On Highway 93 North to Polson place signs are written in the Salish language. I learned from Wendy Askan the same sites going south are written in the Kootenai language. A tribute for these two tribes put unwillingly together during the Indian land taking era of the U.S. Government.
After the first day of training I spent the evening beside the Flathead Lake with the mountains so beautiful I could not quit looking until it was totally dark. The second morning and the rest of the week the mountains were gone, the lake was smaller, the smoke arrived and the sun was not seen again before leaving the state.
The last day there, we learned from Marcella Adolph, originally from the Colville Reservation that three firefighters had died in Washington and her family was evacuating. Their sacred mountain had been burned. She had tears for the loss, the firefighters, her family, the animals, and she began to talk about the confusion the animals must have looking for their young in that chaos, their routes to the rivers, the streams for safety, the smoke and fire.
I drove on the 56 mile highway that was built to the Flathead Reservation to be a visitor in the landscape that is respectful to the people, wildlife and "spirit of the place" who have survived there for a millennia and built in a way to protect people and wildlife.
Wildlife exclusion fencing with dig barriers funnel animals toward crossing structures like caves open on two sides to allow water to flow, providing water, shade, shelter for large and small animals. Safe crossings were also designed to allow animals caught along the road to escape oncoming vehicles.
I stopped the car and got out to see the sign in Salish with the other sign in Kootenai both for the bridge made only for animals to cross the highway safely, "the Animal's Trail." It wasn't paved, it was covered with native grasses, it was for the animals! I thought back to the animals trying to flee the fires in Washington on the Colville Reservation and all the other fires burning the west. If they had a bridge to safety they might make it, they might survive.
My eyes burned for four days miles away from the heat and flames. Health warnings were issued for children and the elderly to avoid the smoke to protect their health.
I went to Montana for Say It Straight, to train leaders in communities and schools who work with young people on the reservation to prevent destructive behavior and promote wellness. They learned to Say It Straight and will teach these skills and ripples will be felt throughout their communities on that reservation and change can begin.
Now I have an environmental message: Humans have caused climate change and it may be too late to stop the cascading changes, but everyone of us can do something differently. We can all do something to lessen our footprint, or leave fewer fingerprints on the mess we are leaving on this our only home. To Say It Straight: We need to stop our destructive behaviors now.
After this experience in the mountains of the west it is obvious climate change is drying our forests, stressing our pine trees making them more vulnerable to the Pine Bark Beetle causing ever more die-offs producing more fodder for the next fires.
In the last issue of the Sierra Club magazine on the next to the last page is a photo of what looks like a tall pine tree in Yosemite National Park. It isn't a tree. It is a cell phone tower disguised as a pine tree. Is this our future? Will all of our National Forests have to be filled with imitation pine trees?