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William Shakespeare lived a few centuries before Yellowstone became the world’s first national park, but his quote “We know what we are, but know not what we may be” aptly describes what has made Yellowstone special, powerful, beautiful and magical to countless admirers.

The park turned 143 years old on Sunday March 1, and today over 380 distinct units in nearly every state comprise the National Park Service and system, protecting a wealth of irreplaceable places to our natural, cultural and historical heritage. National parks have often been called America’s best idea, and today nearly every nation has set aside lands to honor this same idea and vision.

Yellowstone was first protected for its abundance of thermal features, its deep high altitude Yellowstone Lake, and The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, but it also provided refuge to some of the last remaining bison in the wild.

Still, it wasn’t until the U.S. Army took over to deter wildlife poaching, vandalism, illegal mining, timber cutting, and even homesteading that things began to turn around. The National Park Service was established in 1916 to create a consistent means to protect and preserve such parks, while also maintaining them “for the benefit and the enjoyment of the people”.

But The Organic Act, which established the National Park Service system, made it clear that protection and preservation trumped human benefit and enjoyment whenever there was conflict and confusion, yet every generation since then has continued to struggle with this mandate at times.

Attitudes toward nature and our relationship with nature have generally changed slowly over the years, as they seem to also do today. Witness the era of bringing back the ecosystem’s bison through the Lamar Buffalo Ranch starting  in the early 1900s, as compared to decades of unregulated commercial and visitor activities that threatened everything from thermal features to bird nesting sites and fish spawning grounds.

Consider that right up until the late 1960s park officials and employees culled ungulate species inside the park, believing their numbers were too high (this after killing off large predators such as wolves until the 1930s). It was only in the early 1970s when the National Park Service abruptly closed garbage dumps and stopped (for the most part) visitors from feeding and mingling dangerously close to black and grizzly bears.

Looking back it seems we should have known better that these activities or behaviors should not have been tolerated or allowed. Looking ahead, we may wonder what future generations might have to say about how we have managed or provided stewardship over Yellowstone and other wild places. How we handle bison, wolves, or whether the grizzly bears should be de-listed immediately come to mind, but the list goes on….and on.

But we continue living, learning and doing what we believe to be best for Yellowstone and other remaining untrammeled landscapes. To paraphrase Aldo Leopold, we bring back and restore the missing pieces, such as wolves, when and where we can. We begin thinking more like a mountain and realize that no species is good or bad, we all belong, and preserving, connecting and restoring wild places will benefit future generations of all species that follow us, including our descendants.

Who would have thought, 143 years ago, that Yellowstone would have inspired nearly 200 nations to protect and preserve some of their last best natural places?

Who would have known that Yellowstone’s establishment resulted in protecting some of the finest waters and watersheds in the West, harboring some of the last wild refuges for bison, and a place and opportunity to restore wolves to the ecosystem? Who could have foreseen that microbial communities in the parks’ thermal areas have led to discoveries and applications that benefit us out here in “the real world”?

Who could have imagined that the park would become the anchor and lungs of the last large intact temperate ecosystem on the planet, with all species present now that were here when Lewis and Clark passed through just north of here, or that over two dozen Native American tribes continue to cultivate their cultural and spiritual connection to Yellowstone?

A planet without wild places such as Yellowstone would be a very sad place indeed.

Yellowstone, Glacier, and other vast ecosystems are what first drew me to Montana over teaching opportunities in Colorado and New Mexico two decades ago. I wanted to be near a place where grizzlies still roamed and wolves were being returned, to be in a place where I could still feel my wild beating heart and show others that they could also do the same.

As with all wild places they need more advocates, and more protected lands outside these parks that allow natural processes to continue unimpeded or unimpaired. This means also working with people who have long been making a living from these landscapes, and inviting and including them at the table.

Happy Birthday, Yellowstone! May you and all other national parks worldwide always live long, and prosper!

