Better Know and Educator: Paul Arbetan

As an ecologist, Paul Arbetan reads landscapes like others might read a graph: processing the information his eyes show him and analyzing the patterns of terrain and vegetation. On a hike in the rocky hills surrounding Santa Fe, New Mexico, Paul stops the Westies trailing behind him and points to a patch of earth seemingly indistinguishable from its neighbors. Upon closer examination you can see the faint remains of hoofprints in the bare soil, and he explains, “Blowout; overly grazed spot. Look at the way the grasses are. What happened to all this soil?” Observations and questions like these are a main component of the two-week-long field biology course that Paul teaches to Semester in the West. This segment takes the group on a tour through the beautiful, rugged, and diverse desert ecosystems of New Mexico with the foundational goal of giving Westies “a sense of why things are the way they are across a landscape.” 
Paul’s connection to the program began when he was attending Lawrence College in his home state of Wisconsin where he became good friends with a politics student named Phil Brick. After four years of spending their weekends whitewater kayaking down the rivers of the Midwest, the two went off to pursue different careers. Phil eventually became a professor at Whitman College while Paul studied evolutionary ecology and population genetics. Today, Paul works as a consulting biologist. With clients such as the Department of Military Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, his projects include everything from creating plans to remove invasive species to researching the biological impact of army training exercises. Paul’s motivation to do this kind of work stems from his passion for ecology and the natural world, or as he put it simply, “I like seeing country…[I] like understanding country. [I] like seeing the relationships across a landscape." 


Westies Reflect on Comb Ridge

Credit Thomas Meinzen

Credit Thomas Meinzen

Since its inception in 2002, Semester in the West has camped on Comb Ridge outside of Bluff, UT. The ridge, an upthrust of Navajo Sandstone, extends from the Abajo Mountains in Utah in the north to Kayenta, Arizona in the south. Each generation of Westies has spent a week exploring the ridge, attending a writing workshop with local authors and many consider the camp and the ridge that envelops it to be the spiritual center of the program. On October 19, 2016, Utah's State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) held an auction for a 320 acre parcel on the Comb that contains Semester in the West's camp, cutting off public access.. In this post, multiple generations of Semester in the West students share writing, poetry and photography inspired by their time on Comb Ridge in remembrance of a place rooted in all our hearts.

Thomas Meinzen, SITW '16, excerpt from Closing Circles

Comb Ridge has eyes.
Eyes for seeing the sea that no human was alive to see,
eyes to continue the age-old dance of water and light and life,
eyes to reflect me into this place.

Water-filled pits of stone to the skimming glance, a long stare into the tenahas of southern Utah opens a window into living memory. For millions of years, an ocean tickled the shores of this cracked land with tendrils of blue and green. Now only the tenahas remain, a vestige of the sea’s vast diversity of color and movement and creation, aquatic soliloquies to the silence of aridity.

Gaea Campe, SITW '10, excerpt from Dwelling in the Desert

….Comb Ridge stretches like the spinal vertebrae of a colossal beast across 120 miles of Utah and Arizona desert. As we hiked out onto the Comb, the escarpment appeared inhospitable to little more than sagebrush lizards and rattlesnakes. Barren aside from a few dwarfed pinyons braving the thin soils, it’s hard to grasp that the Anasazi people inhabited this bone of desert for hundreds of generations. I look at the rock for a long time before I notice shapes carved by a force more deft than the grind of the wind and the reckless tumult of geology. A kiva balances beneath a rock ledge such that it barely deviates from the contour of the surrounding bluffs. Born from the same palette of beige and umber, the manmade structure is almost indiscernible from the natural rock formation. Its continuity with the sandstone is so seamless, a hiker momentarily distracted by conversation, might miss it all together.

Photos by Fields Ford, SITW '16

Photos by Fields Ford, SITW '16

Gabrielle Boisrame, SITW '08,  Comb Ridge as an Old Woman

Photo by Thomas Meinzen, SITW '16

Photo by Thomas Meinzen, SITW '16

Plastic, molten stone buckles and warps below,
Its motions have affected mine.
Layers of sand lain flat by ancient oceans
Which I’d kept hidden beneath my lush green flesh
Rose from dark depths in isostatic struggles
And over many lifetimes eroded, eroded
Washed away by waters which once formed me
But now so quickly seem to drag me always down.
This continues still as I stand, what’s left of me
Softness stolen and replaced with harsh but commanding lines
Cross-bedding and eclectic clasts
Unveiled for all the world to see.
And you wonder at my hanging valleys
Carved by streams whose cool beginnings now
Can barely be but guessed at
By those few who know me best.

