A Winning Combination

Monday, July 30, 2018 - 2:51pm


Liz Todd

Last week Zach equated his work out here to a full meal. He described how his work was like a recipe with a perfect combination of main dishes and side courses. His cooking has come a long way since pasta and eggs and he’s not wrong about how the work we do at the Henry’s Fork Foundation is the ideal balance of main and side dishes.  There’s a lot to be said about how that perfectly prepared meal makes me feel because working out here makes me feel full both literally and metaphorically.  While it’s easy to talk about how quinoa, tofu (yes, Zach, you still have to learn how to cook tofu), and veggies make me physically satisfied, it’s a little harder to pin down how full my life feels in other ways.

I find my work this summer to be incredibly rewarding. It’s easy to become passionately invested in a project like one I’m working on when you can see the tangible purpose behind it. As an undergraduate it’s almost normal to become consumed in the rat race, in the turbo charged competition for summer work. As summers have come and gone during my 3 years in college, I’ve watched some of my peers make summer employment choices based on big names and future connections without regard to quality of life or the work they’ll end up doing. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with that but I strongly believe that investing in yourself, your happiness, your development, and your future aren’t mutually exclusive concepts when it comes to choosing your summer employment. I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum and unapologetically followed my own passions for my summer work and academic pursuits. Last summer that landed me in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon working for a sector of the Brazilian Government doing geoprocessing and environmental licensing. While I grew an incredible amount and fell in love with the vibrant cultures that swirled together in Manaus, there was an itch in the back of my mind that I couldn’t scratch.  I was frustrated by how detached I felt from the United States and all of the important work that still needed to be done in areas that I held close to my heart. Don’t misunderstand me, the work that needs to be done in the Amazon is extremely important and the evolution of conservation strategies to ensure that Amazon has a sustainable future is something that I care deeply about, but I felt like I was being called home. 

What made the prospect of working at the Henry’s Fork Foundation so attractive to me was the opportunity to do work in a region that I’ve loved since I was a child. Though the work I do daily can be frustrating and sometimes I feel like I’ve hit an impassible wall, it’s the some of the most rewarding work I’ve had to privilege to do. The main dish of my summer is just what I needed to break my mind out of the routine of traditional academia. Using ArcGIS forces me to be creative and to consistently push the boundaries of my knowledge. With each day that passes I can feel my perspective changing and through my occasional frustrations I see my abilities and confidence growing.  So, again, I feel full here.

Like Zach so astutely pointed out in his blog post, it takes more than just a main dish to make a meal and there has to be some pretty good sides to accompany something as delicious as tofu (yeah, I’m that girl). Aside from doing satisfying and rewarding work, my life outside of my 9-5 has been nothing short of spectacular. I’ve had the opportunity to chase down so many bucket list adventures this summer, but it’s not just the bucket list things that have made this summer unlike anything else I’ve experienced before, it’s the daily micro adventures as well.  Ashton is located in a stunning area. I can see the Tetons from the back porch of the Community Campus and as I mentioned in my last blog post it’s right smack in the middle of some of my favorite natural playgrounds and parks. But, even beyond that, on a smaller scale I’ve fallen in love with the life I get to live here.

There’s something about sunsets spent biking through rolling farm fields and evenings spent exploring Bear Gulch and the Warm River. I can’t even begin to explain the way light pierces through the mist from the pivot lines over a field of wheat, barley, or potatoes. Or how the temperature drops and cold, refreshing water droplets splatter all over you as you peddle through spray on a back farm road in the exhausting heat.  It’s something else entirely to lie out on the St. Anthony Sand Dunes and look up at the Milky Way and the planets while embers and sparks from bonfires on neighboring dunes dance on the warm summer wind. It’s the little things; the mundane things that we take for granted most of the time that are absolutely enchanting if you pause long enough to experience them. This summer has been an ongoing class in opening my mind and eyes to what’s all around me and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel so full. My hands are stained from picking fresh raspberries from Rob’s garden and my muscles are tired from my endless series of hikes, bikes, and runs and I’m at peace with where I am




The day-to-day life in Ashton is amazing, but the other weekend Zach and I checked off a big bucket list thing for me. Two years ago I tried to hike Mount Borah with some people from HFF and TNC. I tried and I failed to even get above the tree line. Everyone else summited but I turned around on a mountain for the first time in my life. I felt like I had completely lost even though turning around was the safe thing to do. As someone with exercise-induced asthma, I’ve gotten used to pushing myself dangerously close to the line over the course of all of my outdoor shenanigans. I had to turn around that day because there was a hazardous air quality warning out for the region and Borah was blanketed with a thick haze of smoke from the surrounding wildfires. My lungs just couldn’t handle it and my body failed me while my mind was somewhere else, furiously imagining myself churning my way up the mountain. Oh man, I was pissed. Ever since that day Borah hung out in the back of my mind on every hike I did. It was there when I hiked the Ausengate Trek last summer, one of the hardest hikes in the world, with multiple passes over 16,000 feet. It was there when I summited multiple mountains in the Peruvian Andes and when I led hikes for my university’s Outing Club; and it was there when I made the decision to come out to Ashton and work this summer. I was going to get up Borah this summer no matter how many tries it took me. Now, I know that statement probably seems a little dramatic but Borah is the 6th hardest state high peak in the nation, is the tallest peak in Idaho, 80% of the trail is at a 30-40% or higher grade, and it has a long portion of low level technical climbing called Chicken Out Ridge that is 2 feet wide in some places with a 2,000 foot drop on either side that you do without ropes. Plus, I’m just a bit stubborn. So, the other weekend I finally summited Borah, and, I did it without using my inhaler once.  It’s a bear of a hike and there were times when Zach and I definitely questioned our sanity but we didn’t give up. There’s nothing like standing on the summit of a mountain and knowing that the only reason you made it that far is because you had the sheer willpower and mental strength to get there. So, standing on top of Borah, next to a grinning Zach, holding a sign that said “Congratulations! You have reached the top of Mount Borah Elevation 12,662 feet there is nothing more to see, you can go home now,” once again I felt full.  

I had finally done something I wasn’t sure I could physically do; I had defeated the mountain that came out on top the last time I tried to battle my way to its summit. Siting there next to the rippling American flag, surrounded by frayed prayer flags, I looked out on the smoke enveloped mountains in the Lost River Range and I felt at peace and so full.

So, I have to commend Zach for coming up with the perfect metaphor for a summer in Ashton: a meal and side dishes. Like every recipe, it is what you make of it. You can follow it perfectly, you can go a little light on the seasoning or you can trust your instincts and make up your own recipe. The recipe for my summer has come out just right. It’s had some unexpected twists and turns, and I haven’t always had the ingredients I thought I needed, but sometimes that happens when you cook, and it also happens in life. It turns out that I didn’t need them though, the ones I ended up with created a pretty delicious combination of just what I didn’t know I needed. So, cheers to a summer of feeling both physically and metaphorically full. Here’s to a summer of work that has exceeded my expectations and a whole host of adventures more crazy and wonderful than my wildest dreams.