My name is Natalie Pontikes and I am a rising senior at St. Lawrence University where I study Environmental Studies, English and Outdoor Studies. Having been born and raised in the middle of Chicago, Illinois, I have jumped at each opportunity to escape and explore rural, wild, and mountainous regions of America, be it desert, forest, high peaks, etc. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy several life-changing summers in the Greater Yellowstone Region of the west. My time spent in this area has largely shaped me and my passions; the west stole my heart from a young age and has drawn me back time after time. I learned how to fly fish on the crystal clear streams of Wyoming and quickly developed an adoration for time spent on the water, regardless of whether or not I was catching fish. Being an anxious kid, time on the water provided me with a sense of mindfulness that was unparalleled by my highly competitive sports and school activities back home. I was isolated from streams to fish back home in the city, so my time out west was of the utmost value to me (and my pursuit of more fly fishing knowledge).
My passion for trout not only as something to catch, but something to protect, admire, and marvel at, developed as I grew older. As someone who is passionate about healthy trout, I am of course equally as passionate about healthy watersheds. Clean water is easy to take for granted. I have had an ample supply my whole life and never had to question taking a shower or washing the dishes in the sink. This past fall, however, I took part in an off-campus study program that flipped my perspective of water on its head. In lieu of studying outside the country, I chose to take part in St. Lawrence’s Adirondack Semester, a program that selects 12 individuals to live in an off-the-grid yurt village alongside a lake in the Adirondack state park of New York. Participants must take part in community chores, cooking, and classes with minimal electricity and no running water. Although the lake was only 100 yards away from our kitchen, hauling our heavy day’s supply of water was humbling each time. Bathing by means of a quick jump into an icy lake in November was equally as humbling. There was no faucet in our village, and we were faced with this fact every day, several times a day. Since completing the semester and returning to “normal” life, I find myself thinking about clean water (and my gratitude for it) often.
I, like many modern outdoor enthusiasts, want to ensure a future that allows generations to come the chance to marvel at landscape the way I have been able to. Being a city kid, I can’t express how much my time spent in the Greater Yellowstone region influenced my values and perspective. The thought of my beloved western ecosystem full of healthy waters deteriorating in future years frightens me immensely. The logical way to combat this fear, I thought, was to pursue studies focused on conservation and communication. I have always had a passion for literature, and after taking my first creative writing class, I discovered both my interest in writing as a creative outlet, and the power of the written word. Together, the components of my major allow me to analyze humans and the natural world, and furthermore communicate the topics I feel passionately about. Henry’s Fork Foundation strives to reach all of the same goals that I have in mind, such as protecting the fisheries, wildlife, and beauty of the watershed. When I discovered the Henry’s Fork Internship in communications and media, it sounded too good to be true! I feel immense gratitude knowing that I will be surrounded by an extremely knowledgeable team to learn from, and I am excited to do my part in interpreting and communicating this knowledge of the Henry’s Fork Watershed through a creative medium. Additionally, I aim to continue spreading passion for aquatic ecology, habitat conservation, and trout by means of an education career after my time at HFF ends.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I have been given the opportunity to merge my passion for environmental science and trout with my photography. I hope to do my part in expressing the symbolism and beauty behind a healthy trout, and I can’t wait to treasure each day spent learning about the Henry’s Fork watershed this summer.
(Photographs taken in my first few days exploring Fremont and Teton County)