August 31, 2022
Greetings new friends and welcome back to our devoted followers! It's been about six years since we spoke last, and there's been a lot of changes since then. Our latest and greatest blog is pivoting gears away from my work with wildlife and shifting towards my venture with my partner Mark: our knitting business, Bears Den Essentials. If you know me, you've known that I'm a lifelong knitter who usually has one (or three) WIPs going at any given time. After getting Mark hooked on knitting shortly after we started dating, we decided to found Bears Den Essentials as a way to share our love of crafting with the world.
Our website is now live and offers you a way to shop, follow, and download patterns from us. We will be sharing patterns, recommendations, tutorials, and general updates with you from time-to-time. If you'd like to stay up-to-date, sign up for our newsletter below! Check out our video to see our knitting studio and stay tuned for more!
January 23, 2016
Since it has been way too long since my last blog post, a lot has changed and evolved in my own life, and I have been remiss in keeping updates about the research side of things due to a >brief< 279 page document that is my final dissertation. I have a number of things that I should be writing about today: my move to Montana last spring, my defense (which was successful), my current happenings…However, rather than focus on any of that, which there is plenty of time for, I wanted to reboot my musings by sharing the Acknowledgements section of my dissertation. If there’s one thing I’ve come to love and enjoy about my work, it is that it is collaborative in nature. These collaborations have come in all shapes and forms–research colleagues, old friends, new friends, strangers turned family–from all of these relationships, I am a better person as a result. While the East Coast is getting hit with the first snow of the season, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Bozeman, where we’ve already received a number of snowy and below-zero days. For my loved ones in the East, stay warm and don’t let a little snow slow you down. As I go about shaping and crafting my next projects, which I promise to share more about in the coming months, let me first share a message for the people who have helped get me to this point:
When I was eight, I began spending my summers living with my grandparents out on Shelter Island in New York. Far from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I spent my days running around with a frenetic energy in the ocean, bike paths, and a musty cottage. During this time, I developed a love of the natural world and a fascination with the fellow animals I would encounter: jellyfish that stung me, deer that would walk across my path on late nights I slept outside on the deck, and osprey that would show up every evening at five to search for crabs near the beach. Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather would observe me on my daily adventures, and he once described me as having a reckless abandon for life. This description can sometimes prove detrimental due to my tendency towards impatience and desire to figure everything out at once. However, it has also meant that I’ve never been short on passion. In the field of conservation, one needs passion because it is that passion, or love, that pushes you forward. I recently heard a quote that reminded me of the answer that I give people who ask how I keep going despite the seemingly hopeless and uphill battles facing our planet:
“The assumption is that hope is a prerequisite for action. Without hope one becomes depressed and then unable to act. I want to stress that I do not act because I have hope. I act whether I have hope or not. It is useless to rely on hope as motivation to do what’s necessary and just and right. Why doesn’t anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight. We are going to have to fall in love with place again and learn to stay put.” (Janisse Ray, The seed underground: A growing revolution to save food)
As anyone who has ever undertaken something lengthy such as a dissertation or worked on a task that feels insurmountable, there are many days where hope feels unattainable or even realistic. For me, on the days where I’ve felt discouraged or hopeless, I am reminded of my own reckless abandon that I got to enjoy as a child who was lucky enough to learn that the world is bigger than she is. That love then, is what keeps me going, and it gives me the fight to figure out how to change the rules of the conservation game that we’ve been playing incorrectly all of these years. My advisor, Cindi, has often (jokingly) asked me if I’m writing a dissertation or a library, and it’s partially because of my impatience (endearing eagerness?) that I’m trying to change the system all at once. I know that this is not possible, so what I’ve written here is the first step of many in a lifelong pursuit of my love for people, place, and the animals with whom we have the privilege to share our lives.
On that note, there are a few wild animals in particular that have helped my own love stay strong as I’ve gone about these endeavors. First and foremost, my grandfather, David Jaicks, is arguably the best person I’ve ever known, and my favorite carnivore of all. I miss him every day because he gave me the emotional support and patience that this wide-eyed wild child needed to find her sense of grounding. He, along with my grandmother Nancy, helped me to create the roots that keep me firm in who I am today, and they never let me forget that I matter. Nancy, I am grateful that you continue to remind me of this grounding. Another beloved carnivore of mine is Jean. You are more than a teacher and a mentor; you are a constant source of strength that inspires me to show up for life every day ready to begin again. My friends, a mix of college, New York, Philly, family, graduate school, and Montana creatures who somehow find my eccentricities loveable; I am a more loving and grateful person because of you. My parents, Dawn and Bryan, your support is eternally appreciated. Not many people would drive eight hours through the night to take their daughter to go see Jane Goodall, only to return that same day. Getting to jump to the front of the two-hour line for her autograph because I came the farthest of anyone else is something I will never forget. My teachers that have guided me and supported my love of learning: Dr. Hagelin, Dr. Rablen, Ms. Carson, Mr. Minsky, Mr. Kahan, Mr. Krauthamer, Ms. Franco, Mr. Carson, Sra. Kantor, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Sloan, and Dr. Pagnotta, who you are has made a world of difference to me. My committee and advisors: Cindi, Roger, Caitlin, Susan, and Bill, without you I would never have been able to dream up and undertake such an incredible project. Finally, to the nonhuman animals I’ve been fortunate enough to know, including my beloved Luce, Devon, Molly, Sandi, Sunny, and Teddy as well as the warthogs, hyenas, bats, penguins, monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, lemurs, giraffes, and wallabies I’ve met around the world, thank you. It is because of you that my reckless abandon, or love, is so strong, and I dedicate this dissertation to all of you.
