Art and Ecology Go Together Like Glaciers and Glacier National Park
Art and ecology have a longstanding union.
Back in the late 1820s and ‘30s American landscape painters helped kickstart the transcendental movement, a time when society began taking a closer look at humanity's intersection with the natural world, and the impacts progress was having on these wild landscapes. Naturalists’ fears of losing the wildness they loved, and artists’ passion for creating the medium to deliver those narratives to the masses, formed what became a shift in perspective as folks in urban hubs began to witness the destruction of nature from afar, through art and journalism.
This mindset of using art and the creative process as a tool to inspire dialogue and positive change is something that guides my work as an ecologist and filmmaker, and my fiancé Rachel's art. Not only do we actively seek out opportunities to marry our respective mediums but we also use them to bolster our respective crafts, be it my writing to complement her art, or her art to complement my photos or film projects.
So, with recent news stories reporting that the glaciers in Glacier National Park were disappearing, we knew where we needed to go with our camera and paintbrush in hand. We rented a camper, hit the road, and headed north from our home just outside of Bozeman, Montana.
Reconnecting with Glacier National Park
In September, Glacier NP is mostly shut down for the season. Weathered plywood covered the lodge windows. Summer cabins were locked up. The park looked abandoned. It was perfect. No crowds or queues anywhere. Our small RV was our cozy home base through a series of winter storms that passed through the region every few hours. We had it all: snow, rain, 70 mph winds, sun, and a few moments when it felt as though every type of weather was unfolding all at once.
Our goal was to get up high into the mountains and experience the park’s changing landscapes and the suite of plants and animals that call this wild place home. Without glaciers, how would the ecosystem change? And why wasn't this being talked about widely in the outdoor community?
We found pika amongst the scree fields way above treeline, and followed mountain goat trails into the mountains. We ate lunch looking over a pair of moose browsing willows down in the boggy bottoms and even saw a wolverine lope up Swiftcurrent Lake, a sight most never see, even the most seasoned hikers. We wrote, sketched, and photographed.
As glaciers melt and average temperatures warm, the parks vegetative community will change. Cool rivers that support trout and riparian corridors that feed moose and deer, songbirds, and bats might wither. The cool alpine environments and the species that rely on them may be forced upslope until there is nowhere up left to go.
What I’ve learned is that we can’t expect the world to care about something if they don’t know it exists.
The forests rely on the cold winters and snowmelt, too. Perhaps the greatest threat is the decline of whitebark pine, a tree species that feeds the forest with its pine nuts. The Clarks nutcracker, a Glacier NP resident, may collect over 200,000 seeds a year, which it buries and will feed on over the winter. Though, as you’d expect, many are never recovered and either feed other wildlife or sprout into new trees.
Bearing witness to change
What I’ve learned is that we can’t expect the world to care about something if they don’t know it exists. If we want to help curb climate change and bring awareness to these imperiled landscapes we need to start talking about them now. We have the opportunity, literally at our fingertips, to create awareness with the content and stories we publish and share with the world on social media.
There’s something to be said for slowing down, observing, and documenting. It’s not about how fast you can hike the trail or summit the mountain. It’s about how well you can know a place, notice its seasons and bright threads that make it unlike anywhere else on Earth.
And not just the epic adventures. There’s something to be said for slowing down, observing, and documenting. It’s not about how fast you can hike the trail or summit the mountain. It’s about how well you can know a place, notice its seasons and bright threads that make it unlike anywhere else on Earth. It’s with this knowledge, connection, and understanding that we can truly become informed advocates for wild spaces and species that have no voice. And inspire others to take action to protect them.
So grab your phone, pen, paintbrush, and partner, and start documenting.
HOW TO TAP IN AND TAKE NOTE
1. Slow down.
2. Sit in a place for 15 minutes. Observe, listen, and soak it in.
3. Bring a field journal. Make notes and observations on weather, sightings, wind, blooms, butterflies, etc. Over time you’ll start to document the rhythms of a place.
4. Take photos, make sound recordings, shoot video. These visual and audial collections will help you freeze those moments in time, and may provide a reference for how things have or are changing.
5. Bring binoculars! You’ll see more than you ever thought you could.
6. Bring a sketchbook. Observe and capture those things most miss. It could be the lichen on the boulder or tree, or the way the sun reflects off a pool along the river.
7. Track down a field guide with information on the plants, animals and natural history of the place you’re exploring. You’ll be glad you did!
8. Share what you learned with your community! That’s the best way to build a groundswell of activism and awareness. Share your passion!
KEEN Ambassador Charles Post is an ecologist and storyteller inspired by the confluence of society and wild landscapes. He earned a B.S. and Master’s degree in ecology at U.C. Berkeley and applies his passion to creative projects that inspire our next generation of stewards. He and his fiancé, artist Rachel Pohl, live in Montana, and you’ll often find them traveling through the heart of the American West in search of stories that expose and illuminate narratives bound to the future of landscapes and waters worth fighting for. Follow along on their journeys on Instagram at @charles_post and @rachel.pohl.