A few weeks ago I was putting the finishing touches and glazes on three different ceramic creations I had first started working on in the winter of 2013-14. There’s something about this time of year that often calls me back to completing projects started long ago, and I suspect it has something to do with how stripped down, slow, peaceful and quiet it is following the holidays, and from opportunities to enjoy and experience the relative silence of this season. I won’t know how these creations will turn out until after a kiln firing sometime later this month, so stay tuned for updates, and thanks for keeping your fingers crossed, too!

Last winter, a monstrous late February/early March blizzard broke our creative indoor evening time together in Erik’s ceramic studio. Following that storm, the tug to be outdoors pulled mighty hard. We came closer to completing the backyard cold frame greenhouse, planted lower maintenance  vegetables and flowers, in the fall hired contractors to replace a no-longer weather resistant roof, and just before the most recent winter solstice finished replacing a front living room window.

But on blazing hot summer afternoons and evenings, we’d sometimes retreat to our basement studio. I usually ended up staring at all I had created the winter before but hadn’t done anything about yet, feeling guilty about “yet another unfinished project”, instead of slowing down and savoring the brief yet fleeting heat of summer in Montana.

“In the silence of the wild land, we can hear the earth” accurately describes not only winter, but every season in Big Sky and Yellowstone Country. I was fortunate to have guided two different groups over the holidays in Yellowstone for week-long tours, and enjoying the silence and sounds of nature was a huge take-away for all adventurers.

On Christmas Day morning, one of our drivers to the Lamar Valley encouraged us to stop and listen for wolves and to be as still as possible, at a place a few miles east of the Buffalo Ranch where people had heard wolves the morning before. We didn’t hear any wolves that day (we did see one later, but that will have to wait for another story), but instead were treated to the bubbling sounds of Soda Butte Creek, the buzzing and chirping of American dippers, winds whipping and dancing around our vehicles, the forlorn calls of a few ravens, and snow crunching underfoot.

Both groups were fortunate to see a lot of wildlife, including wolves, coyotes, moose, bison, elk and trumpeter swans, but what really resonated with many was listening to the sounds of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone from Artist’s Point, bubbling mudpots, hissing fumaroles and thundering geysers in the Fourtain Paint Pots area, and the profound absence of human-generated sounds throughout the park.

Many expressed how much more fully alive they felt being where they could hear their own heartbeats and thoughts again. Being in Yellowstone in this stripped-down winter season allowed them to be more receptive to what nature was showing them in the moment. It re-opened a portal to where we all originally came from, whispering wild, urgent reminders of what was really important in our lives.

It was equally impressive and insightful to be journeying with a wide range of people, some from tropical countries adventurous to snowshoe and x-c ski for the first time, and of course to see wolves and other large critters. An energetic, exuberant and quickly cohesive group of kids and grandkids came along for the first winter holiday Yellowstone adventure with their families. That group witnessed balmy temperatures of 30F that preceded a one-foot snowfall on Christmas Eve, while the second group  woke up to -28F at Old Faithful two consecutive mornings just before the new year.

Fast forward to later in January, a few nights later, a renewed sense of passion, purpose and vision inspired me to put those long-delayed finishing touches and glazes on three ceramic creations. Not everything that I hope will happen as a result of the kiln firing has to do with these recent Yellowstone winter experiences, but during those moments of profound silence and awe and gratitude, my heart opened even more to understanding and sharing why wild places are so crucial to our spirit and soul, and not to mention to future generations. That gift came roaring back into the present, and thankfully I was open to receiving and expressing it.

That same night I put on a CD I hadn’t listened to in a while, “From Yellowstone Soundscapes Throughout The Seasons”, and it brought me back to those Yellowstone moments experienced a few short weeks ago. It was entertaining to watch Flo-Jo our cat twitch her ears and perk up when she heard different sounds, reminding all three of us how powerful and undeniable our connection to the natural world is, and will always be, when we stop to be fully present and live in each moment.

I became a “naturalized Montanan” in August 1994, which this year marks a huge 20-year personal milestone, especially for family and friends who have known me since more nomadic, earlier times.

