July 30-August 7: Finding a Sense of Place

When I came to this internship, I was searching for a sense of place. After being away at school on the coast of British Columbia for four years, I was desperately missing the interior of the Northwest with its dry air and rugged mountains. I took the internship as an opportunity to come back to the place I had been carrying around inside of me and come to know it better. I envisioned working on trails and exploring new places, spending hours reflecting and watching the land and weather around me change as hitches passed. It never occurred to me that experiencing a sense of place might have to do with more than just knowledge and intimacy with the land. Reflecting on my experience, I’ve come to realize that self-knowledge and a sense of belonging in the world can be strongly tied to the people you share your experiences with. Wilderness is a place of relative solitude, yet I’ve found that sharing an experience in the wilderness with other people has made me more aware than ever of how inextricably bonded we all are; to each other as well as to the land, water, and food we need to survive.

During the last hitch as I waded through beautiful streams and glowing fireweed thickets on the trail we were clearing, I began to conceptualize something that I’ve never understood before. I’ve idealized solitude and independence for most of my life, and have striven for those values especially in the last few years. Yet traveling and working in wilderness for most of the summer, these values are fading in front of me, like mist off a meadow as the sun rises.

I’ve been left with an overwhelming feeling that perhaps one of the key elements to a wilderness experience (and to life) is what you share with others along the way; trust, hardship, success, fear. Wilderness demands that these emotions are brought to the surface, especially when you are working on a team, whether it be to clear trails or climb mountains. Good group experiences in the wilderness require communication and honesty with one another, and through openness bring us closer to each other as well as to our environment and our inner selves.

I still believe that solitude and self-sufficiency are an important piece of wilderness travel and I have no doubt that the beautiful, wild places I’ve experienced this summer will stay with me for the rest of my life and help to form my sense of place. However, the lesson that I will remember the most about this summer is the intense aloneness I felt when I was isolated contrasted with the deep satisfaction and understandings I experienced when I was working with great people in incredible, wild places.

     — Janine Welton, Wilderness Ranger Intern | August 8, 2013

Cooking dinner in evening sunshine after a long day of clearing trails.