And now my fellow wild things, onward…
November 03, 2014
A recent opinion piece in the Menagerie section of the NYTimes got me thinking about my history and beginnings with animals. As I work through the long marathon of my dissertation research, analyzing and writing up data on a daily basis, I’m reminded that my work is largely a result of my earlier experiences and disillusionment working around animals in various settings. The piece is a well-written reflection that stirred a number of memories about my own animal adventures–some happy, some sad. I had held a number of internships working with animals in college and had traveled to the opposite end of the globe to study bats in Australia, but my biggest enterprise came straight out of college with a position as the primate research assistant for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund at Zoo Atlanta. Whatever preconceived notions or romanticism I held about the job were quickly dissolved within the first few weeks of my position. Fresh from Swarthmore, I moved away from all of my friends in the Philly area within a week of graduating and arrived in a city where I knew only a couple people. Perhaps that’s why my work around the animals became all the more important. Suddenly, making friends was not as simple as stumbling out of your dorm room into the hallway where all of your best friends would congregate to play cards. So, I eased my Swat-sickness and perplexed feelings at being an adult in the real world by focusing on the animals with whom I was working. I assumed I would figure out the friend thing and orient myself to Atlanta eventually, so I did what I always do in times of adjustment; I spent time around the animals.
My work was nothing like the jobs my friends were starting. While they wore suits and dressed nicely, I had a rotating slew of khakis and a navy Zoo Atlanta t-shirt that I had to wash almost daily due to the gnarly realities of animal scat slung my way. Having become accustomed–and somewhat of a connoisseur–of animal scat through my earlier work (did you know you can use hyena poo as chalk because it consists largely of digested bone?), I remained unfazed by the muck. It was a small price to pay for the daily company I received in my various projects behind the scenes of the zoo. While guests would come and watch the gorillas or orangutans from the comfort of the air-conditioned primate house, I would sit up on the roof and carry out observations on the various gorilla family groups. I would watch as the baby twins would play in a hose’s mist, cupping their hands and emitting happy grunts. I envied them because I was sitting on a black tarmac that radiated heat in the Hotlanta sun. I came to know these gorillas quite well over the course of my year, spending hours watching them each week to study their behavior using an ethogram my boss had designed. In between the stopwatch beeps for me to take a scan sample, I would study their faces and try to imagine what they were thinking. Is Taz annoyed by little Kali clapping at him for attention? Is Olympia going to try and disable the hotwire again? Is Ozzie judging me while he sits there staring back at me—this pale sweaty mess of a girl sitting on an old crate doing nothing but writing?
I adored the gorillas, but my favorite time of the day was in the morning, which I spent in the orangutan nighthouse. There was one family group in particular that I found myself increasingly connected to. Much like the author of the Opinionator piece, I felt like I could relate to the curious and somewhat awkward group. The baby, whom I called little D, was a troublemaking three-year-old who consequently just discovered his ability to harass his adopted father and mother. I would be trying to carry out a project, and Little D would derail whatever I was doing with his mom Dewey or dad Chantek. His wiry figure, probably no more than a foot, was surprisingly strong and could propel him up and down the mesh of the nighthouse. I sat on the other side, dodging his attempts to spit at me or throw stuff at me for my attention. I’m an only child, so I totally get his need for that. I would sing to him or tell him to wait patiently while I finished my work with his parents. His birth mom died when he was only a few months old, so they brought little D to the zoo where Dewey then took him on as her own–not a common thing, and a remarkable testament to Dewey.
Little D’s ‘father,’ Chantek, was perhaps my favorite of all. From the beginning, he was the best part of my day. I had to carry out cognitive research projects with him, which required me to set up a touchscreen computer for him to play matching games on. This device, in order to withstand the strength of an adult male orangutan, weighed twice as much as I did. So, to move it in the mornings, I would have to jump on the cart and wheel it over to Chantek without knocking the multi-thousand dollar device over and crushing myself. I’m sure this amused Chantek because he would sit there, knowing what I was trying to do and waiting patiently to ‘work.’ I should add, Chantek knows sign language, so he had no problem making editorial comments as I struggled to move this cart around each day. His nickname for me? White Sugar–because I always carried ‘candy’ in my pockets for his matching games. It wasn’t candy though; captive animals are already at risk for obesity due to the more sedentary lives they lead compared to the wild. The treats were actually an orangutan version of Flintstone vitamins that I would give to Channy whenever he got a match correct. I treasured those mornings with Channy because I felt like I could relate to him. An animal’s eyes are the fastest way to make a connection with them, and I would stare at him and he would stare back, making us terribly unproductive but a little less alone.
One day sticks out the most in my mind with him. I was in a bad mood because I had cut myself like the klutz that I am, and I had a huge bandage wrapped around my hand. I was running late to go work with Channy, which put me in an even worse mood. When I finally got to his nighthouse, I was uninterested in deciphering what Chantek kept trying to tell me. Finally, I stopped setting up the computer and snapped, ‘What, what is it you want to tell me?’ And he was signing to say he was sad. Still impatient, I said, ‘Sad? Chantek, why, why are you sad? We need to work.’ He signed back to me, ‘I’m sad because you’re hurt.’ I’m pretty sure that was the most humbling thing that’s ever happened to me. First of all, I felt terrible because I was no better than the people I criticize for expecting an animal to work on my agenda. Chantek is his own being, with his own feelings, and he was curious and concerned enough to tell me he cared, in his own way. Second, I knew then that I didn’t want to be someone who tallies behavior to look at whether or not animals have empathy. There is great research being done on empathy in primates, but I don’t need to be another person studying that because I had the best example of it right in front of me. I know enough about psychology to know that empathy comes through relationships and time-deepened personal encounters with someone. Here I was, in my own selfish world being reminded that it’s not all about me. Being the emotional mush that I am, I started to cry and felt terrible for being so rude to my closest friend in that place. I apologized, and I spent the rest of the morning just sitting with him. Work would have to wait that day, and I didn’t really care about getting in trouble because what I needed most that day was to slow down.