I was first attracted to Montana via a graduate school summer internship teaching English to international students in an outdoor setting not far from Yellowstone. The students all went home and I eventually found a way to stay, first as an international and outdoor educator, then later as a naturalist guide and Yellowstone National Park ranger. I’ve taught at both Montana State University and The University of Montana, so I am a Bobcat and a Grizz fan.

What drew and kept me in Montana, though, were the wild landscapes, the large numbers of wildlife species that still call Montana and the Northern Rockies home, my affinity for cold, snowy winters, followed by dry, warm summers with lots of time spent on the water.

I’ve always loved learning about nature and sharing that with others, and putting down roots in Montana has slowly, surely and serendipitously led to the nature connection mentoring, guiding, speaking and photography work that I am called to do. Thankfully, over the past 20 years, technology has also allowed me to expand how I support and serve others in creating a deeper connection with nature, no matter where their feet are!

When I started coming out as a gay man about ten years ago, I briefly envisioned leaving this path for larger cities such as Portland, Seattle or Denver, but realized how vital nature connection was, not only to my own coming out process, but to other life priorities. Fortunately, I met another outdoor lover, Erik, about six years ago, and together we’ve made living in Montana work for us. We still scheme, dream and travel to experience what larger urban areas have to offer, but at the end of the day, Big Sky Country is home.

No matter where our individual homes may be, the winter solstice and major winter holidays are very much alive and nearly upon us. In contrast, many people would gladly settle instead for long winter naps, tuning out commercials, and avoiding shopping and travel related traffic and crowds in the waning last few weeks of 2014.

Add a heaping layer of long nights and cold, short days to the mix, and it’s easy to forget about our own self-care and nurturing at this time of year.

We can even make excuses to not get outside at all, but this is when it’s most crucial to break pattern, move through a little resistance, and get outside to connect with nature and with yourself.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “the poetry of the earth is never dead”, and there’s plenty of evidence supporting that when we take action and create time in nature to experience that for ourselves.

Here’s to celebrating the return of longer days with the winter solstice on Sunday December 21.

Here’s also to creating consistent, healthy habits: to getting outside, bundling up, enjoying the quiet of the season, and choosing to unplug from human activity at large to recharge.

May the new year that approaches bring all of us wonderful health, prosperity, and peace, and a healthier, deeper and more consistent connection with nature, too!

P.S.

We will be away from the technological world starting Thursday December 18 through Thursday January 8. If you’d like to have a Nature Discovery Call in January 2015, I will be back in touch with you to schedule a time together shortly after January 8.

Click here to reserve your free, 30-minute no-obligation Nature Discovery Call:

http://yourlifenature.com/yln-contact.php

Thanksgiving, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, and other major winter holidays will all be here before you know it as the days and nights of late autumn fly by.

Multiply your gratitude during this season of deepening connection with others, and with the natural world that sustains us all, for a very special offer-now through Sunday November 30:

When you buy two 8″ by 12″ hand-signed photographic prints using Paypal at http://www.yourlifenature.com you receive one bonus same-sized hand-signed print for free!

The same deal goes for when you buy two 11″ by 17″ hand-signed photographic prints using Paypal at http://www.yourlifenature.com When you do so, you receive one bonus same-sized hand-signed print free.

Just email me at harehobie at gmail dot com after completing your Paypal order and let me know which free print(s) you have selected. You can expect prints to be shipped early in the week of December 8.

You can buy up to four same-sized prints and thus receive up to two same-sized prints for free, and there are over 100 gorgeous and inspiring landscape and nature images to choose from at YourLifeNature.

Here’s hoping you’ll not only purchase some prints as gifts to other nature lovers in your life, but that you’ll select a few to brighten up your work and home spaces as well!

Take a few moments to think about a particular tree close to where you live or work that really stands out for you.

What in particular attracts you to this tree? Are you drawn to Its height, its age, its resilience, its beauty? Are you attracted by Its tranquility, its power, its ability to put down roots and thrive right where it is?

