We invite you to watch or attend two public presentations of our work, our "Western Epiphanies." Presentations will be on a diverse set of topics, including climate change and public lands, conservation, forest health, stream restoration, rural community development, energy, water, national parks, wildlife, environmental justice, life on the Navajo Reservation, and much more.
Westies will present one brief landscape image and one short essay, each capturing some aspect of their extended encounter with the people and landscapes of the American West. Visual images will accompany each presentation.
Please consider coming out to support our students and to enjoy some inspiring stories about the West and its remarkable people and landscapes.
We hope to see you there!! Below is a list of students who will be reciting their work this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Presentations begin at 4pm in Maxey Auditorium.
Livestreams Available (start at 4PM each day)
Eliza Van Wetter
Juan Pablo Liendo Molina
Class of 2021, Biology
Thetford Center, VT
Favorite Camp: A grassy crest of Starvation Ridge, north of Enterprise, Oregon
“I want to do good in the world, and I want to have a positive effect and have some sort of lasting change, but also to make the world a more beautiful place.”
The Dream, 1: Be involved in cutting-edge scientific research
Clara Hoffman has already had an impact as a scientist on the frontier of biological research. In high school, on the semester program at the Island School, she conducted marine studies of conch and her results were integrated into the fishing policy of the Bahamas. Later, at the Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory, Clara worked with ancient microorganisms found in the permafrost of the Arctic Circle and the microbial bioremediation of munitions and petroleum on military sites.
The Dream, 2: Translate that research through art in writing and photography
The Island School also cultivated a love for writing in Clara. Assignments centered on “natural history writing” and vivid descriptions of reef ecosystems. Embarking on Semester in the West, the writing of dispatches and other sensory scene descriptions has been Clara’s favorite part of the curriculum, but she admits to feeling insecure around some of the more experienced writers on the trip. Clara’s taken this in a positive direction: “This has made me want to be a better writer more than anything that’s ever happened in my life.”
The Dream, 3: Communicate in a way that is impactful to non-scientists
Clara balances a scientist’s mindset with a rural worldview, a talent not common in the West. Thinking of Wallowa County rancher Todd Nash, a passionate anti-wolf activist, she says “I feel for you, and I can still disagree with your opinions.” This consideration runs both ways, as she found wolf biologist Gabe Spence’s perspective on wolf conservation (“it’s just the moral thing to do”) disturbingly inconsiderate of ranching values. Clara’s deep-rooted belief is that if these two people sat down with one another, “there could be some interesting dialogues. There are a lot of problems that can be solved with plain communication.”
‘Plain’ is key in that sentiment. Researcher John Williams has worked on the wolf predation problem, and communicates his results in easy-to-read papers full of understandable charts and images, but refuses to acknowledge his bias toward ranchers. Recognition of one’s biases and complicity is key to communication, Clara believes. “Can’t you try to understand something that you don’t have experience in?”
By Mitch Cutter
Photo by Abby Hill
Class of 2021, Rhetoric Studies
Favorite Camp: The slickrock of Comb Ridge, near Bluff, UT
“I’m not sure that I expected such constant contradiction.”
Applying to Whitman, Aliza Anderson-Diepenbrock never truly considered Semester in the West: a cool program, but not fitting into the “Aliza Plan,” which involved psychology and a heavy interest in the politics of incarceration. In her first year at Whitman, she took that plan in a new direction, one that included Semester in the West. After a high school experience largely based on international travel, Aliza felt it was necessary look critically at the issues taking place close to home. Aliza saw this program as an opportunity to learn in what ways she, as a “Citizen of the West,” can step into the radical work that needs to take place.
The West is full of contradictions: from kind ranchers who endorse feedlots and the brutal killing of wolves, to wild places that are no longer wild, Aliza found herself caught between differing perspectives of equally likeable people and the paradoxes of conservation. Semester in the West presents speakers one after the other, often with little time to reflect on how they align with one another. Aliza has found her own method to sort out this madness, via active listening that incorporates, “empathy and critique at the same time.” Holding her own core beliefs closely, she looks for the problematic power structures that both our group and guest speakers perpetuate. However, she does so with the intent of still learning from these people and experiences.