Griffin Cronk, SITW '16, excerpt from The Sound of a Water Past
…The pounding, rushing, falling, flowing, slowing, trickling sounds reverberate across the landscape even after the rainwater has rushed away. These sounds pulse from within the rocks. I know because I’ve listened. The rocks told me as I lay pressed against them, whispering knowledge of this place, whispering its memory through my bare gooseflesh. 
If you find yourself wandering tortuously through the desert look no further than the nearest wash. Sit in the sandstone shade. Press your hands or your cheek into the moon chilled ground. Wait for a lizard to scurry by and perform a set of pushups for you. In water’s negative space, you will learn something. There is much for a river to teach you, even if the river is waterless. 

Sarah McConnell-Perkins SITW '04, excerpt from A Soul in Sandstone: Field Notes from Comb Ridge

Photo by Regina Fitzsimmons, SITW '06

Photo by Regina Fitzsimmons, SITW '06

The pool reminds me of a fountain that belonged to my grandmother: a ceramic bowl that held three angular rocks stacked on a bed of smaller round stones, water flowing from above and pooling at the base of the bowl. She has been in my thoughts since a visit to the Edge of the Cedars Museum in Bluff. The museum's basket display was reminiscent of my grandparents' home on the Oregon coast where a corridor stretched from entryway to living space, lined with shelves enclosed in glass. Each shelf held boldly patterned pots and baskets, created in the southwestern United States and in Mexico, with dozens of shapes and sizes represented. Among the baskets was my grandmother's own work, mingled with that of artists she admired as well as her mentors and friends. Now, in this distant corner of the southwest, I find her pots in these potholes, her fountain in these pools, the colors of her creation in this landscape.

Photo by Nina Finley, SITW '16

Photo by Nina Finley, SITW '16

Nina Finley, SITW '16, excerpt from An Imagination

“They walked to the top of the slick-rock hump. The dorsal fin of a stone whale, they called it.
    “Do you remember when we pretended to ride the whale and held our breath?” she asked.
    She loved his imagination. No matter where they went, he found magic lurking just beneath the sandstone, between the points of yucca leaves, hovering over one-seed junipers. His mind spun worlds.
    The top of the whale-fin rock wasn’t really the top; it just looked that way from the bottom. The first time they had climbed there together, she has been devastated to find that their sweaty hike had yielded nothing but a taller peak in the distance. She was out of breath and thirsty. She has always assumed the top of things was objective.”

Collin Smith, SITW '12, excerpt from 13 ways of seeing a Yucca

Photo by Regina Fitzsimmons, SITW '06

Photo by Regina Fitzsimmons, SITW '06

Why, when all the grasses can
    Be soft must the Yucca be

A great, post-modern
Cathedral to the ant
Searching for a way in.

A Yucca is more proud than
A cactus which squats
Low to the ground, trying
To be unnoticed



Gardner Dee, SITW '16, excerpt from For Sale

This place is decidedly Western and somehow transcends that historical narrative. It evokes small fields of summer corn and scorching air standing still, secret alcoves of stained red rock, cliffside granaries and the endless paths of red ants scurrying with purpose over stone. Walking in quiet alcoves and storm-carved amphitheaters in the late-afternoon puts one in the company of Hayduke and other desert wanderers. 
    This sloping stretch of petrified windblown dunes has been sold to benefit the underfunded school halls and scratched wooden desks that are a part of my journey to this place. The Utah public schools of my not so distant youth need this funding. And yet I struggle to translate this landscape into school board budgets. I don’t know what the buyers of the Comb Ridge access parcel plan for the land, but a great loss for the public interest has been sustained with the private purchase of this place.

Hunter Dunn, SITW '16, excerpt from Atop Comb Ridge

Photo by Ben Serrurier, SITW '08

Photo by Ben Serrurier, SITW '08

… It’s been written the desert will seduce your soul and leave you wandering in longing, and even as someone whose heart of hearts will always belong to snowy peaks and evergreen forests, I can feel the tug. The emotions swirling inside me are as varied as the vista that inspires them, yet impossible to pin down when I search within for some concrete, definable reaction. The only thing my probing reveals, after a time, is a dull sadness at the knowledge that I must inevitably descend once more.

