"In the nice ear of Nature, which song was the best?" - Mardy Murie
You know when you go to a concert and hear a band or singer for the first time, and you're hooked. You love their sound, their lyrics, their banter, the complete atmosphere and you almost feel akin to these otherwise complete strangers. You wonder how did you not hear of them before, and begin to imagine the friends you want to share their tunes with. You find yourself buying not one but three of their albums, and as if with each listening throughout the years you are brought back to that first introduction, the magic and awe you felt reawakens a bit, as does that part of you.
In many ways that's exactly how I felt when I was introduced to Olaus and Mardy Murie, and how I think of them, now, some 9 years later. I was 28, and participating in a professional development through the Teton Science Schools. One of our required readings was a chapter from Wapiti Wilderness. I confess I didn't read it beforehand. I had never even heard of the Muries before, and like any seasoned procrastinator, put it off, thinking, surely, they'll be some "review time" on site.
Our won site for the next four days was The Murie Center. There are few places where simply upon arrival I feel a shift, this place is one of the top three. The magic is tangible, as if all the wild animals know it too. You seem to hear nature's hidden sounds underneath the bird song, and feel as if you can know the layers of leaves around you: those on the branch, those of the ground, those no longer visible as leaves yet you know their history is behind the new growth of the moss and lichen, their presence firmly there.
The Murie Center is located within Grand Teton National Park, about 2 miles west of Moose, WY. It was the Murie Ranch, the home of Olaus and Mardy Murie, and as Olaus himself described it, it is very much the "heart of American Wilderness." Although just arriving at this location was more than enough to peak my interest in these authors - that first night we learned about them, while sitting in their home, and that entree into their life left me in awe.
In brief, they are known as the grandparents of modern conservation, and the Wilderness Act is a credit to them. To say they were influential in how we today view and protect American wildlife is an understatement. Yet it was not simply their constant, active love for and documentation of the wilderness, but their deep respect for each other too which touched me so.
One of my favorite nuggets from the evening is an account of Mardy. After Olaus passed away, she went to Congress to advocate for wilderness conservation in his memory. When she started speaking of his passion for the wilderness she began to cry. Instead of hiding it, or feeling less in the company of politicians, she simply stated, "What's wrong with showing a little emotion?" She carried on and won them over. . . I was hooked. I would have bought all their albums no doubt and shared them for Christmas presents and birthdays and random thinking of you care packages. If Murie Fever is a thing, I caught it then and do not want a cure.
For about six to seven years I thankfully continued to participate in different workshops through the Teton Science Schools. I can't recommend them enough, yet thats a different Thankful Sharing. After that first year most of the trainings were held on either of the school's campuses. Both stunningly beautiful locations, and in many ways more modern and accommodating; however, not the same. Each time I drove up, I'd return to the Murie Center for a pocket of time. With no plan, other than to to listen, feel, touch, to sit by the stream and be in such well loved, wild company.
I haven't been back in over two years and I feel it. I often wonder when I'll return. The other day I found myself rereading Wapiti Wilderness, as if listening to a track on a record, and sunk into the music of their writing and those memories. Now, it feels as though I might have hyped the Muries up a bit. Which they completely are worthy of, Harrison Ford and John Denver have collaborated with them. If you google "Bad Ass Wilderness Women" (which one day you too may find yourself doing), Mardy Murie, is on the list. If you're looking for a hyped up read though, their books are anything but. They offer simple accounts of daily life in the wilderness. Mardy's chapters reveal their life together across the seasons throughout their adventures. Olaus tells of his work as a field biologist for the old U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey and shares stories of his studies on the elk and other western animals.
There is a refreshingly bold truth to their writing though. They aren't trying to be or display anything grand. And yet they have the courage to share the ordinary, to find the beauty and value in their everyday, in the natural world around them, and to reflect upon such and put it out there for others to see, wholly, simple, real, and wild, as is.
In that first workshop one of the resources we learned about for teaching was the Teton Science School Science Circle. I love it as a tool for guidance not just in science, yet in life, for every day we go about and observe, question, form ideas, test them out, see the outcome and reflect upon what happened, and based on all of this we come up with some form of conclusion. The final step is to share, we only really know ourself and our views when we share with others, yet often, although we engage in many mini moments of science thinking throughout the day, we keep much of them to ourselves. At times I wonder if we question the value of sharing, or fear what others may think, or just think it's not worth it, someone else's story matters more. The Muries shared. They shared their passion and commitment to the natural world tirelessly. And they shared the softer completely imperfect, normal bits of the wild and themselves too.
If you'd like to learn more about The Murie Center, click here.
If you'd like to learn more about the Teton Science Schools's Teacher Learning Center, click here.
If you are curious about their books, both Wapiti Wilderness and Two in the Far North are available on Amazon, but also through several non-link options too.
There is also a beautiful documentary called Arctic Dance, available on DVD, also available on Amazon, or your public library (if its not at your library - maybe you could suggest it, and share forth, making it so.)
Below is sweet glimpse into Muries through John Denver's song written for them, here he sings it to Mardy, on her front porch, at her home, The Murie Center.