Author Amy Irvine cast this tactic as one not only of evaluating others, but oneself as well. Amy spoke on the value of making one’s own voice heard, but also of making sure to “find ways in which you are complicit” in injustice and environmental degradation. This stuck with Aliza as she examined her own hypocrisies. In finishing Amy’s writing assignment, a comment letter on the Draft Management Plan for Bears Ears National Monument, she asked herself, “is this really for me to speak on?” After time focused on engaging critically in this complex part of our country, Aliza decided that while her privileged voice should not be the loudest, she can use it to speak, and in small ways like this, insist upon change.
By Mitch Cutter
Photo by James Baker
Associate; Brennan, Jewett, & Associates
Founder/Owner; Brennan, Jewett, & Associates
To most people, California is not the place for rice farming. Years of drought and groundwater pumping so extreme that the Central Valley is literally sinking are not generally conditions that are conducive to a water-intensive crop like rice. Emily James is an associate at John Brennan’s land management firm, Brennan, Jewett, & Associates, and work together to manage the historic Davis Ranch, near Colusa, CA. The ranch has been owned by the same family since 1857, so its water rights predate the damming and overallocation of the Sacramento River. Wielding the power of these rights, John and Emily are helping the farm find direction and stay relevant in a changing world.
That relevance initially came from restoring habitat for shore birds. By shifting the flooding of rice fields, the ranch was able to mimic the historical Central Valley floodplain and provide habitat for waterfowl. Today, the ranch works with the Audubon Society, Nature Conservancy, and Point Blue Observatory, and its fields are home to 230 species of wildlife in an area where wildlife has been pushed out by agriculture and urban sprawl since the nineteenth century.
Since, the ranch has also begun to plant hedgerows with native plants that provide corridors for animals like deer that are otherwise left without contiguous habitat. They have also begun a project to plant milkweed and other flowering plants to support monarch butterflies in their migration. Emily and John stressed how starkly these choices strayed from the pesticidal practices that farming in the United States has embraced since the 1970’s. These projects are not just benefitting habitat connectivity, they are serving Davis Ranch economically. Brennan’s push to commodify labels and certifications from partners like the Audubon Society on packaging help to sell and create a market for sustainable farming. Rather than work backward in an area where water is highly monitored and controlled by humans, through the help of John Brennan and Emily James, Davis Ranch and others like it are finding ways to create habitat for wild animals by working within the limits of human development.
By Darby Williams
Conservation Project Manager, Audubon California
Sami Arthur stands, neck craned back, below a cotton candy sky as waterfowl take flight from the ponds surrounding us. Birds turn into black specks as they rise, joining the flow of thousands of others to the neighboring rice fields. Sami picks out Snow Geese, Egrets, and Pinstripe Ducks from the nearly liquid mass of birds with an expert’s eye. But Sami has not always been into birds. Upon getting her current job at the California Audubon Society, she had to study up on birds, but this was part of the allure of her position as Program Director: “I love that sort of learning.” Before her current position she described herself as a “fish person.” She graduated from Whitman with an Environmental Studies—Biology degree and wrote her thesis on salmon populations. She attended graduate school and debated getting her PhD, but decided that she was more interested in community engagement and ground-level conservation than research.
One of her first jobs was with a land trust in Northern California, where she learned that working with farmers and landowners on conservation projects was what she was excited about. Sami met with us at the Davis Ranch outside Colusa, just north of Sacramento, and shared her work with tri-colored blackbirds and groundwater recharge. Both of these projects involve engagement from the agricultural community, which Sami emphasizes as one of the reasons she loves her job and stays engaged. Sami explains that on projects, “I speak for the birds,” but also emphasizes the importance of making sure conservation works well for everyone involved.
