I’ve been in Dillon, Montana for several weeks now, working at the BLM field office there. My mentor, Kelly Savage, is primarily a range specialist, but is also the plant specialist of the office. Kelly has taught me a lot about everything, from range land management to edible native plants to Native American cairns. I’ve also been out with range technicians doing different vegetation and stream surveys; one day I went out with a wildlife technician, Melanie, and looked for Goshawks on a timber sale allotment. The variety has been fun and I am looking forward to collecting seed this week.
As someone who does not come from a ranching background or even from the region, I quickly learned a lot about how life and work go out here. Several words and phrases have taken on new meanings for me since moving from Portland, Oregon to Dillon.
Land- On the first day my mentor and I drove around the grazing allotment she manages and discussed just about everything. Something that struck me though was her use of the word land. “Really, everything I am doing is to improve the health of the Land. If we manage it well, the Land can continue to give and teach us for many years.” I capitalize Land because when talked about in this sense, the word loses its stale meaning of a portion of the upper crust of the earth and becomes something that is a dynamic unit. “Land” means the dirt, rock, and debris (DAUBENMEIER) that hold up the flora, fauna, fungus wrapped into an inseparable package, interdependent and specific.
Land is also tied to ownership, which, depending who you ask, can mean responsible for or control over. Even the idea of “owning” land comes with controversy and implications of capitalism, exploitation, and inequality. (Tangent: some academics have claimed that the privatization of land coincided with the spread of written language, thus a shift to right brain values. I digress.) It is strange to think that while doing a seed collection if I walk ten steps to my right I could cross the imaginary boundary into “private land,” where the plants are now loyal to only the name on the title. However, proprietorship also allows for care for the designated plot of earth. It avoids the tragedy of the commons and ties a sense of commitment to its future. My job this summer will hopefully provide the data and tools to make informed and sustainable decisions concerning the use of the Land.
Binos- Rhymes with “dinos.” I spent a day with wildlife and had to bring my binos to do Goshawk surveying. I’ve never seen a goshawk, but after listening to the call box all day I will recognize its call until the day I die.
Cow/Bull- Before my first day at the BLM, cows and bulls were cattle. Now one must distinguish between cow cows, cow bulls and cow elk, bull elk. I’ve seen plenty of cattle cows and bulls, but also a handful of elk. My co-worker Berett found three elk shed this week and let me keep one! It makes me feel like a real Montanan.
Big Country- In contrast to Land, country cannot be owned, despite the fences designating plots and borders. When driving on Old Bannack Road towards Big Sheep Creek, the sky, hills, and plains expand before me. Big Country is not only a geographically large area, it is space you can see. The nothing between the mountains becomes something, and that something is enormous compared to anything humans could build.