I still credit a lot of my current research and thinking to the ups and downs of my first post-college job, but I think most of that credit belongs to Chantek. I’ve always thought animals deserve their own recognition in the conversations about how they should be managed, and actually getting to know them on an individual level (though difficult and demanding) only served to underline that for me. Being a master at reading body language, Chantek was somewhat sullen on my last day at the zoo. I had gotten special permission from the curator to paint with Chantek, my present for finishing the one-year position. I brought in glass ornaments, and the keepers devised a special paintbrush made out of pvc-piping and horsetail hair that could go through the mesh. I brought out the cups of paint, and I asked Channy to pick out his colors. He would point, with his large brown fingers that were three times the length of my own, and I would hold up the cup for him to dip the brush in. With a delicate touch unexpected for an animal of his strength, Channy then gingerly painted little swipes of color on the glass ornaments I was holding up for him. I did my best not to cry afterwards, feeling a mixture of guilt for leaving Chantek while I went on to my next enterprise of grad school as well as sadness. Sadness over the fact that I would no longer get to see someone who made an otherwise unfamiliar process of young adulthood a little less daunting. Those ornaments now sit above the windows in the small living room of my apartment in Queens. I keep them up year round, so I can think of my friend whenever I see them and feel a little stronger whenever I’m intimidated by the work I’ve chosen to do.
*Photo Credits: Zoo Atlanta Primate Keepers
October 16, 2014
Few things bring me as much excitement as autumn. Really, I’m a sucker for all things fall. I’ve been lucky to have my favorite season filled with an exciting lineup of traveling, presentations, seeing my favorite peoples…and dissertating of course. I recently went back to the Rockies to spend a few weeks researching, working, and breathing in the mountain air as much as possible. The trip was intended for professional meetings and a few more site visits that I wanted to finish up, but it was also a chance for me to get back and spend time with an amazing community of people in an area that makes me feel at once in my place and alive. I started my travels with a stopover to see my friend from college who lives in Fort Collins. Due to the 4am wake-up call, I completely slept through the duration of my entire flight only to be greeted in the Denver airport with a pineapple (the symbol of welcome and a throwback to Swarthmore days) as well as the promise of adventures before my big presentation up in Yellowstone. I then managed to stay awake for 24 hours straight, because who would want to miss a minute when you’re in such a great place? Filling the day with meanderings around FoCo, mountain vistas, and an incident in which I jumped out of my skin after almost stepping on a (harmless) snake, it was an epic way to start out my return to the West. The following day entailed a lot of coffee and a hike up Grey Rock. Nothing gets you over your altitude adjustment quite like an afternoon of hiking and trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall over too many times.
My next stop was another favorite place of mine, Yellowstone National Park, where I was to present and meet with the MountSEON Large Carnivore Working Group. This workshop was the first meeting of the Group, and 16 of us congregated to work on these goals: (1) develop a multi-dimensional conceptual model that identifies the social and ecological impacts/responses associated with wolves and other large carnivores that prey on domestic livestock and ungulates, and (2) create a road map for proposal development within our Working Group (WG). These goals were borne out of the Working Group’s proposal to assemble scholars who transcend disciplinary boundaries. We met to tackle the challenge of rethinking how we must go about applying science to capture socio-ecological system behavior in a way that results in coexistence strategies for humans, wildlife, and natural systems.
I was humbled and overjoyed to have been included in this mix of senior researchers—for a number of reasons. First, this workshop was my chance to articulate and share some of the interdisciplinary perspectives I have in my artillery (thanks to my eclectic background of animal behavior, social theory, and geography training). Second, I had an opportunity to talk at length with some of the people in my field who have helped shape the work that I am carrying out for my dissertation. All my nerves went out the window the second we assembled in the conference center at Mammoth Hot Springs hotel. I had arrived in the Mammoth area of Yellowstone late the night before due to plane delays, so I essentially crawled into my cabin to fall asleep—with a reminder to watch out for bugling elk on my walk from the registration desk. Nothing more dangerous than startling a horny bull on your way to the outhouse in the middle of the night. I woke up before sunrise the next morning to rehearse my presentation and check out the electric night sky full of stars. If there’s one thing that I’ve always turned to in order to feel calm, it’s a big sky with glistening stars. I listened to the elk bugling and coyotes for a bit, then I went over to the conference room as we all started to gather.
The first day of the workshop launched off with our presentations, which gave us all a chance to get familiar with where we are in our research, perspectives, and intentions as they relate to carnivore conflicts and coexistence. After a long morning, we took a lunch break at Boiling Springs and caught up with one another. Following the much needed break, we reconvened and got to the task of designing possible research proposals, white papers, and future studies centered around the aims of the workshop. We addressed these goals through breakout groups and then all met up at the end of the day to think about how the various groups’ ideas could be integrated with one another. By around 5pm, we were all pretty drained, so we decided that conversations and potential collaborations would be better strengthened through meals and relaxation time in the Mammoth Hotel Dining Room.
The next morning was another middle of the night wake-up because we were on our way to go see the Junction Butte wolf pack. I had seen this pack earlier in the summer, and I was eager to see how the pups, yearlings, and alpha pair were doing in this 11-member wolf clan. Fortunately, I didn’t have to do the driving this round, so I nursed my coffee as we wove our way through the Lamar Valley area of the Park—where the pack was reportedly running around. We arrived just as the sun was rising, leaving the sky a vibrant mixture of pink and orange. As soon as we got out of the car, we received word that the pack was in sight. Those of us who got there early ran up the hill with our spotting scopes and binoculars to catch a glimpse. What looked like little spots in the distance were actually the alpha male, alpha female, a few yearlings, and black pups running around a bison carcass. It was a tremendously rewarding sight to see these animals again, and I joined the others in watching the pack members interact with one another for the next couple of hours. Numb from the cold, we made our way back to the conference center for the final stages of the workshop: planning next steps, developing proposals, and organizing possible papers for dissemination. I was sad to leave at the end of the workshop, but I was delighted that my next stop was an adventure with my housemate to visit his family up in Deer Lodge and to go on my very first hunting excursion. As I’ve been told countless times by my research participants, I cannot justify writing about hunting and its role in conservation without actually giving it a try myself.