By Clara Hoffman
Class of 2020, Environmental Studies—Sociology
Favorite Campsite: a restored ranch house overlooking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, at Kane Ranch, Arizona
When David Dregallo applied to Whitman College, he knew he wanted to embark on Semester in the West. There were many other things outstanding about the College: the Environmental Studies department, the men’s Ultimate team, and the chance to reside in a beautiful place far from home. David set SITW as his goal, and came to Whitman to achieve it. This sort of purposeful existence defines him: while on the program, David started looking for new places to live after graduation, comparing each to his home in Vermont. One step after another.
Early on our journey, David realized that the shifting and constantly mobile nature of the program did not fit his preferences. He describes himself as “much more of a sedentary person”, and the whirl of locations and speakers was bewildering. Caught up in his preexisting belief in the grazing methods of Allan Savory, David was surprised to find ecologists like Mary O’Brien who vilify that man and his methods. These differences in opinion are impossible to reconcile, so he followed the advice of collaborative group mediator Steven Daniels: find the areas of agreement, the connections between people and places. Collaborative efforts thrive on these small victories, which David claims is thanks to “respect for people’s ways of life.”
Quickly, David recognized that the passion driving Yellowstone conservationists to protect bison and wolves also fuels volunteers for the Sonoran Institute in Mexico, removing invasive tamarisk trees. These places are thousands of miles apart, and yet there is a strong desire in each to, as David puts it, “make it the best place.” David sees these efforts not as some conscious effort to “fix” the past wrongs of development, but as an innate love for a location and a community.
David seeks to replicate this path in his own life after Whitman. While many environmentalists tend to jump into issues, he “wouldn’t want to go to a place just to fix it.” Still looking for his place (Wallowa County, Northern New Mexico, and Tom Miner Basin were all close, but not perfect), David plans to choose his cause once he arrives, but no sooner. One step after another.
By Mitch Cutter
Photos by Darby Williams and Emma Jones
Juan Pablo Liendo
Class of 2021, Environmental Studies—Politics
Favorite Campsite: a grassy meadow among ponderosa pine, overlooking Winthrop, Washington, and the Methow Valley
The road to the American West was long for Juan Pablo, or JP, as everyone knows him. Born in Venezuela, his school experience took him to UWC Robert Bosch College (UWCRBC) in Germany, then to its sister school in China, UWC Changshu, as a resident assistant and student mentor. JP was guided to Whitman College by its Environmental Studies department and its reputation as a sustainable school.
Sustainability has interested JP for a long time. Venezuela is a country largely dependent on its reserves of oil, and while that has lent the nation immense “environmental privilege,” Venezuela has not sought to diversify their sources of energy. In contrast, Germany is well-regarded as among the world’s leaders in sustainable development; the mission of UWCRBC is to teach “how technology can contribute to sustainable, ecologically responsible development”
In light of these experiences, JP was disappointed with the reality of sustainable efforts at Whitman: no compost, few sources of renewable energy, and widespread waste of energy and food. JP wondered to himself: “What can I do myself?”
With SITW, JP has found that Whitman’s behaviors are in connection with towns and rural places of America. Environmental degradation is prevalent in the forests, plains, and deserts of the West, but there is also a blueprint for JP’s future in fixing these problems. From Kent Woodruff, a retired ecologist in the Methow Valley of Washington, found the importance of community: Kent was only able to achieve his long list of accomplishments with the help of a diverse group of others. JP realized that, to truly effect change in the world, “You cannot do it on your own.” The Sonoran Institute’s heavy emphasis on community outreach in the Colorado River Delta also impacted him, providing “proof that I can do powerful work myself if I have local support.”
JP doesn’t see himself as a future activist, but as a player in the political system here in the US, or home in Venezuela. Among his dreams is forming a trade & political bloc of Latin American countries, similar to the EU, since there are such strong bonds between nations in that region. Certainly, if Juan Pablo makes that happen, he won’t have forgotten that “communities are incredibly important to environmental and political change.”
