Benefits of Being Wild

Benefits of Being Wild: Naomi Wilderness Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Naomi Wilderness
Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Imagine a place devoid of randomly constant dings and dongs, a place with no artificial lighting or insistent clicking of keys or ticking of screens. Maybe even a place where one no longer has to think about the persistently pressing matters of politics for even just a brief moment.

Solitude, awe, beauty…breeze, trees, birds…life.

Benefits of Being Wild: Climbing Logan Canyon Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Benefits of Being Wild: Climbing Logan Canyon Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Certainly, the place that comes to mind might exist here in Utah. Anyone who has driven more than five hours in any direction can tell you the state doesn’t always look the same. Utah has landscapes ranging from mountains reaching more than 13,000 feet to desert plains dropping down to nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, and everything in between (McNamee, Arrington 2019). The colors of the landscape begin in the north with the deep greens of the forest and end in the south with the rich hues of red and orange. It is this unique and endlessly variable landscape that some argue makes it the perfect place to find happiness.

Hold on. Happiness is not a simple thing to achieve or understand. Sources are both internal and external. But for this story we are focusing on the happiness which comes from being in a mentally beneficial environment. Utah’s incredibly diverse landscape lends itself to be adaptably beneficial to a population of various preferences. It quite literally can suit just about anyone’s partialities. Whether someone likes mild winters in the desert or harsh, bitter, white winters, (which most people on this plant have only heard about in stories) Utah has it all. If someone prefers quiet towns or large and bustling urban centers, thinner air to thicker air; Utah can accommodate. But what do these accommodations have to do with happiness?

There is an ever-growing expanse of research regarding the mental health benefits of nature. Much of this research came about after the establishment of wilderness therapy programs which began to take root in Utah during the latter part of the 1980s. Griffin Woods, a student at Utah State University, experienced one of these wilderness programs. One of the important things he said about experiencing nature was, “People should definitely be pushed more to go outside, get off the phone and be in nature as opposed to being glued to a phone.” (Griffin. Personal communication. October 2019)

This happiness can spread to family members. Many children who participate in an outdoor education program will afterwards ask their parents to take them out into nature so they could “show and tell” them what they have seen and heard.

Benefits of Being Wild: Bike Ride in Moab Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Bike Ride in Moab
Courtesy and Copyright Matthew Wickenhiser, Photographer
Simply being in place of wilderness can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall esteem (Arnold, 1994; Bahaeloo-Horeh & Assari, 2008). With this knowledge, Utah becomes an arsenal armed against the harmful habits that deteriorate our daily lives. It enables us to actively increase our attitudes and improve our internal state of mind.

So, this, this is what makes Utah so incredible. This state’s unique ability to make its residents and visitors happier. All you have to do is get outside. We end with this quote from Edward Abbey, “Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.” So please, feed your spirit, enrich your soul, and enlighten your mind. You exist in arguably one of the most perfect places in the world to do this. Now go be Wild About Utah.

This is Matthew Wickenhiser and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Matthew Wickenhiser
Additional audio provided by Friend Weller and Kevin Colver
Text: Matthew Wickenhiser, Utah State University

Additional Reading

Utah Travel Industry Website https://www.utah.com/

Utah, History.com, A&E Television Networks, Nov 9, 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/utah

Utah: A Geologic History – Utah Geological Survey, Department of Natural Resources, State of Utahhttps://www.history.com/topics/us-states/utah

Utah Forest Overview, USDA Forest Service, https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/ogden/overviews/Utah/OV_Utah.htm

These 20 Utah Landscapes Will Blow You Away With Their Beauty, https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/utah/20-ut-landscapes/

Peru

I just returned from two weeks in the Peruvian Andes conducting field work on high elevation wetlands and how they were responding to impacts from livestock grazing in a changing climate. We were in the Huascaran National Park, the highest part of the Andes with many peaks soaring above 20,000 feet. Our Colorado State U. group was joined by students and faculty from 4 other campuses and the international Mountain Institute. These wetlands, or bofedales in Peruvian jargon, are essential in providing quality water for the thousands who reside below.