We caught up with one another on the car ride from Bozeman up to the Deer Lodge area of Montana, discussing all of the possible ways I could make a fool of myself in the Pioneer/Gold Creek woods. Don’t forget to whisper, try not to make a lot of noise, and wear camouflage. I could do the first two things, but I had to borrow apparel from Steve’s family because all I packed were the leggings I wear to dance class. Not exactly appropriate, but they kept me warm under all of my camouflage layers. The two people with whom I was hunting were very tall men, so I was swimming in my clothes- but I was hidden at least! We left early in the morning before sunrise, and I was grateful for my residual jetlag that had made all of the 4:30 am wake-up calls remotely bearable.
As soon as we reached our destination, we climbed out of the massive truck my friends were driving and set off into the woods as the sun was coming up. We spent the day zig-zagging back and forth through the forest, occasionally stopping to bugle and attract any nearby elk. I was lucky to only be carrying a backpack, especially because my hunting companion was toting around a heavy bow as well. We split up with his dad, and we made our way around the backwoods trying to detect sign of elk. The closest we came all day actually happened completely by accident. I had stopped to look around at an owl flying through the stand of trees, and I almost jumped when I saw an elk 40 yards away…then another…then another…then another! All of a sudden, there was a group of them, four females and one male. My hunting buddy got his bow ready and whispered to me, ‘Stay still! These are the first elk we’ve seen all season!” I stood there and watched as he lined up his shot, but the wind shifted at the last second—alerting the elk to our presence. They ran off, but my friend didn’t seem dissatisfied. I was surprised actually because the perfectionist in me was thinking how frustrating it must be to have not gotten the shot. Instead, he simply turned to me with a big grin and said, ‘If you don’t get excited at the sight of an animal when you’re out hunting, you should really find a different sport.’ I asked him later if he ever feels disappointed on days where he doesn’t catch anything. He just looked at me with an expression that suggested I was missing the point. ‘Hannah, that’s not the sole reason why we come out here. I thought you’d know that by now.’ 14 hours out in the woods and a feeling of absolute exhaustion from walking all over by the end of that day, I actually understood what he meant. I’m not going to be picking up tags of my own any time soon, but I do have a different sense of appreciation for hunting. As with everything in conservation (and life), nothing is black and white. Hunting is not all good or all bad. It’s another complex and nuanced practice that requires us to think carefully about how we allow it to be carried out.
After my hunting trip, I returned to Bozeman to catch up with my community of Bozemanites. Having become deeply attached to the people in this town, I was lucky enough to spend time with my housemate, his family, and all of the friends I’ve made in my research adventures. From day one, I’ve felt the pull of this area, and I’m glad I got to spend an extra week with special people who make me happy as a clam. Technically, I was there for school, but there was plenty of hiking, long conversations over delicious meals, pumpkin carving, and road-tripping that kept me from being all work and no play. I got the chance to see more parts of Montana and Wyoming that I had yet to visit, including Billings (home to the craziest Scheels I’ve ever seen), Sheridan, and Buffalo. Fortunately for me, I had a pretty awesome tour guide showing me all the spots along the way. As usual, my trip did not last long enough, and I’m already counting down the days until I return to my mountains and their wild things (in December!). Until then, it’s back to NYC to continue transcribing data, presenting in a few conferences around the area, and assembling my work into what I hope will be a compelling dissertation.
August 31, 2014
Last days are always bittersweet, and the conclusion of fieldwork is no different. Labor Day weekend is notoriously symbolic as the end of summer, and for me it represents the wrapping up of my research out West. I’ve been home a little over a week, and, unsurprisingly, it’s taken me a few days to get back in the swing of New York City’s pace. It’s hard shifting gears from a summer of open spaces and interviews to crowded trains and intense reflection. Admittedly, I’m in that daunting phase of research where I’ve just spent a long time collecting a massive amount of information, and now I’m sifting through everything trying to make sense of it in a way that someone other than my own quixotic brain can understand. As my friend and colleague said yesterday, ‘We’ve got all this work we’ve done, but it doesn’t mean much until it’s put together and presented to others in some way. This process is so personal.’ In other words, our ideas are what we have at this stage in our professional careers, and we’re wrestling with how to share them with others in a way that’s at once authentic, articulate, and a contribution to the field. As you can imagine, this task is both exciting and daunting.
Thinking about this summer, it’s hard to separate field work from the personal experience of being out in Montana and all of the Greater Yellowstone for me. Then again, that’s likely because, as an ethnographer, I tend to absorb everything I’m surrounded by, so any sort of research is inherently personal and transformative. As I’ve discussed, I’m a firm believer that place can deeply influence one’s experience and self-perception. For me, I never anticipated the deep connection and sense of ‘home’ I would feel when I started my dissertation work out West over two years ago. I grew up on the ocean, so I never gave much thought to what the mountains would mean to me. Getting to spend such a concentrated time out in those mountains this summer and doing the type of work that I love, ethnography, was the ultimate privilege. Naturally, it was hard to leave. If it weren’t for an already planned return trip in October, I don’t think I would have ever come back.
Still, being back in New York brings its own form of excitement. Astoria is home to some of my closest friends and graduate school colleagues, so seeing them brings a different sort of joy to me. Casual conversations of our summer work over board games has helped bring me back to the mindset of the city and the expectations of my graduate school program. I’m getting ready to meet with my committee, and I have a few presentations coming up this fall, so any feedback from the people I trust is greatly appreciated. It helps that I’ve heard their inquiries into my methodologies and theoretical frameworks over games of Settlers and a sailboat ride on the East River. It cuts the sting of ‘Back to School’ quite nicely. In addition to analyzing and writing up my research, I’m beginning my work again with the director of the Child Development and Learning Center, and I’ve started my position as a Writing Fellow for the CUNY School of Professional Studies. On September 10th, I’m giving a presentation to the Critical Psychology cluster on my dissertation research, and I’ll use that talk as a chance to get some feedback on the road-map I’ve created of my dissertation (aka- the Table of Contents). Anyone is welcome, so if you’re in the city, come by the 6th floor of the Graduate Center from 11:45-1:45. Myself, along with my colleague Bryce, will both be speaking on our work. As sad as I am for my summer in Montana to end, I’m well aware of how lucky I was to get to go out there in the first place and spend days on end doing exactly what I love the most. It just makes me all the more motivated to find my way back there. To summer. To Montana. To my animals. To my people. With love.