By Mitch Cutter
Photo by Clara Hoffman
Yucca Valley, CA
The Dumont Dunes ORV area in Death Valley is not especially picturesque. The dun hills are scabbed by tire tracks and there are few plants, leaving the dust and sand free to be flung about by the regularly passing winds.
Ray Bransfield and Peter Sanzenbacher, employees of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), squinted into the day’s wind and struggled to be heard over the sound of the child’s dirt bike that buzzed wide circles around us. Historically, local ORV clubs came to the dunes to race and ride illegally. As multiple-use pressure mounted on management agencies, the dunes became a designated ORV area in recognition of this historical usage. But, as we asked Ray, why? Why reward illegal recreation with an official designation?
If you were to follow Ray’s thumb across the highway, you might find an endangered desert tortoise wending its leisurely way through the sagebrush. These creatures, resilient and rare, face an embattled future in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts against long odds of habitat fragmentation and degradation. ORV recreationists, notably, have been known to accidentally crush the slow-moving tortoises—their desert camouflage, while effective protection against natural predators, proves their undoing in the face of children on ATVs.
Much of Ray’s and Peter’s work has been to mitigate these instances in which recreation impacts wildlife. Desert tortoises are not the only potential victims: gesticulating in excitement, Peter provided an animated explanation of the spadefoot toad, which, mistaking the rumble of an ATV motor for the sound of thunder, will rise from its subterranean refuge in hopes of rain. As Ray explained, Dumont Dunes are a sacrifice zone, a place where extractive uses are concentrated to preserve habitat elsewhere.
Ray is approaching his retirement after decades with the USFWS, while Peter still has much of his career left ahead of him, and their work provides some hope that future reconciliation between recreation and conservation of public lands might move at a pace faster than a desert tortoise’s.
By Noah Dunn
Photos by Abby Hill
Senior Policy Advisor, Conservation Strategy Group
San Francisco, CA
Professor of Environmental Humanities, UCLA
Los Angeles, CA
Next to a stone house in a small canyon in southern California, buffeted by wind, Semester in the West met with Jon Christensen and Graham Chisholm, an author and environmentalist, respectively. Graham Chisholm has spent much of his life in the conservation world of California, working as the head of conservation for the California branch of the Nature Conservancy, and now as an independent consultant helping small environmental non-profits get established. One of the biggest lessons which he has taken with him through his work in the conservation sector, has been that “to be human, you have to think that things can get better”. It is with this optimism that Graham sees the future of the environmental movement: green spaces in cities are as influential as our national parks in informing a person’s view of what nature is.
Jon, tall and wearing an inquisitive smile as he speaks, has spent much of his life as a writer. With a writing history including a stint as a contributing writer at High Country News, he is currently a professor of Environmental Humanities at UCLA. There he tries to tell his students to find stories that don’t close in “dead-end standoffs”, a lesson he learned at HCN, and that the most important thing your writing can do is to have an impact. He explains one of the most important lessons he gained from a lifetime of writing: you have to let things have a point of view, and an agenda in order for their impact be felt.
Both Graham and Jon, though past middle age, and having worked in their respective fields for many years, remain positive in their thoughts for the future. And as they both said, we should look forward to the future as well.
By David Dregallo
Photos by Jessie Brandt
“We were just scrambling, those of us who wanted to stay, to have some kind of economic base… We consciously made the decision to move from tourism to eco-tourism.”
Susan Sorrells, born and raised in Shoshone, California, is now the leading force in bringing environmental and economic life back into the small town of. After the closure of railroad and mining industries which once brought riches to the town, Shoshone is now revising its priorities. “It’s a clean slate, so to speak…it was a mining area historically, so for a long time (environmental) places weren’t valued…Most of us are here because we love the land…we revel in being a community that interacts and supports one another, and we’re hoping to incorporate healthy communities into our environmental work that we do.”
Partnering with the Amargosa Conservancy, Susan’s hopes for environmental consciousness and eco-tourism have come alive. Just within the last decade, the accidental discovery of natural springs and endangered Shoshone Pupfish on Susan’s land have led to wetland restoration and legally protected environmental sanctuaries for multiple threatened species. “Those of us here really have an opportunity to mold how we so call ‘develop’…in Shoshone, we’ve chosen to develop by incorporating the natural resources,” says Susan, excited and proud of how far the town has come.
