Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

Vote for Hopkins for Real Leadership & Real Solutions!

By Dave Batchelder
Executive Director, Clearwater Resource Council 

Our corner of the world


Nathan Bourne, Pathfinder

As the sun set, it lit up the Swan Range casting nearly a mirror reflection on Clearwater Lake.

In New Delhi, India, the summer air is heavy with humidity while the stifling heat serves to wring every last bit of magic out of a gin and tonic, long on gin, but short-changed with precious ice. The smog can be oppressive, hanging over the ancient city like a bad dream. The constant racket of the rickshaws' (tuk-tuks) horns and bells can wear on the traveling soul, like fingernails dragging endlessly down a chalkboard. The sea of humanity seems to have no beginning, no end. Waves of people, ebbing and flowing with the tides of daily life. But the cadence of the city is enchanting. In places it overflows with happiness and beauty. Its 'wonderful sense of place' of course is germane to its environment and its people.

Cutting through cold swells of the North Atlantic seven miles off Norway's rugged coast in an eight, meter-long Soling sailboat, with a nine-meter mast, one appreciates the power of wind and the ingenuity that pulsated through the veins of ancient Norsemen, hell-bent on having a symbiotic and respectful relationship with the sea. In a small boat with even two smaller people in a vast, dark, deep ocean, arrogance and ego don't lend themselves to the imperative of buoyancy. Between ocean spray and the solstice sun, this 'sense of place' is defined by salty water, wind and solitude.

The summer 'sense of place' here in the Swan Valley may be woven together with majestic sun rises over the Swans, overnights in the Bob, lazy Sundays on one of the enchanting lakes, coffee enjoyed in the crisp morning air, or a nice day hike into the Missions.

Just like India or the North Sea, the Swan Valley does not have a corner on the market of beauty or solitude. Fortunately, these virtues transcend place. They exist not because of specific longitude and latitude but rather are nuanced by community and landscape. Solitude exists in hectic Delhi but in a much different flavor than solitude on Sunday Mountain in the Swan Range. Likewise, there is as much beauty with a Lake Inez sunrise as there is with a sunset over a sleepy ocean as seen from a sailboat drifting peacefully at sea.

The 'sense of place' the Swan Valley may provide this summer to its local residents and thousands of visitors, however, is not the result of arbitrary and capricious human influences. Rather the Swan Valley is one of the most robust, intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states due in part to thorough deliberation and advocacy for healthy forests and vibrant watersheds. The decision-making process influencing our landscape has been and hopefully will continue to be, iterative.

It's done at all levels of government, throughout private industry and is a major fabric of the non-profit world. When done right, decisions made today are better informed than decisions made it the past. We as a community do better when we are intellectually honest and learn from past mistakes. The integrity of the 'sense of place,' suffers when we do otherwise.

Efforts to plan soundly for the future are not often dramatic or glamorous. Meetings can be boring and at times uninspiring. Collecting good data is tedious and never ending. After one meeting...there is always another. Water quality monitoring, aquatic invasive species management, responsible hazardous fuel reduction projects and community trail planning may not always move mountains but it's a sincere attempt to save them.

The end game for the Swan Valley has little margin for error. No one is making more landscapes, no one is manufacturing more lakes and streams. It's a finite resource, filled with thousands of tiny ecological balancing acts, some we understand well, others not so much. And when we as a community think we understand a specific balancing act extraordinarily well – we sometimes get into trouble. Humility and curiosity are two important ingredients for good decision making.

We all are part of this beautiful and unique valley and to some degree have our own language specific to our landscape, our shared experiences of this place and hopefully a common vision for what we hope to leave for those yet to witness a sunrise over the Swans, see a griz ramble over a ridge, pick huckleberries in the summer sun, or dip tired feet into a cool creek in the valley on a hot summer day. The world is a beautiful place but it takes a vigilant, well-intentioned, communal effort to make it so.

The Swan Valley is our chosen corner of the world. To call this place home is a privilege. Maintaining an intact ecosystem doesn't come easy or haphazardly but it is most worthy of rigorous, well-informed and deliberate pursuit. Sustaining our 'sense of place' this summer, is worth whatever it takes.


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