August 15, 2014
The past week or so has been an odyssey or, rather, a number of them. So far this summer, I’ve managed to put over 2,000 miles on my rental car (AKA the Aloha mobile–I’m sure I make many kids playing the license plate game very happy with that Hawaii plate). I like to talk to people in person, and many of the individuals I speak with live in various cities and towns around the state. Thus, it’s been typical for me to have to drive upwards of two hours one way to meet with people. I don’t mind really, and it’s hard to complain when my travels have taken me from Helena to Yellowstone to Bozeman and a bunch of towns in between more than twice (each) this past week alone. I spend the drives organizing my thoughts and questions on the way to the interviews, and on the way back I tend to think back on the conversation to process everything. I audiorecord my interviews for later analyses, but I still like to immediately reflect on everything I just heard. Most of the time, it helps orient my field notes and ideas for my own work in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. That being said, I still have plenty of time alone with my thoughts, and I’ve exhausted every podcast episode of Nerdist and This American Life. Hence, I’ve taken it upon myself to get really good at singing along to the local country music stations in my best Tim McGraw voice while I weave and bob through the hills of the southwestern Montana region. Pretty sure I provide the truckers passing me with hours of entertainment when they see me singing my lungs out.
As a researcher with a keen appreciation for the idea of place attachment, I myself am increasingly attached to the mountains of Montana, and all of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem really. On my first adventure down to Yellowstone this past week, I spent some time with a wolf researcher from the National Park Service. We trekked out in the morning with his two kids- the best two helpers you’ll ever meet- to see if we could find the two wolves in the unnamed pack near South Butte in Yellowstone. We toted our gear up the hill- spotting scope, radio telemetry equipment, and binoculars, being mindful not to surprise any bears along the way. No bears, but we came across a wolfkill (a cow elk) from the spring. Nothing but bones and the pelt left. We managed to find (hear) the alpha female quickly using the radio telemetry, but we couldn’t spot her in the dense area of trees where her den is. So instead, we admired some elk off in the distance, and we talked at length about the work I’ve been out here doing. Here’s the thing, very few of my interviews end up being one isolated conversation. Many people out here want to know more, or have me join them in their field to see things from their perspective. I take them up on their offer every time I can. What better way to get to know someone then out with them doing what they care about?
After my foray into Yellowstone, I drove back up to Bozeman, and then I was off to Helena the next day to sit in on the monthly Commissioner’s meeting for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. I spent the car ride talking with someone who was also attending the meeting, and he helped me understand a lot of the processes in decision-making and governance that are at play here in the region- state, federal, etc. It was helpful and a nice way to get a better understanding of some of the policy processes that are a tangled web of confusion at times. Plus, it was a break in my usual routine of singing like a lunatic on the highway, and it allowed me some good opportunities to stare out at the mountains becoming all the more amber as August progresses.
Back from Helena, I spent the weekend around Bozeman organizing my…gasp…Table of Contents, which my advisor and committee members have been wanting me to do for some time now as a way to focus myself. To quote my advisor, ‘Are you writing a library or a dissertation, Hannah?’ Another researcher out here, a few actually, really helped push me to do my TofC because in writing down an outline, it also forced me to clarify my own standpoint. As I’ve mentioned, standpoint and understanding the lens by which you look at an issue is a big deal to me. It clarifies things for yourself, and it also gives a more robust argument to your analysis because it indicates a degree of self-reflection. So, I feverishly wrote that up in between visiting a college friend at Music on Main, saying goodbye to my friend who left for grad school, and celebrating with my housemate and his family at a BBQ on Saturday. He’ll want me to add that his soccer team won their league championship too, because they’re awesome. So, there was ample reason to be celebrating.
After that, I left early Monday morning to return to Yellowstone for some more interviews and a visit with the wolf-watching community. I foolishly stayed up until midnight playing pool (like a boss I might add) in Gardiner only to have my alarm go off at 4:30am the next morning. Few things can get me up at that hour, save for the promise of a beautiful sunrise and a chance to see some wildlife. I was lucky enough to get to experience both. I wove my way up into the Park as a proud owner of an Annual Park Pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and I waited patiently for the bison to cross the roads as I made my way over to the Lamar Valley. I arrived right as the sun was rising, and I finally got to see some wolves. First one black pup popped its head out of the hillside, then two, then three, and then a gray pup. Suddenly, I was unconcerned with the early wake up call, and I just enjoyed getting to see these animals that I talk about all the time. I would post pictures, but the ones of the wolves are all fuzzy because I was strung out on coffee and adrenaline. The pictures at the end of this post will all be from my travels, but I’ll hopefully get some better ones of wolves before I leave. The rest of the day continued on as such, and I met with people who wake up this early every morning (earlier, really) to experience this rush. Tired and delirious, I left the group and went on to Silvergate, Northeast of the Park, where I would spend that night. I didn’t anticipate that there would be no wifi (I sound like a New Yorker right now), so I spent the afternoon in the Visitor’s Center of Cooke City-a nearby town-using their wifi to send emails and coordinate the next day’s interviews. I barely made it to nightfall before my eyelids where dragging themselves shut, so I succumbed to my tiredness and fell asleep-only to repeat much of the same the following day. Lucky me, right?
After I got back from Yellowstone, I did another round trip to Helena to carry out a few more interviews. I made it back to Bozeman in time to sit in on the public hearing about the possible Wolf Stamp and its potential to be implemented by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. This explanation is a big oversimplification (apologies), but essentially it’s a way for nonconsumptive users (aka non-hunters) to invest in the state game management department with funds that will go (ideally) to nonlethal control and conservation of wolves. Again, this is a big oversimplification, but as you can guess, this proposal is not without controversy. I sat in on the meeting to listen to the different perspectives, and it gave me an opportunity to see some of the (frustrating) political processes in action. Three hours later and without going into detail, it was an informative opportunity to understand how community members can and do engage with one another over these issues.