By Hannah Morel
Photos by Amara Killen
Executive Director, Amargosa Conservancy
Tanya Henderson, a funky and driven transplant to the Mojave Desert from California’s Bay Area, leads the Amargosa River Conservancy. After graduating from Whitman College in 2005, Tanya sought out ways to fulfill her passion for conservation, bringing her to the small town of Shoshone, California (population 31). Tanya and the Conservancy strive to protect the wilds, waters, and communities of the Amargosa River Basin which starts at Yucca Mountain (a proposed nuclear waste storage site) and ends in the lowest point in Death Valley. It contains the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, home to more endemic species than any other place in the United States.
In an area with so many critical habitats and endangered species, Tanya and the Conservancy are making huge environmental strides. A small organization, they work to involve the communities of the basin in important decision making, hold educational events, develop work projects that connect people to the land, and monitor endangered species populations. While with Tanya , Semester in the West participated in one of the Conservancy’s work projects, removing invasive cattails from important desert pupfish habitat and sweeping away off highway vehicle (OHV) tracks in the desert to prevent further destruction of desert soils.
Tanya has creatively found ways to engage and involve the communities near and far in protecting the unique water source that is the Amargosa and the desert oases it nurtures. Tanya’s dedication and obsession for desert ecosystems is exemplified in her work to protect the Amargosa vole and the desert pupfish species endemic to the Mojave. Tanya and the Conservancy hope to protect their small oasis while connecting it to the larger desert ecosystem through education, science, and community involvement.
By Whitney Rich
Photos by Nina Moore
Class of 2020, Environmental Studies—Politics
Favorite Campsite: Stanley Crawford’s Home in Dixon, NM
Plenty happened on the night of November 8th, 2016. For one, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. For another, at Saint Andrews University in Scotland, Cindy Abrams’ New Zealander friend was laughing and joking at what had transpired across the Atlantic in America. Feeling “demoralized and powerless,” Cindy decided to repurpose her life. After leaving the US to study international relations in a foreign nation far from home, with few intentions of ever returning home, she started thinking about how to make an impact domestically, rather than internationally.
That new direction eventually took Cindy to Whitman College as a transfer student. An early interest in environmental politics convinced her to apply for Semester in the West, but a Spring Break service trip to the Navajo Reservation showed that her voice belongs in the American West. The student group’s Navajo hosts pleaded with students to call attention to ongoing pollution issues in the area related to a coal mine, saying, “We want our voices to be heard and echoed by you.”
Taking this plea to heart, Cindy has dedicated her time on Semester in the West to finding her own voice as a writer. Through the Epiphany writing assignments and writing workshops with guest authors, Cindy has rediscovered story telling as a creative outlet. Writing for journalist Ben Goldfarb, she realized that until then, she “hadn’t had fun writing in ten years.” The further away from traditional academic writing the assignment got, the more fun she had. In the midst of one of poet Ann Walka’s creative writing sessions, Cindy remembers, “I didn’t want to stop.”
Cindy sees this newfound interest leading to a career in publishing or environmental journalism. Goldfarb’s description of life as a journalist was particularly captivating: conducting interviews, traveling to the issues, and talking to someone new every day. In short, exactly what she’s done on Semester in the West.
By Mitch Cutter
Photos by James Baker and Juan Pablo Liendo
Urban Projects Department Assistant, Sonoran Institute
Mexicali, Baja California
“El restoración no pelea con las necesidades economicas,” explains Cristina Perea, a 31-year old with feisty energy, contagious laughter, and a keen eye: restoration and economic needs don’t fight with each other, they can go hand in hand. Cristina studied International Relations in undergrad, and mastered in Planning and Sustainable Development, both from Universidad Autónoma de Baja California at the Mexicali headquarters. As part of the Delta team for the Sonoran Institute, Cristina has worked as the Urban Projects Department assistant for two years. It’s clear that this woman is excited about working with other humans. Strolling along the Rio Hardy with misty peaks in view above the flat desert, Cristina spoke about two land owners working with the Sonoran Institute to restore the riverside for a future camping and cabin spot. One land owner is a fisherman, the other a government official, and both realize the economic possibilities that come with supporting the Rio Hardy native ecology.
