By Emily Stifler Wolfe
Lightning strikes overhead and thunder reverberates across the steppe. The Landmark crew ducks into a coulee as rain pummels them. Scattered around the gully, they sit on their heels in lightning position. Water soaks through their jackets and hoods, down their backs, into their boots.
Rachel crouches lower, bending her head against the rain. Ela looks over at Shannon, whose sopping flannel shirt hugs her back. Leah shifts her weight, her calves cramping.
Then, as quickly as it came, the storm cell moves past.
The crew walks up out of the draw, sun and wind drying the spring blooms around them. Bentonite clay—known colloquially as “gumbo” here in eastern Montana—sticks to their boots as they hike back to the car.
These six women only met yesterday. They traveled from around the country to volunteer on the 31,000-acre Sun Prairie, part of the 270,000-acre American Prairie Reserve.
They’ve entered a landscape in transition: In June, the northern Great Plains come alive as spring turns to summer. Flowers fleck the sagebrush steppe, songbirds migrate into their summer habitat, and the bison reintroduced here by APR are calving.
Although they began as strangers, the Landmark crew falls into step quickly, and that night around the campfire they play Irish fiddle reels and a few guitar tunes from Gillian Welch. Listen to the haunting beauty of Rachel Herring’s fiddle:
Rachel says she taught herself the first track, “The Cross of Savannah,” written by Zoe Conway, by listening to Conway’s CD. The second is the traditional Irish fiddle tune “Tam Lin,” which Rachel also learned by ear—this from her fiddle teacher back home in Nashville.
As they watch the season change, the Landmark volunteers will walk hundreds of miles collecting data to support conservation efforts on the reserve. Some part of each crew member will change, as well, becoming woven into this wild country.
Landmark is ASC’s groundbreaking project to provide on-the-ground support for the American Prairie Reserve management team. Keep up with this and other Adventure Science projects on our blog, by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter (@AdventurScience), Instagram (@AdventureScience) and Google+.