            A glance at my wrist confirms this will come sooner rather than later, but in that moment my decision is made: even though I expended the sweat to carry my writing materials up here, for the brief time remaining I’m just going to sit and look, because I may never come back, and if I do, this place will not be the same.

Photo credit Ben Hayes, SITW '08

Photo credit Ben Hayes, SITW '08

Meet Our Speakers: Nathan Schroeder


On a warm afternoon outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Spa in Santa Ana Pueblo, Nathan Schroeder stands in blue jeans, a short sleeved button up work shirt, and black sunglasses. As the Restoration Division Manager for Santa Ana Pueblo in south-central New Mexico, Nathan works  to restore native ecological systems to the Rio Grande river corridor. After spending his undergraduate years at Bowling Green State University, he earned masters degree in natural resources management from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Having worked for contract restoration firms in Chicago for several years, Nathan moved to New Mexico after the Great Recession. Nathan enjoys living and working in Santa Ana despite numerous obstacles to the restoration he’s tasked with completing, foremost among them the gradual strangling of the river by both the Jemez and Cochiti Dams upstream. Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, these dams have significantly degraded the Rio Grande to the point where “the river we have now is not the river we had 70-80 years ago.” Nathan’s work day ranges from the annual introduction of the endangered silvery minnow into the Rio Grande to extensive invasive plant removal along the banks. His restoration work is ecologically focused, often opting for more expensive but environmentally friendly options in plant removal and regeneration. Preservation of remaining natural systems is at the core of his work, for “it's hard to work with systems once you destroy them.”


Gardner Dee

Meet Our Speakers: Courtney White

Courtney White, an author and founder of the Quivira Coalition, lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an area surrounded by jagged peaks and the open range of public lands. He is well aware of how livestock graze these lands; Quivira’s mission is collaborative conservation, specifically cooperation between ranchers and environmentalists. White himself is an exemplar of the confluence of environmentalism and agrarian land use. He started as a Sierra Club activist before, as he puts it, getting “frustrated listening to some of the environmental rhetoric…about how you deal with rural people.” Thus began the journey towards the creation of the Quivira Coalition in 1997. Quivira was inspired by ranchers, who, at the time of White’s frustration, were utilizing environmentally conscious grazing practices, including high-intensity low-duration grazing, which purportedly engenders the regeneration of native grasses. One such rancher is Bill McDonald of southern Arizona, who coined the term ‘radical center.’ The radical center is the space between preservationist environmentalism and disregard for the land’s health. As Courtney explains, “the idea is that we look at these landscapes collaboratively, ranchers and conservationists, and try to find different ways of co-managing [them].” White acknowledges that traditional grazing practices heavily degrade the land; however, when asked if cattle should be grazed on public land, he replies quickly: “of course.” The collaborative median that White and the Quivira Coalition foster offers a long-needed compromise in the context of controversial Western land management and conservation. 

By: Fields Ford

Meet Our Speakers: Lynn and Justin Kirnse

Lynn’s excited voice welcomes us into their house! Timbers point skyward glowing in sunlight; light illuminating perfectly smoothed soft mud walls. It’s airy with polished floorboards, plumb and leveled. The house is set back on the property leaving space for a permaculture designed farm one day. Built by hand from white fir salvaged just ninety miles away from beetle infested woods, bluish stretches mark certain sections of board. Hand jointed, the walls are built with a Larsen Truss Matrix and then insulated with straw mud layers to “build breeze”. They have painstakingly layered each element of this house into being, from design through handy work. “This is my livelihood,” Justin says, shying away from proclaiming himself the expert he is. Lynn gleams, her proudest accomplishment the almost imperceptible arcs of hillsides, swaths of clouds, intensions she has streaked into the mud walls, individualizing it as their own. Two and a half years in the making, their house has taken form, as they build their dreams into reality. Lynn and Justin have spent the last ten years of their life “coming humbly to this” by building and learning as they go. Admiringly, they attribute their skills to their teachers. “Justin always designed for a little more than he knew how to do” Lynn beams, her hands dancing as he smiles, quietly but wide. Proud of where they stand, love wrapped into the placement of each beam and the surface of every wall, they have built a house and together are making a home. 