Cristina shared the lesson learned when cottonwoods and willows were planted—they died due to a lack of water. Since, with the help of volunteers, Sonoran Institute has introduced mesquite along the bank. One day last July, 900 trees were planted, and we were asked to imagine the density of the shore in just a few years.
Cristina told us that this project is major because since its fruition, other land owners have been asking the Sonoran Institute to start restoration work on their land as well. While land owners, like the two involved in this project, are able to take hold of an opportunity for economic development, the Institute is able to manifest watershed restoration on that private land, which ultimately benefits the surrounding communities—both human and non-human. After the first two years in which the Institute pays for the Rio Hardy re-planting, the adjacent land owners will fund a percentage of future ecological work with the income they receive from their improved land.
People don’t move away from their home in Mexicali often, but there is an influx of outsiders from other parts of Mexico that settle in the area. Cristina admits she is happy to continue to live and work in the fertile valley because there are plenty of restoration projects yet to be carried out.
By Jessie Brandt
Gabriela González Olimón
Environmental Education and Investigation Coordinator, Sonoran Institute
Mexicali, Baja California
In the middle of the Baja Californian desert, the sun is hot, water is scarce, and vegetation is rare. The trails of the Colorado River remind of what once was a vegetated area fed by the river. Suddenly, a forest of cottonwood trees appears. These were replanted five years ago and refuse to give up to the harsh conditions of the desert. They stand strong, the same way Gaby Gonzalez does when she confidently talks to us about her work and passion as a conservationist.
Gaby is a biologist, currently working as Environmental Education and Investigation Coordinator at the Sonoran Institute in Baja California, Mexico. Before, she spent six years of her life volunteering at different conservation projects across the US. SITW first met her back in 2014, interning at Grand Canyon National Park. Gaby mainly works in the Laguna Grande conservation area, designing educational programs and overseeing the monitoring of projects.
One of Gaby’s most important goals is to introduce communities to the reserve and raise awareness for the restoration projects there. She explains that when people visit the reserve, they are often surprised by nature. Gaby claims that people don’t often listen to the sounds of nature and animals. She mentions that one of her most impressive experiences with guests has been “people crying when they listen to the sound of trees being moved by the wind.” She regrets that lots of locals don’t even know that a century ago, the Baja California desert used to look like Laguna Grande currently does.
Gaby and the Sonoran Institute employees represent a new generation of environmentalists whose work goes beyond the environment. They also work in outreach by developing a relationship which empowers communities to take on and sustain the conservation projects in the future.
Gaby shares the Sonoran Institute’s dream of bringing people closer to nature so they can develop a relationship with it. She even looks at herself as two different people: “office Gaby” is sometimes moody, confined in the city of Mexicali, and “forest Gaby” is always happy with internal peace and closeness to nature.
By Juan Pablo Liendo Molina
Colorado River Delta Program Director, Sonoran Institute
Mexicali, Baja California
“We need to tell more positive stories, especially today. You guys can tell them.” I’ll start with the story of the very man who gave us this encouragement: Francisco Zamora. He directs the Colorado Delta region for the Sonoran Institute in Mexicali, Mexico. Francisco saw a barren desert and dreamed of a river winding through a dense forest. After several years of perseverance, his dream came true. He talks to us at Laguna Grande, one of the sites where he’s created life. The banks of the river are green, and beyond them grows a beautiful forest consisting of coyote willow, mesquite, and cottonwood.
