strange spark wriggling through my body.


1:10 p.m.

A former student says hello and asks why I’m staring at the sky.  “The cranes. They’re giving me hope today.”  


“Don’t take your eyes off those birds,” he smiles and walks away.


1:15 p.m.

Eat my sandwich while checking in with Aurora.


  • Wilderness Lecture Series posters
  • Matthew Hansen Endowment communication strategy
  • Brainstorming Wilderness & Civilization marketing overhaul
  • The best options for wood block tools & printmaking for the student retreat
  • Soft recruitment at the upcoming wellness fair – Coloring sheets? Felt trees?
  • Starting a lit mag featuring student creative writing


2:00 p.m.

Visit with a newly accepted Wilderness & Civ student at Buttercup Cafe.

Discuss imminent global collapse, climate change, conservation ethics, obscure nonfiction, conspicuous consumption, mistaking Labradors for black bears while trail running, the challenges of making friends Freshman year.


“What keeps you motivated,” I ask.

She stares at her peppermint tea.

“I want to be part of collective change.  You’re in trouble if you think you can attempt social change on your own.”

“Let’s do this again,” I say.


3:00 p.m.

Make a list – 5 ways to support Freshmen Retention:

  1. Pair a Freshmen FCFC student with a Junior or Senior in their major
  2. Establish cohorts within majors
  3. Catch them doing right – express gratitude
  4. Winter Freshman retreat at Lubrecht
  5. Stock up on tea


3:30 p.m.

Walk with Rachel along the Kim Williams trail.

Discuss strategies for navigating the competing demands between professional interests, personal aspirations, marriage, and the policies which still limit human rights within the United States.


4:30 p.m.

Email a student.  Thank him for his contributions in class.

Respond to horse packing inquiries.

Check with Humanities about the future of literature within Wilderness & Civilization.

Sketch a rough outline for next week’s lesson plan on Dakota: A Spiritual Geography.

Think about imminent global collapse and the sort-of morning argument with Dennis.  

Toss a stink bug out the window.


5:00 p.m.

Text Dennis: “I love you.”

“I love you too. My tannic acid hasn’t arrived yet.”


(It was only Wednesday when he texted me one word: “Whew!”  And I knew it was because Jon Tester won re-election by a slight margin.  “I’m so relieved,” Dennis said when he picked me up. “Really?”

“Well, yeah.  I didn’t know what I’d cook for you if Tester had lost.”)


5:02 p.m.

Stare out the window and notice Stuart Peak – a world made of fresh snow and blue light.

Massage the sore place in my arm from yesterday’s flu shot.

Update the waitlist for Yellowstone Field Studies.

Heart the photo of my niece just texted by my parents.

Respond to Trevor Lowell’s email about sustainable food systems for a student’s internship.

Dismiss the notion that Wildlife Bio students may be shooting Canada geese at a nearby golf course.

Write a letter of recommendation for a Wilderness & Civ alum.

Update the to-do list.


5:40 p.m.

Answer the phone.

“Are you planning on spending the night there,” Dennis asks.  


6:00 p.m.

Notice President Bodnar walking between offices as I exit the building.


6:30 p.m.

Dirty gin martini, up, two olives.

Try not to worry about the student on the verge of homelessness, the student who is down on himself, the student paralyzed by hopelessness.

Respond to a student’s request: two words to describe myself which will then be applied toward characters she’s developing for a final project on land ethics.

“Silver Wildernut,” I reply.


7:00 p.m.

Eat salmon with greens and discuss the irony of an invitation today to visit Salmon, Idaho.

“That’s amazing,” I say.

“I still need to finish my sermon, and I want to find a hypoallergenic duvet.”


Marvel at the various home projects currently underway and involving:

Powder paint, cigar boxes, an antique Italian espresso maker, coffee beans, a pressure cooker, a blow torch, and the yet-to-arrive tannic acid.  Who is this man? This man who knows how to cook, make things, and preach – this man at war with dust?


Research water bears:

Found in nearly all regions, from the Antarctic to the Amazon – survivor of radiation – can even live in space.  Not afraid of volcanoes. Slow stepper. Identified by a German zoologist dude. Named further by Spallazani, an Italian biologist. Tardigrades look nothing like a bear. More like a penis gone awry or maybe a manatee with extra limbs.  Moss piglets. What can be seen through a low-powered microscope inspires imagery in video games, sci-fi films, cartoons. Just add water, and they will appear. Miraculous. Survivor.


7:30 p.m.

Watch an episode of Ray Donovan and think about imminent global collapse, the beating hearts and alive eyes of my students, of friends and their swirling questions – the sociological complexities we navigate as an ecological mindset leads to questions about purpose, agency, coal, and petrochemicals.  Make a mental note to shop for low-powered microscopes for my 12-year-old nephew. The UPS driver surely questions where all the packages fit inside our home.


9:00 p.m.

Dennis nudges me awake.  “Let’s go to bed. You don’t want to sleep on the couch.”


My head sinks into the pillow.  “I’m sorry,” I say. “I’m sorry for being such a mess, for being cranky and difficult lately.  I’m sorry.”


“Not a thing wrong with you, girl.”


And in my sleep, I dream of strange beings.  A planet, long without humans. Deserts once known as forests.  Streams, now cobbled paths. Waterfalls spilling down escalators. Hibiscus blooming between the cracks. Forking bone, brown-eyed sunshine, letharia vulpina, sphagnum. This ain’t Love in the Ruins.  This is the world made new by eerie, microscopic harbingers of hope – eight-legged creatures embedded with the evolutionary wisdom to survive millions upon millions of years. There, on the mountaintops north of what was once known as Missoula, water bears multiply whether or not a train passes through Hellgate Canyon.


I sleep through all the hours of the night.


4 thoughts on “Friday Field Report from the Wilderness Institute November 9, 2018

  1. Hi Joanna, my life is so different than yours these days, but i still feel connected when I read your words. Thanks for sharing! Look forward to reading more. You’re one of this people who make the world better for my children.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s