The last stop on my adventures this week has been to return to Yellowstone for one more visit before I leave for the summer (though I’ve already planned trips for the fall…thank goodness!). From here, I’ll do some more traveling around to look for wildlife and talk to some folks. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend my time than to come to Yellowstone at the tail end of my travels along Montana’s country roads. Enjoy the photos!
August 05, 2014
When I first got to Montana and started writing down my field notes, I took a few pictures and sent them off to my advisor Cindi. Nothing screams appropriate quite like sending your advisor a picture of you doing a cartwheel in a field. However, she took it in the vein I intended, and told me some good advice: ‘Have fun, ask questions, and use your senses all the time!’ This reminder is something I’ve tried to retain throughout all that I’ve been doing while I’m here. In particular, using my senses all the time. It’s easy to write down a slew of facts about my day, but actually describing the other sensory input is a little different- the way the hills are starting to go from green to yellow due to the summer heat, the daily temperature fluctuations that occur when living in high dessert, and even the awful ear-popping that occurs whenever I’m changing altitudes quickly. Employing all five senses in ethnographic work is a big part of painting a picture in your observations that vividly and effectively captures what it is that you’re experiencing. That being said, every person experiences a setting differently- hence the idea of situated knowledge a la Donna Haraway when it comes to doing research. When I go to write up my field notes at the end of the day, it usually takes me sitting down and playing back everything I made a mental note of during the course of the day. Trying to get it all down on a page sometimes results in my brain thinking faster than I can write. Yet somehow it all gets written down. The whole point of these field notes- outside of my interviews and videography/filmography is so that when I’m back in New York I can bring myself back to this place and have all the senses evoked. Writing an ethnographic overview and assessment of predator coexistence would be insufficient if I didn’t try to incorporate these senses. Recently, my ability to describe my senses was put to the test when I sat down to talk to my friend Julio- one of the many awesome people who’s kept me from getting lost in my work while I’m here. He runs a podcast called pictures and people talking, and he interviewed me (as a change of pace) on how I view and use my senses. His podcast with me, and others, can be found here: http://picsandpeopletalking.tumblr.com/
In terms of my own research, ethnography is a big part of what I’m doing out here because I’m aiming to integrate nonhuman animals’ perspectives on these conflicts of coexistence. I don’t pretend that I will ever fully be able to encapsulate a grizzly or wolf or mountain lion’s experience of migrating, living, and reproducing here in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, but I do intend to capture the checkerboard mosaic of unsafe spaces that these creatures encounter both physically and socially. Part of this idea comes from my own frustration with the fact that so often, especially in the science and policy that drives management decisions, we struggle to incorporate the vantage points of the nonhuman animals- the very same ones we seek to manage! This sentiment is something that I’ve long held- in fact, I got started at a young age wondering what animals were thinking when I would stare at my dogs as they would intently focus on something (most likely a squirrel) outside the window. Look, I’m an only child, sometimes I had to get a little creative with how I entertained myself…Anyways, I would watch my dogs and try to imagine what it’s like from their point of view. I still do that, only now I spend my time thinking about it in terms of a grizzly trying to travel through the terrain of the U.S. Sheep Research Station or a wolf looking for a meal on a ranch or even a cougar in someone’s backyard thinking that a little kid looks a lot like a tasty porkchop. There are so many ways for an animal to misstep and lose its life out here, so my sensory research is really intended to generate a multispecies or, rather, a more-than-human ethnography of the predator conflicts.
I should add one more note, this past weekend, my oldest dog Sandi had to be put down. She was 16 and was struggling, but it didn’t make it any easier to get the phone call and be so far away from her when I found out. She was one of my first research participants. I never got ‘official’ consent from Sandi to observe her, but I paid her in dog treats, so I’m pretty sure she was okay with it. She, Molly, Devon, Luce, Sunny, and all of my pets have been a big part of why I find animals so fascinating, and it always hurts to lose someone who played a big part in shaping who you are. So, in a way, this post is inspired by Sandi and all of the other critters who gave me the idea to think about animals and their conservation in a little bit of a different way.
July 29, 2014
Taking a break from my daily schedule of interviewing, hiking, and exploring, today seemed like a good day to check in. Having been out here in the GYE for a little while now, I’m amazed that I still find myself surprised and elated with what I encounter on my various travels. I’ve been bouncing from town to town doing interviews with people from different backgrounds, trying to make sure I hear from as many different perspectives as possible. It’s certainly a challenge for me to constantly put myself out there. As a bit of an introvert who draws energy from time alone every now and then, I’ve had to step outside myself and really make sure that I devote 100 percent of my attention to every person or critter I encounter. It matters to me that I do this because I care quite a bit about these challenges and conflicts over human-nonhuman predator coexistence. I think the most striking thing that I’ve had come out of my interviews so far is the importance of building relationships with the people I speak to. So often politics, science, and power dynamics prevent or mar relationships, so the very least I can do is attempt to genuinely connect with my participants. These people know far more than I do about these issues, so it’s in my best interest to listen closely. More times than not I end up leaving an interview buzzing with an energy about everything I’ve just heard. Add to the fact that every day I’m here is better than the last, and you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I’m head over heels for this place. I can’t think of anything better than spending my time with remarkable people, carrying out my research, and exploring an area that is home to magnetic wildlife. Someone is going to have to push me back on the plane at the end of the summer, because I’m unlikely to leave willingly.
It’s not been all work and no play, though I don’t feel like what I’ve been doing can be considered ‘work’ since I enjoy it too much. My first weekend in Bozeman, my housemate (or friend putting up with me for the summer while I couch surf) took me and a bunch of others up to Lava Lake for a hike on a sunny and clear day. We made our way over there early in the morning and hiked our way up the mountain while playing movie pong. My cultural references of Twilight and She’s All That allowed me to secure my place as a total loon, and we made it to the lake by lunch time. Being a total wuss, I crawled (actually, fell) into the lake while the rest of the crew jumped off the cliffs above me. It was cold, so my swim lasted a total of 30 seconds. We dried off and ate our lunches, looking out at the lake nestled in the evergreen forest around us. It was a beautiful day, made better by our quick hike back down and leisurely night on the roof of the Crystal Bar in Bozeman, watching the sunset.