By: Emma Rollins

Better Know an Educator: Stanley Crawford

Stanley Crawford and his wife Rose Mary moved to Dixon, New Mexico in 1969. Along the
Acequia del Bosque, they built their adobe house brick by 55lb brick. Spurred by the Back-to-the-land movement of the 1960s, Crawford started a life of farming and manual labor. Now, a retired writer of 79 years old, Crawford spends much of his time on this same property, tending to garlic crops on one acre of land and writing during the cold winters of Northern New Mexico. Crawford is a parciente (member) of an acequia, a small irrigation ditch running through his backyard, part of the customary water infrastructure of the region. A parciente is a community member who does their share of upkeep of the acequia in exchange for water, a step below leadership positions of mayor domo and commissioner, both of which Crawford has held in his nearly 50 years in the area. Crawford has drawn inspiration in life and work from this landscape, and has written 11 published works, including novels and essays touching on place, landscape and garlic. He also teaches classes at Colorado College in the department of Southwest studies. Today, Crawford relaxes into a comfortable chair in his adobe-walled living room, the air outside full of swirling yellow Cottonwood trees, characteristic of fall. “I may not be an expert in much, but I am an expert in my land”

By: Amanda Champion

Meet Our Speakers: Robert Templeton

Robert Templeton is an ornithologist and a passionate student of archeology and steward of its artifacts. A longtime resident of Dixon, New Mexico and neighbor to author Stanley Crawford, Robert is Stanley’s point-person for local lore about the area surrounding the Acequia del Bosque. Robert toured the Westies around a pueblo archeological site a few minutes away from his home. Not much is known about this site beyond a survey of the thousands of artifacts visible on the surface, Robert explained, because no graduate student has taken it on for a research project. The style of painted and textured pottery shards suggests the pueblo may have been inhabited for 30-40 years within 1250-1325, the time of the Pueblo 3 people. The site may have been spiritually significant because the culture’s sacred mountains are in its viewshed, one in each cardinal directions. To preserve the site for future research, the Westies took care to leave no trace and keep the clues intact as they explored the many pottery sherds, petroglyphs, and other artifacts found at the site. Robert continues to explore and learn more about this site and its significance in the bigger story of southwest pueblo peoples.

By: Elizabeth Greenfield

Better Know an Educator: Brooke Williams

Brooke Williams believes that each of us has one story that we tell over and over again in many different forms, and, during a writing workshop on Comb Ridge in Bluff, Utah, Williams told us his. Drawing on the work of Carl Jung and others, Williams helped us understand the concept of the “collective unconscious,” the idea that humans share an ancestral memory, accessible within each of us. There are many ways to tap into our collective unconscious, but for Williams this is best done through being outside in wild places. By wandering, following anything that catches the eye, and paying attention to moments of awe, we are able to find our true, wild, inner selves. Williams believes that what is most personal to each of us is also most universal, and an understanding of the collective unconscious can enable us to write a story that is “so personal it is universal”. Furthermore, within these stories are the tools we need solve the problems of today and save our species. We are wasting our time if we do not tell them.

By: Abby Popenoe

Meet Our Speakers: Joe Pachak

Ever since he looked at arrowheads with his father as a small child Joe Pachak has been interested in rock art. Now Joe confidently strides over sandstone and offers detailed descriptions of complex panels. Differentiated primarily by the pottery shards and petroglyphs associated with the site there are four different historic groups of people that inhabited the area around Bluff, UT: Basketmakers and Pueblo 1, 2, and 3. The sites display different styles but with reoccurring motifs of concentric circles, spirals, serpentine lines and anthropomorphs. Each symbol has an important meaning that can help modern viewers learn about these ancient cultures.  As an artist, Joe helps document rock art sites around the Southwest by making precise illustrations of the panels and artifacts. While visitors often feel like they are in the middle of nowhere, Joe is adamant that “the prehistoric people lived there and that was their home and it was not in the middle of nowhere.”

Joe is also involved in the Bluff Arts Festival, organizing events and telling stories. Each year he makes a large sculpture to burn on winter solstice and this year he is in the process of constructing two immense great blue herons.