Kings Peak Highest Peak in Utah 13,528 feet ASL Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Kings Peak
Highest Peak in Utah 13,528 feet ASL
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Having spent many forays into our magnificent High Uintah Mountains, I found myself reflecting on ecological and cultural parallels. Although our highest Kings peak at 13,528 feet was far below Mount Huascaran’s 22,205 foot elevation, its bold loftiness provides a similar experience as would standing on the Huascaran’s summit. A departure results from the highly glaciated Huascaran. Our Uintahs lost their glaciers around 8000 years ago from a warming climate. Unfortunately, Huascaran’s glaciers are following suit having lost nearly 30% over the past three decades. These changes were being compounded by poorly managed hordes of livestock which had overgrazed much of the landscape.

Wild Flowers in Tony Grove Meadow Courtesy USDA Forest Service Teresa Prendusi, Photographer
Wild Flowers in Tony Grove Meadow
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Teresa Prendusi, Photographer
Our primary focus was on changing vegetation, invertebrate populations, and water quality. At the peak of Peru’s dry, winter season, I wasn’t expecting to see much in bloom. To my delight, I recorded nearly 30 species of flowers in both woody and herbaceous form. Tomorrow I will be leading a nature hike in the wetlands and uplands of Tony Grove Lake here in our Bear River Range where I expect a like number in bloom combined with a plethora of butterflies and birds.

Although virtually all of the Andean flowers were new to me, there were similar families and genera. Of special note was a shrubby form of lupine growing to 5 feet, and another, exquisite columnar form approaching 6 feet found only in this national park. “Taulli Macho” is the local name for this splendid plant. “Macho” is a great descriptor!

Birds and butterflies were no less baffling. All were new to my life list- Pona ibis, Andean Condors, giant coot, tufted duck, Andean flicker, giant humming bird, on and on. Senses overwhelmed. I missed the familiar sights and songs from our mountain birds- Clark’s nutcrackers, Steller jays, Cassin’s finch, pine siskins, violet green swallows, mountain bluebirds to name a few.

Grazing at Fishlake in Utah Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Grazing at Fishlake in Utah
Courtesy USDA Forest Service
I did a bit of research on our High Uintahs and found some parallels related to climate change and livestock management. Although not as profound as calving glaciers in the Andes, or hordes of free ranging livestock, a continued loss of our snow pack and resulting changes in hydrology compounded by certain livestock grazing practices are under close scrutiny by agencies and others. A recent publication “Assessment of Watershed Vulnerability to Climate Change for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests, Utah” published by the United States Department of Agriculture has much to offer.

This is Jack Greene, and you guessed it- I’m Wild about Utah!!

Credits:

Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service, Photographers noted, where available, for each image
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:     Jack Greene

Sources & Additional Reading:

Rice, Janine; Bardsley, Tim; Gomben, Pete; Bambrough, Dustin; Weems, Stacey; Leahy, Sarah; Plunkett, Christopher; Condrat, Charles; Joyce, Linda A. 2017. Assessment of watershed vulnerability to climate change for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests, Utah. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-362. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 111 p., https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/54330

Slots, Els, World Heritage Site for World Heritage Travellers, https://www.worldheritagesite.org/list/Huascaran+National+Park

Huascarán National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/333

Poetry of the Forest

Poetry of the Forest: Fall Colors along the Nebo Loop between Payson, UT and HWY 132 between Nephi and Fountain Green. Courtesy USDA Forest Service
Fall Colors along the Nebo Loop between Payson, UT and HWY 132 between Nephi and Fountain Green.
Courtesy USDA Forest Service

There are people who can capture beautiful scenery by painting on canvas, using film photography, and with digital technology. And these forms of art can be visually stunning. But there is a unique perspective of visualizing when written words are read, allowing one’s mind to see not only the exterior of a scene, but the interior heart intended by the writer.

What memories does your mind recall as you listen to the words of these renowned authors about the poetry of the forest?

  • Robert Louis Stevenson – …it is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of the air, that emanation from the old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
  • John Fowles – In some mysterious way woods have never seemed to me to be static things. In physical terms, I move through them, yet in metaphysical ones, they seem to move through me.
  • Walt Whitman – Why are there trees I never walk under but large and melodious thoughts descend upon me?
  • William Wordsworth – One impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can.
  • Marcel Proust – We have nothing to fear and a great deal to learn from trees, that vigorous and Pacific tribe which without stint produces strengthening essences for us, soothing balms, and in whose gracious company we spend so many cool, silent and intimate hours.
  • Washington Irving – As the leaves of trees are said to absorb all noxious qualities of the air, and to breathe forth a purer atmosphere, so it seems to me as if they drew from us all sordid and angry passions and breathed forth peace and philanthropy. There is a severe and settled majesty in woodland scenery that enters into the soul, and dilates and elevates it, and fills it with noble inclinations.
  • James Henry Leigh Hunt – They refresh the commonplaces of life, shed a harmony through the busy discord, and appeal to those first sources of emotion, which are associated with the remembrance of all that is young and innocent. They seem also to present us with a portion of the tranquility we think we are laboring for.
  • Harold Monro – One summer afternoon, you find some lonely trees. Persuade your mind to drowse. Then, as your eyelids close, and you still hover into those three stages of a darkening doze, this side the barrier of sleep,…..pause. In that last clear moment open quick your sight toward where the green is bright and thick. Be sure that everything you keep to dream with is made out of trees.