I spent the rest of the week doing interviews and observations, having dinner with friends, and adventuring around Bozeman. I managed to catch an old John Wayne movie at the Ellen in town on its weekly ‘Wild West Wednesdays,’ go to a bonfire, and catch up with some old friends from my fieldwork last summer when I was in Jackson Hole, in between interviews and research of course. On a whim, I ended up getting to go to Yellowstone on Sunday to go for a hike at Mount Washburn. It was a long day, but one of the best. I woke up early and we made it to the Roosevelt Arch at the northern entrance of Yellowstone by around 9:30 am. We stopped briefly in Gardiner to take a look at the old western town, and we played tourist by taking a bunch of photos by the Arch. We then made our way past Mammoth Hot Springs and dove further into the Park. We had planned to go to see the Petrified Tree near the Lost Lake Trail Head, but we noticed a bunch of people stopped along the side of the road. So, we pulled over and got out to stretch our legs and see what was up. To our surprise, there was a black bear breaking apart a sizable tree trunk in search of some food. Tucked in the valley near the trail head, we watched as the bear leisurely cracked open the trunk (something that a human would need an axe to even make a dent in) and ate. It was a quite the juxtaposition- a black bear breaking open a dead tree, while reclining in a field of purple wildflowers. Having such an exciting start to the day, we were even more pleased to come across a coyote on our way up Mount Washburn. We were probably less than half a mile from the observation deck (10,000+ feet up), and suddenly a coyote walks out onto the trail about 40 yards in front of us. Then it was 30. Then 20. Then a few feet. I was so struck by the animal’s attention to whatever it was stalking, that I didn’t think to move out of its way until it was right next to me. Thankfully, the coyote just kept on going, unconcerned with the tall creature with the blue hat and long braid snapping a picture and jumping out of the way at the last second. We reached the top, taking a break to look out and see the entirety of Yellowstone and then some (from the Thunderer to Grand Teton National Park to a far off forest fire 50 miles away from Mount Washburn). Tired, dusty, and hungry, we made our way back down and wove through the park as the sun was starting to set. We didn’t make it to Boiling Springs this time for a swim in the river, but all the more reason for me to go back (and get more field observations in too!). Passing back through the Arch, I thought about my own research and what was to come next. Yellowstone has an electric quality about it. You can’t go there and be unaffected. In one day, I had seen more than I had anticipated, and it left me wanting more.
July 24, 2014
The past couple days at the Flying D ranch were at once surreal and terrifically exciting. We left U of M and drove down to the Flying D ranch, one of Ted Turner’s 15 Western U.S. Ranches (makes my small Queens apartment seem absurd). This ranch and his others are special in that they’re designated as what (Montana State Senator) Mike Phillips calls a ‘wild working landscape.’ In other words, the bison ranching done on his ranch as well as its other activities like research on Trout in the Cherry Creek drainage are to be conducted in accordance with their mission, which aims: “to manage Turner lands in an economically sustainable and ecologically sensitive manner while promoting the conservation of native species.” This philosophy allows natural processes to take precedence, but still recognizes the “hand of man.” That aside, everyone involved with the ranch recognizes that Ted Turner is first and foremost a businessman, and a wealthy one at that. It will be interesting to read the most recent book about him by Todd Wilkinson, of which we all got free copies.
The ranch itself is near Yellowstone National Park, and you can actually see the snow-capped mountains of YNP from some of the higher areas where we were wandering through. Our group stayed at Cow Camp, and we dropped all of our stuff off quickly so we could get back out in the fields and look at the bison roaming around in the late afternoon sun. There are about 5,000 bison on this particular ranch, and the calves will be sent off for slaughter (sorry vegans) next year to be consumed at one of Ted’s Montana Grill restaurants around the country. If you’re confused about Turner, conservation, hunting, and bison ranching all being intertwined and connected, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The notion that a private ranch can also be seen as an ideal setting for conservation easements, strategic development sensitive to the migratory and predatory activities of local carnivores, and a refuge for endangered flora and fauna is an obvious paradox. Yet at the same time, I am also inclined to acknowledge Ted Turner and his team for their vision. They are a ranch that is situated amongst a hostile environment of neighbors that would very much like to see Flying D’s Bear Trap wolf pack (and all the other wolf packs) eliminated from the area. For the ranch to be willing (to an extent) to allow wolves to predate naturally on this private landscape is commendable. Still, I recognize that some readers may disagree fundamentally with this vision, so I leave you to make up your own mind.
On a less politically charged note, my friend and I have an ongoing back and forth tradition where we attempt to document and swap pictures of ‘casually beautiful things.’ I’m convinced that my photos this week have put me in the lead (as you’ll see below). At Cow Camp, we spent a few minutes adding layers to gear up for the rapid temperature change that occurs when the sun goes down in the West Yellowstone area, and we trudged through the field of bison to go look for the Bear Trap wolf pack. Our fearless leader Mike, who had been kind enough to tell us way more than we could have imagined about the ranch, the area’s history, and the creatures roaming the 100,000+ acres, decided he would take us to a bear den. The den, of course, did not have any bears in it. However, it had been used as recently as this past winter by a black bear. Even bears have to escape the dreaded polar vortex somehow. Naturally, I did as any sane person would do; I followed Mike down the rocky and steep cliff and then proceeded to crawl on my belly into the narrow cave space. I must say, I was impressed by the bear’s choice. Lot’s of tunnel space, a nice rattlesnake skin lining the walls (for art I presume), and some sage brush dragged in for decor (I’m still sneezing from inhaling it all). I had to shimmy my way out butt first and be careful not to keep on shimmying right over the edge of the cliff. It gave me new respect for those big critters’ ability to navigate treacherous spaces.
