My Wild Summer
On the fourth floor of College Hall in Spokane, Washington, the scribblings of a graphite pencil on the back of a quiz was where my wild summer started. On the front, I had mused over the Environmental Kuznets Curve and how climate change impacts wildfires in the PNW.
On the back, only a few words were written: FSPW—backcountry ranger—apply online. Backcountry ranger was underlined three times.
To say I was excited was an understatement. I grew up in Hawaii, surrounded by water, rain, lush green plants, zero bears—an entirely different environment than what I was about to step into. Beginning this summer with zero expectations contributed to the profound impact it had on the way I understand myself, humanity, and this world we live in.
As a D1 athlete and student at Gonzaga University, anxiety, pressure, over-productivity, and perfectionism are things that I deal with and attempt to control everyday. I’ve always put pressure on myself to consistently perform athletically and academically, and in my free time this pressure manifests as a need to be productive at all times.
If my time in the wilderness was good for one thing, it was good for my mental health. I honestly believe there is no remedy to an overactive mind quite like nature, wilderness especially.
In so many aspects of life, pressure to succeed and produce and improve can take over. We value ourselves on what we produce, on how much and how fast we improve. If this is how we value ourselves, what does that mean for the other wonderfully human ways we exist? In the wilderness, I have learned to value myself just because I am there, because I am existing, because I’m breathing. I notice the little fly dancing across the surface of the creek, the distant sound of a woodpecker and its soothing repetition, the smell of huckleberries and the astonishing bright pink fireweed.
My wild summer was wonderful for many reasons. I learned so much about this environment, how to use a cross cut saw and a pulaski, how to live in a Forest Service bunkhouse with twelve other twenty-something year olds, and more. I am proud of my time spent in the wilderness, about the conversations I’ve had with people on the trail, in their own ways all curious and enthusiastic about protecting wild land.
The thing with wilderness is it pulls you back in. The more time you spend in it, with it, the more time you want to dedicate to it.
More than wanting to encourage everyone to get out into the wild, I want to encourage everyone to notice the wild all around them. Every tree in town, no matter if it’s planted or not, is a part of nature. All the leaves scattering the road, the bees and the dragonflies and even the crows. It is all around us and it is valuable without measure. The wilderness is a place for everything to breathe, nature and us, and protecting it is protecting ourselves as well.
Ella was the FSPW Backcountry Ranger Intern during the 2023 summer trail season stationed out of the Trout Creek Ranger Station in the Cabinet Mountain District. She is currently studying environmental studies with a writing and sustainable business minor at Gonzaga University, where she also sits on the women’s Rowing Team.