By Willa Johnson

Better Know an Educator: Ann Walka

According to Anne Walka, a writer and naturalist, there are three sins in writing: using empty words, using too many words, and trying to sound “cool.” Sitting in the sun on Comb Ridge, just west of the small town of Bluff, UT, she challenges Semester in the West students to call out their favorite verbs. A wilderness guide-turned-poet, Anne is the author of books including Waterlines: Journeys on a Desert River and Walking the Unknown River (And Other Travels in Escalante Country). Her comfort in the desert landscape around Comb Ridge is plain to see as she guides us in noticing the place we are in; what it sounds like, what it tastes like, what it feels like. “Can you think of anything as quiet as a lizard’s shadow?” she asks.

By Kenzie Spoone

Meet Our Speakers: Adrian Herder


Adrian Herder of the Chíshsí clan of the Navajo Nation, explains his identity as a strand of DNA. The clans of his mother and father knit together to create a unique individual from familial characteristics. Family is obviously important to Adrian. He traveled home from Flagstaff where he is in school to host the Westies and share the history of the land that his family has inhabited and lived off of for generations. Time tried myths mingled with personal narratives from his childhood as he introduced us to his relatives, sharing poignant stories about their dedication to their individual life’s work.

Adrian is dedicated in his own right. Out of his high school graduating class of 55, only ten attended college or university, and only four or five are now on track to earn their degrees. Adrian is one of them, finishing his senior year at Northern Arizona University where he studies Wellness and Fitness. Though busy with schoolwork, he also guides tours at the picturesque Antelope Canyon, picks and sells local tea, and hosts college students over the weekend.

On our last morning with Adrian, we found a horny toad hiding under a desert shrub. According to legend, this creature fought off a thunderstorm threatening the earth, using its back as a shield to selflessly protect the place it loved. At our departure, Adrian emphasized the need to channel this warrior instinct toward modern environmental and social justice battles. Adrian himself embodies this spirit, generously educating us about his family and culture.

By: Sarah Dunn


Meet Our Speakers: The Matriarchs of Hardrock, AZ

Lorraine Herder

Lorraine Herder

Lena Henley

Lena Henley

Edith Simonson

Edith Simonson

With worn hands and warm smiles, the matriarchs of Black Mesa weave a tale of Navajo tradition persisting vibrantly through the onslaught of technological and environmental change. The youngest three of nine siblings in the Chíshí Diné clan, Lena Henley, Edith Simonson, and Lorraine Herder are experts in carding and spinning wool yarn. They shear the wool from their own sheep and dye it with native plants such as wild carrot, prickly pear, and sagebrush. “It’s an art that’s fading away,” Edith explains, “Only three or four families still spin and dye their own wool.” The final product of her labor, an exquisitely patterned shawl, warms her shoulders. “It’s a long process, but I enjoy doing it.”

Living without running water or electricity, the Chíshí clan sisters make do with what they have: a beautiful place to call home, tight-knit family, and a deep intimacy with the land. In traditional Navajo culture, the women stay and head the clan while the men leave to join their wives. Thus Lena, Edith and Lorraine have lived on Black Mesa since they were born, their memories stretching back to times when springs still flowed abundantly on the mesa and summer rains were frequent and gentle. Now, as they face a water table depleted by coal mining and the erosion caused by more intense monsoons, the matriarchs of Black Mesa represent the fabric that holds their community together, weathering the changes with warm wool and warmer hearts.

By: Thomas Meinzen

Meet Out Speakers: Nicole Horseherder

For Nicole Horseherder, “water is life.” As a founding member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, a member of the Navajo chíshí dine’é clan in the Black Mesa area, and a mother, she is passionate about protecting the water resources that define her home. Horseherder defends her beliefs through action. In 2001, the Black Mesa Water Coalition was formed with the mission to protect both the natural environment and indigenous peoples’ culture from degradation. Nicole was part of one of their first campaigns, which successfully stopped the Peabody Western Coal Company from contaminating and depleting precious groundwater in the Black Mesa area through its use for slurry transportation of coal. Horseherder’s lifestyle reflects a reverence for the place she considers sacred. She is raising her children on rural land long inhabited by her native clan in order to maintain traditional relationships to their food, water, and language. Nicole lives in a place where the modern United States’ values and the Navajo lifestyle rub against one another. Her native farming lifestyle is silenced under the interests of Big Energy and technology is a dangerous distraction from seeing the environment in the ways her ancestors did. Water scarcity in a warming climate makes every one of these concerns more urgent. Despite the challenges, Horseherder has hope for the future: she sees water flowing through everything. Given a cup of water and a cup of oil, she offers, “everyone will always choose the cup of water.”

