It feels odd to be denning in the spring. Our usual season to escape back into the out of doors has shifted radically for society at-large. It is odd because all the world around us is still warming, flying a little further each day, and here we are, humanity, digging in. It is for the best, for our own survival, but it is still not easy to go against the natural grain.
Hunkering down has affected us all, myself included. At first I was angry with frustration, as I’m sure you were too. I wanted something or someone to blame, to witness and call wrong. I struggled to find meaning in any of it; I struggled to hear anything but fear. It took me a while to come to remind myself that this frustration, this search for orientation, is the human way; it is natural to feel as we do in the omnipresence of the unknown.
What I discovered though is that this perspective, natural as it may be, is harmful if lived too long. My search was a dangerous one: for some externality of blame in an effort to begin to wrest back seeming control. When this is the path you choose to take, you find, as I did, that your anger is not quenched, but instead stoked. My focus was consumed by a blackness; it burned into my eye like a mariner’s missing star.
How then does one change course towards hope, and if not acceptance, then duty, empathy, and discipline for our fellow man? How do we get through such times?
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “For God all things are good and right and just, but for man some things are right and others are not.” When I do not understand the world, the world I love so dearly, I think of these ancient words. I am reminded of this wisdom as I find myself unconsciously passing judgement upon the things I cannot control, and it stops me. In this wisdom I am reminded that, while there may be something to fear, there is no righteousness to my anger. True righteousness instead stems from the lessons of spring; the lessons of hope: of living on with tenacity, industry, and love, even in the face, however distant, of winter.
The righteousness of hope is found, too, in our choice to harness our actions with humble intention in light of what is happening in the world and the toll that is being taken. And just as fear is begotten in the meandering anger of blame, hope lives in our individual conscious actions. Only together can our actions create constellations for others to follow: cosmos among the chaos, shining brighter than the void’s pull. That we will all choose to do what is right, though it will not be easy, even in the face of doubt and fear, gives me hope.
So from the crocuses, the robins, and the fresh mud of our beautiful Utah spring, don’t forget that the world is still good and continues to be every day, even if sometimes it does not feel like it. Remind yourself of the lessons of spring by opening your window, listening to the birds, smelling deep the thawing air, and choosing to den in these times, fulfilling the spring lessons of tenacity, industry, and love. Choose to fix yourself as another orienting light of hope for those who still only see the night, or those who do not look up at all, for the world is good, it is everywhere, and we will always be of it. Here is to the persistence of life and hope found in us all this spring.
I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Image Courtesy Pixabay
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org
“Don’t try to help me up yet,” I instructed, choking back laughter through a face full of snow.
Third graders teetered in their snowshoes on the edge of the tree well with mixed emotions written on their faces—equal parts concern and confusion. I was sunk to my armpits in snow, insisting that they not help me out of it. The learning had begun.
We were in the trees, high in the canyon, there to discuss the winter adaptations of local wildlife while an inch an hour of fresh powder fell from above. I had stepped onto a shallow layer of snow that covered a spruce sapling just as I was explaining the similarities between the snowshoes on our boots and the feet of the snowshoe hare. The timing was impeccable.
“I guess we’re not as good as the snowshoe hare,” one student quipped as a flurry of helpful hands and a borrowed ski pole finally freed me from the hole.
“No, I guess not,” was my reply. “So how do we survive here, then?”
Snow continued to fall while students offered up their hypotheses: “We have tools, like coats and snowshoes and ski poles”; “we help each other, like a community!” “We don’t have special body parts, so we have to try new things to survive.”
Someone mentioned “structural adaptations.” A familiar murmur of agreement as someone used another science term, “behavioral adaptations,” language maybe once thought too complex for 9-year-olds. But it was language students had developed over the course of a few months closely studying the wildlife of Utah—language they were putting to work now, constructing new understandings of the world in real time.
We needed to keep moving, so my colleague and co-wilderness-guide for the day introduced the kids to another behavioral adaptation used by herds of deer. Minutes later, 13 energetic bodies were performing the mule deer “snow dance,” stomping a flat, hard-pack clearing into the deep snow. “No more post-holing,” he told the kids. He let the new vocabulary word sink in while we rested and ate a snack, much like a mule deer might.
As a matter of state law, the Utah State Board of Education expects third graders to, quote, “Engage in argument from evidence that in a particular habitat…some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all” (UT SEEd Standards, 3.2.5, 2019).
Learning outdoors helps students connect academic content to lived experiences in real time. These students certainly had an argument to make as to how well-prepared an animal needs to be in order to survive a mountain winter. They lived the experiences themselves.
I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from Josh Boling
Text: Josh Boling, 2020,
A mighty tree has fallen- but its seed has been cast far and wide through his great works. I speak of a frequent Wild About Utah contributor, educator, and conservationist. On January 3rd, 2020, Ron Hellstern left us for the great beyond. He was the personification of Wild About Utah.
Ron’s legacy can be found in the thousands of youth who accompanied him in the classroom and field where they participated in many citizen science projects for birds, butterflies, countless tree plantings, restoring streamside environments, and competing in the Utah Envirothon, which Ron helped establish in Utah
He preferred the title “Redrock Ron” which Ron earned from his unflagging love for Utah’s red rock country, culminating with Zion N.P. His contributions there were many- writing curriculum for the park, Christmas bird counts, assisting with the state Envirothon competition which he convinced Zion to host, and much more. His greatest thrill were the many family hikes and campouts he reveled in, to have those near and dear with him to partake of its splendors.
Closer to home, Ron was synonymous with monarch butterflies, fireflies, and reforestation. He spent many years with students and others hatching, tagging, and releasing monarchs to help map their western migration patterns, adding new information to assist with their preservation. Ron was a relentless advocate for planting milkweed, the host plant for rearing the monarch’s chrysalis and caterpillars.
Once he discovered fireflies in a city marsh, Ron realized this rarity needed protection. As both a city council member and citizen, he convinced the city of their unique importance. The Nibley firefly park was the result. A few thousand folks showed up for its inauguration.
And “Trees are the answer” from Ron’s perspective. His plantings were notorious throughout our valley- from school grounds to open lots, his town recognized as a Tree City USA. Ron deeply appreciated all that trees provide for people, wildlife, protecting soil and our mountains watersheds. It seemed that whenever I visited Ron, he was planting yet another tree.
Ron was instrumental in establishing the first “Childrens Forest” with the USFS in Logan Canyon. He was the primary force behind his town of Nibley receiving Utah’s first, and yet only, designation as a Wildlife Friendly City through the National Wildlife Foundation.
As a member and major contributor to the Utah Society for Envioronmental Education and North American Association for EE, Ron’s influence as an extraordinary educator was recognized. He served on both boards where his influence was felt forming policy and programs on a state and international level. Ron was a relentless champion of classroom teachers in both of these acclaimed organizations.
Ron was a kindred spirit, the brother I never had. His presence will never leave me- every tree, monarch butterfly, firefly, trip to redrock country, Ron will be with me.
This is Jack Greene in behalf of our dear friend- Ron Hellstern
Images: Courtesy TBA
Images: Courtesy Morgan Pratt for Ron Hellstern
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, USU and Bridgerland Audubon Society
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.
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.
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.