Imagine sitting leisurely beside or beneath the tree that calls to you, The ground is dry and supports you very comfortably, and an ever so slight, cool breeze is blowing. Your cell phone’s turned off, your to-do list is put away. You don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon. Your senses are heightened, your sense of time is unhurried and has slowed way, way down.

Tap into all of your senses and recall how it looks, smells, feels, and sounds What else do you sense or intuit from spending time with your tree?
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Make a point of consistently visiting and noticing your tree at different times of the day and week, and during different seasons. Take time to imagine what’s happening beneath or inside the tree-it may be approaching winter and things appear rather dormant now, but there’s always something going on that may not be immediately visible or noticeable…

Can you create “tree time” for yourself every day, even when you cannot be outside?

Interacting with and observing trees and other aspects of nature can provide a powerful, personalized road map to life. It can show us how to live in harmony, balance and flow with natural elements such as metal, water, fire, wood and earth- no matter where our feet are.

Incorporating these elements into physical spaces enhances our environment and lives. It’s not only aesthetically pleasing and peaceful-it also provides a solid foundation for greater personal effectiveness, optimum order and better flow in all we do and all we are.

Creating a workspace with a balance of these five elements helps you create a container, structure and order that supports your work.

But are you incorporating other elements, such as water, into other life areas to create balance?

Are you taking time and space for fluidity and ease, rest and play in your life?

What Do You Need To Thrive?

Nature connection is a vital self-care tool, and nature connection can help energize your day!.

People worldwide seek balance and harmony between work, home and family. Many are burnt out and overextended from the time and energy invested in being caregivers to others, going above and beyond in their businesses and families. Their own self-care keeps falling off the to do list, or it never made it on to the list in the first place.

As a special offer to our community here at Your Life Nature, I invite you to learn how to create a nature connection sit spot, to help make you and your self-care a consistent life priority.

In my “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!” audio course you’ll learn how to create a consistent place and space to connect with nature to enhance and empower your life in myriad ways.

Through this 35-minute recording, you will use all of your senses, and connect more deeply with the healing and transformational powers of water in particular.

My intention is that this recording not only supports your deeper, more consistent connection with the natural world, and with your own authentic nature, but also that it’ll be an evergreen, go-to-gift for yourself, so you may continue practicing and experimenting with what works best for you, and become more comfortable with sitting still and allowing nature to work its magic with you, too!

You can purchase, receive and enjoy this MP3 recording for an affordable $13.97 click on the Paypal button below, and you’re then on your way to an energizing and inspiring experience where you’ll learn four easy, fun and replicable steps to create your powerful nature connection sit spot, no matter where your feet are.

Get Your Sit Spot Recording Here:

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Wilderness has of course been around for way more than 50 years, but The Wilderness Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1964 gave protection and preservation to remaining places in this country where “the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain…”

The idea of safeguarding wilderness for current and future generations has since become a worldwide phenomenon. yet there are still unprotected places large and small worthy of wilderness designation

Why wilderness?

For my better half Erik, it’s a place of refuge. It’s a place to decompress, to experience solitude, and return home recharged and inspired after spending time in its healing and soothing energies. He often comes home with new ideas for creating art as well.  Wilderness palpably reminds me that there is so much in this world that I may never fully understand, that as a human being I am a tiny yet powerful part of the planetary and ecological puzzle, and that here in Montana, I am not necessarily at the top of the food chain. I am totally responsible for my own safety there and for my own actions.

I love the gift of being able to lose yet also find yourself in nature, and in the wild. Things appear, seem and feel less complicated there, too. Our senses and awareness are heightened and magnified. Solutions and creativity surge and emerge after immersing ourselves in nature..

Even if you never experience wilderness in person, it’s comforting to know there are places where we allow natural processes and forces to interact without our micro-managing the environment to our advantage.