After the bear cave, we toted our sack dinners and parked ourselves on a cliff overlooking the area where the bison were wandering off to find a place to sleep. That area also happened to be where the radio telemetry indicated the Bear Trap pack was hanging out. We had Mike do his best wolf howl to see if we could get their attention. Honestly, I was really too excited to eat. By this point, I had already caused my eyes to swell shut from crawling around in every known allergen in the state of Montana and had gotten to meet some amazingly interesting people (and animals). The very idea of seeing wolves, one of my favorite animals (don’t tell anyone!), made me practically shake with excitement. We sat for a long time as the sun set, listening and looking through our binoculars for them. We didn’t hear anything, so we started to pack up. Then, right as we were leaving, we started to hear this low rolling cry from the hill across from ours. I’m convinced that the black shadow I saw dart through the trees was one of the wolves returning our call. Mike reassured me that I wasn’t imagining things because the Alpha male of the pack is black. Regardless, their long rolling howls were unmistakeable. We sat for about ten minutes, and we just simply listened until the pack tired themselves out and stopped. After, we all walked back, slightly more mesmerized than before, and chatted with one another about the days events over the spitting campfire and toasted marshmallows. Michael Soule delivered an excellent talk, and I drifted off to my cabin, stumbling the whole way because I kept looking up at the stars in the sky that I so rarely get to see back in NYC.
July 14, 2014
Despite an early morning wake up of 3am and a series of turbulent flights, I managed to make it to Bozeman on Friday the 11th for the start of my summer field season. Bumpy starts aside, there’s a very interesting experience that happens to me whenever I fly to this area of the West. I’ll be looking out the window at the puffs of clouds, occasionally seeing the long plots of land that look like checkerboards from 30,000 feet in the air. Then, out of nowhere, I’ll start to see mountains peaking out from the clouds. With snow flowing down the tops of them, it’s unlike anything else. For me, it always feels like a welcoming to the area. Once we started our descent into the Bozeman airport, I could see more in view, including the M in the mountain nearby Belgrade.
Compared to when I flew into Bozeman in late April, there is a lot more green in view. We started our descent and landed bumpily amidst the backdrop of big sky country. You look out and can see cloud cover leaving shadows on mountains over 75 miles away, and you start to wonder if that same cloud will ever reach you or if it will just move along somewhere else. That’s the funny thing, you can be sitting in sunshine watching a rainstorm in the distance. The mountains closest to us look green, but in the intense sunlight and 4,820 ft altitude the mountains farthest away look blue as they fade into the horizon. After arriving, I went to pick up my rental car, which, consequently, has Hawaiian license plates. My efforts to keep a low profile were somewhat thwarted when I realized I would be driving around in a vehicle with rainbows on the plates. Regardless, it has already served me well on my travels from Livingston to Bozeman to Butte to Missoula, where I am currently spending the week attending and presenting at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology 2014 Meeting.
Before heading up to the conference, I had a chance to spend the night in Livingston, a town I had not really gotten to see much of last summer. It’s a smaller town than Bozeman, and a friend of mine whose family lives there offered for me to stay with them. I tagged along with my friend and her three dogs while she went to go take care of some goats on a nearby ranch property in Paradise Valley, which is on the way toward Yellowstone. The goats and their owners have had a slew of bad luck in the past couple of years. Speaking of human-wildlife conflict, the owners of this ranch lost all but one of their goats to a couple of young cougars who killed them overnight. What happened was these young cougars had lost their mother- she was found hit by a car on the nearby highway. They were yearlings who were not able to hunt for themselves quite yet, so they found the goats instead. Last year, the family nearly lost their goats AND the ranch to a bad wildfire that went all the way up to the property line before being stopped. Hopefully, this year is better, but it’s another example of wildlife and wild processes coming into contact with our daily patterns.
I left Livingston Saturday morning and drove myself up to Missoula, with stops in Bozeman and Butte to say hi to a few people and pick up some snacks for my travels. I’m still getting used to the fact that when you’re driving along 90, the speed limit (as in MINIMUM) is 75mph. I drive like a turtle compared to the truckers and seasoned travelers along these country roads. Part of my poking along was also due to the fact that the entire interstate is nestled in peaks and valleys of some of the most beautiful scenery. I couldn’t help stopping in Butte to get out and take some photos of the historical sites and also to stretch my legs. I made it up to Missoula in the late afternoon. Before checking into my hotel, I wandered around the downtown a bit. The marathon was the same weekend, so I was actually one of many out-of-towners exploring the University town’s art galleries, niche coffee shops, and hiking trails. At some point this week, I’m hoping to raft along the Clark Fork River or hike the M, which is the mountain (as you may guess) with the big M on it here. However, I am here for the conference, so I’ll need to focus on that as well…
I’ve not yet been to an SCB conference, and I’m already thrilled to meet so many people doing fascinating work in my field. Plus, I’ve also run into many people I’ve not seen in years. I saw an old colleague from my study abroad days in Australia conducting research on bats, and I also got to connect with my friend from NYC, Leo Douglas, who is here giving a plenary for his research on parrots in Jamaica about the ‘Flipside of Flagship.’ It’s always great seeing familiar faces so far from home. I present my research on Tuesday in the session ‘Assessments for Monitoring and Management,’ and I’ll be introducing some of my ideas that I’m planning to write about in the upcoming chapters of my dissertation. Later in the week I’ll be traveling with some other conference attendees to Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch to meet with Mike Philips and Michael Soule to talk about the future of conservation in science and policy. There’s nothing like roasting marshmallows with the “Father of Conservation Biology” to round out an exciting week of events. After that, I head back to Bozeman and start on more of my interviews and field observations.
June 28, 2014
As my first post, it’s only fitting to welcome everyone to my website and explain what this blog will include in the future. I’m gearing up for my last round of fieldwork out in the Yellowstone area for my dissertation research on large carnivore conflicts. I will be updating this website and my blog as I carry out the remainder of my interviews, observations, and treks from Jackson Hole through to Bozeman. Be sure to check back for pictures, comments, and travel logs if you want to follow what I’ve been up to. I’ll also include information on this blog about upcoming conferences, lectures, and events that I’m involved with. If you’re ever interested in seeing more photos or learning more about something I’ve posted, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I leave for Montana on the 11th of July, and until then, be sure to take a look at past photos and projects of mine. If anything grabs you or you want to know more, be sure to get in touch.