By: Signe Lindquist

Meet Our Speakers: Marshall Johnson

The number one thing that matters is water Marshall Johnson says as he picks up a large piece of cardboard and sketches on it the Navajo Sandstone Aquifer that lies deep below Black Mesa, a sacred piece of land on the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Aquifer (or N-Aquifer), sits 2,500 feet below ground level and holds extremely pure water due to sandstone filtration. It is the only potable water on the reservation but has a fraught history of water transfers to large-scale farmers and coal fired power plants. Marshall Johnson speaks of how difficult it is to see the water beneath your feet exported to large farming corporations in the southern part of the state and subsidized at a price much cheaper than the water on reservation.

            Marshall Johnson and his wife Nicole Horseherder started a grassroots organization named To Nizhoni Ani (Sacred Water Speaks) as a way for Navajo people to have their voices heard. To Nizhoni Ani, the first environmental group based in the region of Black Mesa, emphasizes water sustainability and education in the local community. They are preserving the water beneath Black Mesa by ending coal slurrying and installing water conservation equipment inside reservation schools, houses, and community buildings. Marshall Johnson and his family are working to instill in others a deeper respect of water, a value that could be treasured everywhere, but most especially in the heart of the arid West.

By Sophie Poukish

Meet our Speakers: Valencia Edgewater

Valencia Edgewater is chíshí dine’é, of the Chiricahua Apache clan, from the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation. She teaches community-based Navajo language and culture classes near her home in Hardrock. In addition, she drives her own vehicle for a family-owned, non-emergency medical transportation company. After earning a master’s degree in bilingual bicultural education from Northern Arizona University, Valencia started using her training to pass on the Navajo language, which she began learning in childhood from her grandmother, to community members and visitors. Valencia teaches through immersion, speaking entirely in Navajo and focusing on ways of thought. Through gestures, images, and the natural environment, Valencia invites her students to learn. She begins a lesson with the sun, orienting her students to the cardinal directions of sunrise, sun passage, sunset, and the North Star. After only an hour of instruction, novice students can point out the directions of the sacred mountains, introduce themselves in Navajo, and ask others to do the same. As a mother of two boys, Valencia is committed to imparting Navajo language and culture to the next generation.

By: Nina Finley

Meet Our Speakers: Brett Isaacs

Even before he left his home in Kayenta, AZ for college, Brett Isaacs knew that he would return home with the skills to improve his community on the Navajo Nation. Brett grew up making things with his hands and after seeing a problem in his community, he found his niche building solar power systems. He graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in American Indian Studies, with a focus in Economic Development, Law and Policy. Brett now makes a living working across the Navajo reservation, building power systems in areas without municipal electricity. Beginning in Shonto, where he lives now, he has expanded out to many of the Navajo Nation’s 110 chapters, where an estimated 18,000 people live without power. Brett designs and builds solar systems for individual houses, larger projects like schools, and also makes mobile systems. Brett has taken his work up to the Standing Rock reservation, allowing the protectors there to power their camp sustainably with a mobile unit that will soon be joined by two more. Brett’s skills allow Navajos to improve their quality of life in dramatic ways. As he says, “we have to maintain our traditional aspect, outlook and culture, and still integrate into a progressing society that is using technology and advancement… You are trying to bridge the two… Fossil fuels are not necessarily the future. We have to start investing into something different, and start believing that that difference is going to pay off at some point.” Brett’s work is making a big difference to Native people across the West.

By: Maggie Baker

Meet Our Speakers: Ed Grumbine

At the edge of a hundred miles of rifted steppe sits Kane Ranch, an unassuming brick building just south of the Arizona-Utah border. Within a chair circle out front, Ed Grumbine thrums with energy as the dynamic focal point for 48 eyes. A veteran university professor, he’s recently found tenure outside academia with the Grand Canyon Trust, a conservation non-profit which owns the historic ranch structure and, since 2008, the grazing permits to 830,000 surrounding acres of public land. Ed oversees the business aspects of those allotments, partnering with a veteran rancher to keep the organization’s 600 cattle in line.