Over the past 50 years, wilderness areas have also gained an immeasurable and perhaps unforeseen advantage. Within larger national parks such as Yellowstone, lands managed for their wilderness values and characteristics also serve as baselines for study and research, to be compared with nearby areas more directly impacted by human activity.

At a time when some are calling for no more wilderness, that we have already have enough (or even too much) of it, that we may need remaining unprotected wild lands worldwide for energy or mineral extraction or human settlement, I beg to differ.

The earth is not creating any more wilderness. Right now, we have the power and capacity (and hopefully the wisdom) to set aside as many remaining wild lands as possible. Future generations could count on experiencing and enjoying places without a heavy human footprint or our long-term presence. Other species with whom we share the planet today would have a fighting chance to adapt, migrate or move in response to climate change related impacts.

One day I will also likely be too infirm or old to directly enjoy and experience wilderness. A little over 20 years ago, a lifetime’s worth of stories, movies, music, and photographs inspired by wilderness lovers, explorers and advocates triggered my desire to come West, to explore what others with incredible foresight and humility and unselfishness had preserved. There is still so much at stake today, as people in Montana fight for protection of the Badger-Two Medicine area and other treasured wild places, and people elsewhere advocate for areas close to their hearts and souls.

In the end, I think about our nieces and nephews and their families in the future, and what they will be able to enjoy and experience. Will they be able to sleep under a clear and starry light sky, and hear elk bugling, or the distant howling of wolves? Will they be able to build tree forts, ride bikes through the woods, or play games inspired by being out in nature? Will they become competent stewards of remaining untrammeled wild spaces in their own backyards, or say silent prayers of gratitude to nature lovers who came before them?

Dave Foreman once said that “Wild things exist for their own sake”.

Deep down, all of us have something wild and free and powerful in our hearts and souls-often revealed and brought forth to life through nature connection, through connection with something that is larger than ourselves.

Can we afford to live without wilderness?

Can we afford not to dream?

It’s an uncharacteristically cool, windy and overcast morning, and we’re unlikely to get much above the low 70s on this late July day. as I write this.

Our mountain ash tree berries are already ample, abundant, and hanging heavily as compared to previous years living here. The berries, still a greenish-yellowish hue at the moment, alternatingly swayed, brushed and batted against the neighbor’s roof with last night’s winds, at times providing a soothing backdrop to sleep, at other times abruptly waking us up at odd hours.

It feels like fall is already in the air. Birds and squirrels seem to be picking up the pace again, whether it’s collecting and scavenging ripening apricots falling to the ground, or picking over the last of the cherries. Earlier this week, our cat Flo-Jo brought inside a mouse she had killed. We calmly thanked her, then wrapped and tossed her wild gift into the trash can, preferring to feed her “cat food” instead!

In nature, wildlife seems to know when it’s time to step up the pace, to take action, and to prepare for what’s to come.

If one thing’s not in abundance in a particular season or year, something else undoubtedly is. Grizzly bears roam far and wide in search of sustenance in Greater Yellowstone when summer and fall seeds from whitebark pine trees are scarce.

It’s hard to believe that such large omnivores, in good whitebark pine years, can get up to 20 percent of their proteins and carbohydrates from these seeds, and up to 30% of their needed fats. Grizzlies are also adept at raiding caches of whitebark pine nuts stashed by squirrels, so squirrels create multiple caches, knowing that some will inevitably feed Ursus arctos horribilis instead.

Then there’s the chickadee, which weighs next to nothing and lives in cold, harsh climates year-round in places such as Yellowstone.

I remember waiting for Old Faithful to erupt on numerous -20 to -40 F mornings, and in the stillness and silence of anticipation noticing small groups of chickadees emerging from nearby conifers, unflappably confident, upbeat and knowing their needs would be provided for once the sun had risen.

Of course, chickadees also have a back-up plan, that being stashing small caches of seeds between cracks and gaps in the bark of trees throughout their range. Thus on severe stormy winter days when little food’s to be found, they have reliable places to get what they need as well.