The haven has ameliorated the lives of a host of species, including humans. Locals come to the newly created biome and are often profoundly moved, seeing nature for the first time. “At the beginning there was no recognition from the people about the environment, and now I see a new attitude towards restoration…People in Mexicali know about the Grand Canyon, but not the Colorado River that’s in their own backyard.” The Sonoran institute is finally getting discovered, one planted tree at a time.
He began his talk by saying “this morning, I got a flat tire, and two policemen came and helped me change the tire. That tells me there’s still a lot of hope, and there are still good people on the Earth.” Francisco reminds us to dream, care, give, and remain positive. If just a quarter of the world embodies his sentiment, we’ll be just fine.
By Luke Ratliff
Photos by Luke Ratliff
Class of 2020, Environmental Studies—Biology
Favorite Campsite: A dusty road outside Jackpot, NV
Nina Moore wants to talk to you. She wants to share just a part of what she’s seen in Maine, Indonesia, and, now, the American West. A seeker of adventure constantly looking for new things to do, Nina struck out from her home in Maine after high school to work in Jackson Hole, WY for Grand Teton National Park as a summer trail crewmember.
After growing up on the east coast, Nina chose Whitman College because it gave her “a backdoor to the West,” which, even after three years, still feels novel. In Walla Walla, Nina enjoys hiking and skiing in the adjacent “kinda mysterious” Blue Mountains and playing on the women’s lacrosse team.
On Semester in the West, Nina has found joy in the simple things: “Where I am, and who I’m with.” Similarly, simple and pure passion for a place or a field is what inspires Nina. Ecologists Janet Millard and Paul Arbetan, in particular, fascinate her and have made her realize that following one’s passion is worth the accompanying pain of things not always going the right way.
Taking Janet as an example, Nina knows that running one of the Northwest’s most important raptor migration centers at Chelan Ridge is a difficult job with ephemeral government funding. So why do it? Nina found a glimmer of the answer in the primal eyes of a sharp-shinned hawk in hand. It takes a “big-hearted person” with the right set of values to connect with a raptor, but it is these instinctive moments of connection with another species or a place that make bureaucratic infighting for resources a bearable chore.
Through SITW, Nina’s attention has been drawn to communicating the important of places like Chelan Ridge. That story starts with endangered raptors, but ends with the people like Janet who work there; combining ecology and heartfelt stories of human passion. She hopes to start that work as soon as the program ends, coming to her spring semester classes with ecological principles, vignettes of environmental enthusiasm, and the knowledge gleaned from the amber eyes of a sharp-shinned hawk to share.
By Mitch Cutter
Photo by Jessie Brandt
Consulting Ecologist, Natural Heritage New Mexico
Through his work with New Mexico’s Department of Military Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, Paul Arbetan is a frequent visitor to the savannas and deserts of southern New Mexico. During our time with him as our guide, we explored the ecosystems of the Chihuahuan Desert through just a few of his many projects, including grassland, lichen, cactus, and Gray Vireo surveys.
Paul taught the Semester in the West students to read and understand a landscape and all its players through many lenses and places. Hiking to the snowy summit of Lake Peak outside of Santa Fe, he challenged us to consider how the adaptive suites of alpine plants might be altered due to climate change. Under the scorching sun of Roswell, we scoured arroyos and sinkholes in search of a rare, tiny, lime green lichen. Paul asked us the hard questions: why protect such a small, seemingly insignificant organism? To guide us toward answers (or perhaps just more questions), he incorporated regular philosophy readings and discussions into days spent counting grasses in the field.
Serenaded by the wrens of Boquillas Canyon amid a 3-day canoe trip on the Rio Grande, Paul paused in a discussion of Hegel’s dialectic to ask us why the little birds might be calling so late in the season. On one of our last days with Paul, we walked along the basalt talus slope of Black Mountain outside Deming, New Mexico, in search of a rare cactus that only grows under creosote bushes. We asked Paul how he keeps faith in his work and conservation as he watches this cactus population plummet towards extinction. He answered simply, “This is what I love to do. I’m selfish — I’m just having fun.”
