Finding Balance

“What features would you give this animal so they could adapt to their environment better?”— a question in our Grand Teton National Park junior ranger workbook. It’s a question that always stuck out to me and I later included in a talk I do on the different habitats in the park. But it speaks much louder than just thick fur in a cold climate, it reminds me of having thick skin in a cold, at times, world. When I finished up my first habitat program, moving from animal adaptations to human adaptations in the face of diversity, I was met with uncertainty from my audience. It’s a topic that beckons for honesty and recognition and one that wasn’t received well by the parents in my group. I knew when I was writing in this portion of my program that it might be met with stares, but striving for facilitated dialogue, I included it anyways. Often, it is by being “real” that a concept will stay with a person. My goal is to move my talks from the old school format of reciting facts to the audience to actually making the connection of those facts to the lives of those listening. And, in a talk about habitat diversity, balance, and health what better way to do that than to highlight the human history of Grand Teton National Park?

13556111_10204986152653669_88357304_oJenny Lake named after the Shoshone guide, Jenny.

The historic past of Grand Teton and Yellowstone reflects the strife and beauty of the Shoshone Native Americans and the fur trappers of Europe and their survival in the harsh seasons of Wyoming. These two groups of people were able to survive by not only forging and hunting but by also sharing their resources and ways of life with one another. If not for the guidance of the Shoshone Native American woman, Jenny, the first explorers of the Hayden Expedition would have had a much tougher time in quickly adapting to an environment drastically different than Europe. Like Jenny, many of the Shoshone Native Americans revealed where to find food, what was edible, and how to survive in such cold winters. Through sharing resources and ways of life on both sides, the Native Americans and Europeans began the first accounts of experiencing diversity, adapting to a new way of life, and strengthening the human species through their struggles. Although it is not completely a peaceful story when told in full, it is one that demonstrates the long running, and still continuing, efforts in finding mutualism and growth with those around us. While it was hard to experience the cold response from my audience in telling this story, it was one that pushed me to reassess rather than throw out my idea. The next time I presented this talk, I made a point of constantly reflecting on both animal and human adaptation throughout the program, highlighting the story of the Native Americans and Furtrappers, so that end conversation of racial, cultural, and human diversity would much easier to facilitate. It was successful and spread the talk of diversity much farther than I thought it would, ending with a strong understanding of the delicate nature of the web of life us humans and animals weave throughout time.  

8fa4465dcaebfb108a3de09283703b5eRichard “Beaver dick” Leigh and his wife, Jenny, and their children.


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