Katie Birch is a Colorado native and graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder. She has a degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering and has worked for the City of Steamboat Springs and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environmental Water Quality. She has conducted fieldwork on Rio Grande cutthroat trout and volunteered on water engineering projects in Uganda. Katie is looking forward to expanding her fieldwork experience with a month on the prairie.
The sky darkens and black and blue clouds start to roll in one after the other. A flash in the sky announces the first strike of lightning. It doesn’t rain here, it storms. I wouldn’t call it a hostile land (there’s a certain peace to life out here), but it’s a harsh one indeed.
Though I am once again a sojourner in civilized life, for the past month I have been living cooperatively with other adventurous souls in the Northern Great Plains, miles from any neighbor, in a tent that I built myself, on the aptly named Sun Prairie in Northeastern Montana. As a member of the May Landmark Crew, I earned my keep by the labor of my hands.
Frontier life is everything you could imagine and more. Undoubtedly it can be hard, but it is also filled with pleasures, small and large, every day. The morning chorus of birds at sunrise; long days of walking resolutely through sage brush and river washes, eyes peeled for wildlife; talking with wise companions; and unimpeded views of the sunset at Buffalo Camp were among the highlights of my days on the American Prairie Reserve, each one of them filled with adventure and beauty.
Nightly campfires were spent stargazing with savage intellectuals and awaiting late night visits from adventurous bison in camp (sometimes uncomfortably close to your tent platform!). Days were spent walking the land, collecting data to help ensure this incredible ecosystem is allowed to flourish and capped by afternoon plunges in chilly Fourchette Bay.
To be working on such an important project makes you think differently about nearly everything. The scope of this project dwarfs me as an individual. Wandering through the layers upon layers of grassy ravines and meandering river bottoms makes you realize how much there is to hide in a landscape. But if you look hard enough, you will be surprised by what you find. While we found lots of wildlife, the most important thing I found was adventure with a bigger purpose.
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