            The former teacher spends equal time asking questions as answering them, and his main line of rhetorical inquiry, “why the hell is an environmental group running cattle?” sparks animated discussion. Our eventual consensus—building relationships with neighboring ranchers and influencing their practices for the land’s benefit—proves correct, and Ed confirms that the strategy has paid dividends. However, putting environmental sensitivity first has the ranch in the red financially, complicating the endeavor’s long-term prospects.

            Asked if he personally would banish cattle from public land, Ed responds affirmatively, but appends two caveats. First, that people still depend on grazing permits to make their living, and second, that the economic and political leverage necessary for a systemic shift towards more sustainable meats simply doesn’t exist. A pragmatist, Ed works to change the system from within, and he leaves us with the mantra “embrace the complexity”, a prominent feature of public lands grazing.

            By: Hunter Dun

Meet Our Speakers: Jason Nez

As the evening light fades into the Milky Way at Kane Ranch Arizona, archeologist Jason Nez pulls into our camp for dinner.  His clothes and face are spotted with black soot—evidence of a long day in the field.  Jason and his colleague Toby have been surveying nearby archeological sites that were recently revealed after the area burned.  Once dinner plates are cleared away, we gather to hear Jason’s stories. He speaks in measured rhythm, spinning words both animate and raw.  One of his stories recounts the night he encountered a skinwalker on an empty forest service road.  Another is about Coyote, the Navajo trickster who feeds on chaos and leads people astray.  Jason explains that in order to combat Coyote, we must collectively “develop the understanding and knowledge to see though the blame he’s (coyote) casting and all of the fear he instigates…we get past it through science, we get past it through study, we get past it through communication.”

Jason first joined the Park Service in 2001 as a ranger at Navajo National Monument.  Since this time, he has become a vocal presence within the field of Native American archeology, giving presentations and promoting cultural outreach throughout the Southwest.  For Jason, the work is of particular significance.  He has spent most of his life on the Navajo Nation, but his genetic lineage is more in line with ancient civilizations he studies.  In his words: “I am Zuni Edgewater, I am born for the Orabi Salt Clan, my mother’s father was tangle people and my father’s father was Mexican people… I’m Navajo culturally, I speak Navajo, I look Navajo, I live Navajo, but genetically, I’m not Navajo.  I can walk in these ruins and know that these used to be my ancestors.” 

By: Maya Aurichio

Meet Our Speakers: Travis Bruner

As the executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, it was Travis Bruner’s job to close grazing allotments through litigation in federal court. From an ecological standpoint, western states should not be grazed, however the delay in seeing the change he fought for on the ground left him unsatisfied with his work. Leaving his job to become the Arizona Forest Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust forced him to alter his political mission while maintaining his own ecological goals. Bruner is now tasked with fostering consensus in collaborations with the Forest Service. Consensus collaborations, which require unanimous agreement, arise from issues including fire, uranium, and grazing. As Bruner sees it, grazing on public land is driven at an enormous loss to tax payers and the environment. His goal of changing the grazing culture is now realized not through federal courts but through collaborations that generate changing mindsets in diverse stakeholders.

By: Griffin Cronk

Better Know an Educator: Roger Clark

“Hello Mr. Raven,” Roger Clark, of the Grand Canyon Trust, interrupts himself to greet a raven whirling above him on the west rim of Marble Canyon in Arizona. Roger has poised himself here because of his belief that a person should intimately know the places they work for. As the Grand Canyon Program Director this is the landscape he has dedicated his work, and impressive education, towards. Roger received his Master’s degree and PhD from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and quickly took up a position at Berkley as an assistant professor of Forest Sociology. His love of academia and his students kept him in the job until he was convinced, at the suggestion of one of his students, to become a river guide at 30 years old. For the next ten years Roger’s love of the natural world and education blended together on western rivers. His work for the Grand Canyon Trust, which began in 1989, consists of the promotion of renewable energy, the fight against uranium mining around the Grand Canyon, and work to stop a proposed tramway that would run into the bottom of the canyon. Meeting Roger, it is clear why his classes at Berkley were stock full of 300 students. Everything he says is wrapped in a laugh and it is as easy to ask questions of him as it is to joke with him. Roger Clark’s devotion, humor and knowledge stand as a powerful force in his Northern Arizonan community.

By: Grace Butler