To that end, Paul brought a lightheartedness to the otherwise science-heavy segment. Highlights included the company of Paul’s curious 6-year-old daughter, Esme (who impressed us with her fluency in the ecological vernacular of the New Mexican savannah), slurping Blizzards during a crash course on statistics conducted in a gas station Dairy Queen, and some first-class dance moves on our final night together. A close college friend of Director Phil Brick’s, it didn’t take long for Paul to likewise become a dear friend and mentor to the Westies.
By Nina Moore and Clara Hoffman
Photo by Whitney Rich
Author & Garlic Farmer
The clock ticked forcefully against the silence of the scarlet living room, warmed by the yellow hues of cottonwood shining through a well-centered six-pane window. Adjacent to the neat panes stood a tower of novels, two stories high, each level tilted in discord with the last, elegant in its tenuousness. In every sense of the phrase, Stanley Crawford’s home is self-made. From the adobe bricks to the pinyon pine crossbeams, the house reflects his hard-working and passionate character.
Crawford is a writer, professor, and garlic farmer who owns and operates the El Bosque garlic farm in Dixon, New Mexico, a small town of 800 people nestled between Taos and Santa Fe. Since his arrival in 1969, Stanley has been integrating himself into the Dixon community, serving as a mayordomo (water channel manager), while helping to establish the local co-op. Primarily, Stanley is a garlic farmer, producing many different varieties throughout the spring and summer growing seasons to sell at the surrounding farmers markets in the fall. Stanley also teaches part time in the Southwest Studies department at Colorado College and is a renowned writer of non-fiction. His works primarily focus on ecological issues, including the nearby Los Alamos National Laboratory, water management, and of course, garlic farming.
In his parting words to the group, Stanley emphasized the importance of unpacking abstractions, writing shorter sentences, and embracing creativity in writing. Additionally, the students were also introduced to the routines of life on a small farm. Peeling garlic, planting garlic, and eating garlic became our second job. From Stanley, students learned as much about how to live a valuable life as they did about writing and garlic.
By James Baker
We sat huddled around a small fire on the Black Mesa Reservation with multiple generations of the Herder family. A delighted smile flashed across Adrian Herder’s face as he narrated ghost stories in the last bit of the day’s light. At twenty-six years old, Adrian is full of enthusiasm and is eager to share stories and the history and heartache of the Navajo land. Continuing in his family’s footsteps, he is a dedicated activist and originally connected with the Semester in the West program through contacts he made at an environmental conference held by the Grand Canyon Trust in 2014. Like many young people on the reservation, Adrian left to pursue his education at Northern Arizona University but, unlike most, he was able to find a job back home coaching cross country and teaching art at the small high school in Pinon, thereby avoiding the all too common migration from reservation to city in search of work.
In our few days on the Navajo Reservation with the Herder family, we were welcomed with a rare openness and warmth. As we introduced ourselves, the Herders asked us why we were there and what we wanted to gain from our experience. In resounding unity, we answered, “to listen.” Adrian’s grandfather, Dan, told us that the animals used to lead them to the water sources, but now, due to the repercussions of the coal plant on the reservation and the rising impacts of climate change (the southwest being at the forefront of it), the soil has become dry and barren, almost uninhabitable. A sense of urgency and heartache emanated from each member of the Herder family as they spoke to us about how Peabody Coal has impacted their home and Black Mesa. “Our pristine aquifers have been sucked dry,” Dan explained. The only spring that flows near the Herder residence now is beneath a large rock canyon, and according to Dan, “It’s barely enough water to wet your hands and knees as you crawl through the rock wall tunnel.”
The next day, Adrian led us to a site where we helped lift rocks and move fallen trees to create gabions: small dams used for erosion control. The Herders work vigilantly to divert rainwater, slow erosion, and create nutrient rich soil for vegetation growth. We listened, and the concerns were heard loud and clear. What will this land look like with the absence of water? What will it mean for the livestock, wildlife, and residents of Black Mesa, all of whom depend on water as a vital, life sustaining resource.
By Lauren Ewell
Photo by Jessie Brandt