Some people say that certain animals such as birds, squirrels, and rats are natural hoarders, that their motivations are driven by avoiding scarcity.

I beg to differ.

They are preparing, they are taking action. They make sure they have enough going into the winter, they allow for contingencies. They likely don’t lose sleep-they wake up each morning knowing what needs to be done, and they’re flexible and adaptable depending on what they’re experiencing every day.

But they also don’t seem to take and grab everything they can find and leave nothing for others in nature. They probably don’t agonize or over-analyze what they’re doing, what they did, or what they might do. I doubt they lose any sleep over things, either!

In the human world, though, hoarding and stock-piling inevitably leads to clutter, which, like kudzu, seems to restrict our mobility, and our ability to seize opportunities that are happening in the moment. It leads to increasing paralysis and separation. It fuels cycles of greed, shortage, lack, distrust and fear. It leads to violence and destruction of communities worldwide.

Do we really need 64-pack toilet paper rolls from a big box store on hand in our already over-stocked homes? Do we really have to go after the last of the fossil and non-renewable fuels instead of embracing abundant and infinite supplies of solar and wind power?

Stockpiling, hoarding and other actions stemming from fear-based, scarcity mindsets have real consequences that impact the natural world, and future generations.

Let’s loop back for a moment to what’s happening with grizzly bears In Greater Yellowstone in particular.

In poor whitebark pine seed years, grizzlies are now way more likely to encounter an abundance of subdivisions in what were once rural valleys they roam in search of food to fatten themselves for long winters. They’re likely to find an abundance of garbage, gardens, orchards, pet food, and occasionally even pets and livestock as potential food sources. These habitats that once provided an insurance policy or back-up plan in poor food years are now gauntlets of death and conflict for bears, other wide-ranging wildlife, and their human neighbors.

It’s fine and easy to have and create an abundant life. Nature shows us this in myriad ways, no matter where our feet are.

But creating and sustaining true abundance requires compassion and vigilance, making sure that that someone or something else’s right to thrive is not diminished or destroyed in the process. Something wild and priceless disappears when we neglect that, when we forget that we are all one. Future generations are robbed and looted when we act out of fear, scarcity, distrust and separation.

I know I am not alone on this, but grizzlies are what make Montana, Wyoming and Idaho’s back country vastly different from, say Colorado’s, for example. There’s something powerful and palpable knowing you’re in a place where you’re potentially part of the food chain-not the other way around.

There’s also a profound sense of awe and humility involved in respecting, protecting and allowing for grizzlies and other wild creatures to thrive, and not just survive, in this world, and maybe even to expand their range again in the Lower 48 states.

In the meantime, grizzlies are largely relegated to several island-like areas of varying protection south of the Canadian boundary. Politicians and government agencies in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are openly and publicly talking about de-listing the grizzly as an Endangered Species, and allowing for an annual hunting “harvest” (their words) in these states.

Again I beg to differ.

Conservationist and visionary Aldo Leopold remarked on similar challenges several generations back:

“There seems to be a tacit assumption that if grizzlies survive in Canada and Alaska, that is good enough. It is not good enough for me…Relegating grizzlies to Alaska is about like relegating happiness to heaven; one may never get there.”

There’s infinite, incalculable wisdom in being good stewards, and in restoring and healing the natural world in places where we can.

It seems like the only sane path moving forward for all of us-grizzlies included-to thrive.

If we follow a more self-centered and fearful path instead, decreasing numbers of people may still experience abundance for a while.

Yet they too will feel impoverished, and longing for that wild, wise and loving part of us we intentionally extinguished.

P.S.

I’d love to hear how this article resonated with you-thanks for contacting me to share your thoughts.

It’d be awesome to hear what you’re doing to simplify and de-clutter to bring greater meaning and focus to what you desire to create in your life.

I really appreciate your time reading this longer than normal posting.

It speaks so much to the rapid growth and transformation I am experiencing in my own life through deeper and more consistent connection with the natural world, but also to the powerful, positive and accelerated results my clients are experiencing as well!

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