    Plantng a Tree Coutesy USDA Forest Service
    Plantng a Tree
    Coutesy USDA Forest Service
    *Lucy Larcom – He who plants a tree plants a hope.

  • Henry David Thoreau – In wildness is the preservation of the world. Silence alone is worthy to be heard.
  • English Proverb – He that plants trees loves others beside himself.

     
    Credits:
    Text: Excerpts from the book, “The Forest”, compiled by Michelle Lovric https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Poetry-Earth-Michelle-Levric/dp/1561385077
    Images: Courtesy USDA Forest Service
    Collector & Reader: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Lovric, Michelle, The Forest, A Celebration of Nature, In Word and Image, https://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Poetry-Earth-Michelle-Levric/dp/1561385077

    Poems about Trees, Academy of American Poets, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/poems-about-trees

    Search for Poems about Trees, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/search?query=trees

  • Shrubby-Reed Mustard: The Best Little Plant You’ve Never Heard of (Aug 2016)

    Shrubby-Reed Mustard Bush, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
    Shrubby-Reed Mustard Bush
    Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
    Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

    Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms
    Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
    Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

    Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms Closeup, Hesperidanthus suffrutescens Shrubby-Reed Mustard Blossoms
    Hesperidanthus suffrutescens
    Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis

    Tucked into isolated pockets of the Uintah Basin’s arid wildlands is the best little plant you’ve never heard of. Known to exist only in Duchesne and Uintah Counties, Shrubby-reed Mustard seems to occupy only the semi-barren “islands” of white shale in areas of the Green River Formation’s Evacuation Creek region. The endangered plant features thick, almost succulent, blue-green leaves and small yellow flowers.

    “The habitat of Shrubby-reed Mustard is visually striking,” says USU alum Matt Lewis, a botanist with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal, Utah. “It grows in very shallow, fine-textured soils and shale fragments that form narrow bands in the desert shrub community.”

    Among the first plants to flower in spring, the perennial herb is visited by large number of insects, including many native bee species that forage for pollen. Scientists believe these bees may be critical in the plant’s reproduction and survival.

    Lewis says the plant, also known as Toad-Flax Cress and Uintah Basin Waxfruit, offers an understated beauty to the stark landscape. With a shrub-like form and multiple stems, Shrubby-reed Mustard grows to about 20 centimeters in height. Its leaves, which feel almost like leather, change to a bright purple in the fall.

    The plant is also enticingly fragrant, Lewis says. “Its scent reminds me of roses mixed with apples and pears.”

    Despite its fragile status, Shrubby-reed Mustard is a long-lived plant. USU ecologist Geno Schupp says some individual plants may be one hundred years old.

    The elusive species has outlived scientists’ attempts to classify it and has undergone several taxonomic changes. It currently boasts the scientific name Hesperidanthus suffrutescens, placing it solidly in the mustard family.

    Lewis knows of no history of Shrubby-reed Mustard as a culinary or medicinal herb, though documented reports of such uses for mustard plants date back to ancient times. The plant appears to provide welcome forage for some four-legged creatures, he says, as he recently witnessed plants that had been grazed completely and ripped from the ground.

    “Whether that was due to livestock or native ungulates, I’m not sure.”

    Credits:
    Images: Courtesy & Copyright Matt Lewis
    Text:     Mary-Ann Muffoletto, Utah State University College of Natural Resources
    Credits:
    Matt Lewis, botanist, Bureau of Land Management, Vernal, Utah.
    Eugene “Geno” Schupp, professor, USU Department of Wildland Resources.

    Additional Reading:

    http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/factsheets/ShrubbyReed-mustardFactSheet.pdf

    http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/plants/shrubbyreedmustard/5YearReview2010.pdf