by Marko Capoferri
The late civil rights activist Vincent Harding once said, in regard to fulfilling our ideas of who we are as a nation, that America is still a developing country. Ideas evolve as culture and places and people evolve. The subtitle of Camas Magazine is ‘the Nature of the West.’ Both ‘nature’ and ‘the West’ are terms full of ambiguity. They are ideas that are in a constant state of evolution, ideas that are worth continuous appraisal and reinterpretation from a multitude of voices and perspectives.
Our new Camas Co-Editor Jane Sheffer has spent a considerable amount of time exploring the nature of the West, first as a trail worker, and later as a field biologist, splitting her time between her native California and the Northern Rockies. She landed here in Missoula to put all of that experience into perspective and onto paper. She is a first-year student in the Environmental Studies graduate program, with a focus on Environmental Writing.
MC: When people say ‘the West,’ what does that evoke in you?
JS: My personal migration has been east, from California to Montana, which has shaped a lot of how I think of ‘the West’. It was interesting to arrive in Montana and hear people from further east talk about coming to the West. They would describe the time when they had first seen the Rocky Mountains and they knew that they just needed to stay ‘out West.’ I have come to associate that term with this area, Montana, because it’s not really something that you hear in California on the coast. I came to associate it with a way of life that is more integrated with the natural landscape and that has this certain aesthetic of openness.
MC: How about the word ‘nature’? I know it’s a loaded word, but what resonance does that term have for you?
JS: My immediate reaction is thinking of not-human elements. But, as I think as anyone in the environmental studies field will tell you, that perception really comes to morph and change the longer that you study humans’ interactions with the environment. At the deepest level we’re just as much ‘nature’ as anything else; I definitely believe that. By that definition, human-made things can be considered natural. It’s something that I am trying to grapple with in my own writing, which deals with the ethics of conservation and restoration, and the manipulation that’s inherent in us trying to revert things to a ‘natural’ state. I think on its surface, ‘nature’ tends to be a seemingly benign and simple word that, upon further investigation, is so broad and also kind of muddy. There are just so many ways to look at it. Camas’s definition of ‘the Nature of the West’ has a lot more to do with simply the way that things are. Maybe that’s all it really can be defined as: just a state of being that’s neither man-made nor not man-made, that just is.
MC: Gary Snyder defines ‘nature’ as ‘the entire phenomenal world.’
JS: I really like that. Because it’s sort of a silly endeavor to try to tease apart humans from nature; I think that is completely contrived.
MC: Could you talk a little bit about your writing and the work you hope to do in the Environmental Studies graduate program?
JS: My thesis will end up being a collection of essays that examine the relationships between humans and the environment, using my experiences as a field biologist with wildlife as a lens through which to examine that relationship.
MC: How might this writing you are working on align with the aims of Camas Magazine?
JS: I really like this particular articulation of the magazine’s mission: Camas cultivates a community of writers and artists dedicated to promoting ecological and cultural diversity and resilience in the American West. I love the idea of sharing experiences that serve to strengthen the core of this mission, to promote health among people and land and animals. I hope my writing can play a part in that, and serve that same purpose.