Read about Darcy’s introduction to the Missoula community and her project work for the service year:
A herd of antelope meanders alongside US-287, their stately grace silhouetted against the rough cliffs of Vedauwoo, Wyoming. I slow down, hoping they won’t suddenly dart into the road. That would not bode well for my car, the animal, or my new position. I’ve just left my home in Fort Collins, Colorado for Missoula, Montana to begin my AmeriCorps position with the National Wildlife Federation. As their Wildlife and Sustainability Educator, I will have the goal of starting Missoula on the road to certification as a Community Wildlife Habitat and I am beginning to get nervous. A large portion of the Community Wildlife Habitat program involves gardening for wildlife, or making your yard more hospitable to wildlife by providing food, water, cover, and places to raise young.
Before getting to know Missoula, I was concerned about what wildlife we would be gardening for. Would I find anything but squirrels? Or, my overactive imagination brooded, would I have to help people battle moose, bears, and Canada geese right in their back yards? After living here for a bit, I’ve come to the conclusion that my fears (at least the latter ones) are, well, fairly accurate…but also quite off-base. How so? Let’s rewind. It’s my second day of work and I’m biking home through my new suburban neighborhood, admiring the fall foliage and not really noticing anything other than the play of afternoon sunlight among red and gold leaves when a brown and white blur dashes in front of me, causing me to slam on my brakes. I nearly tumble over my handlebars, only to watch a doe and her fawn hop over a short fence and start serenely nibbling on a neighbor’s impeccably manicured garden. Within two weeks, avoiding deer collisions on my daily commute becomes second nature. Bambi is alive and well in Missoula. Approximately a week after that first deer incident, I’m on my usual Saturday morning hike up in the Rattlesnake Valley a few miles from town when I come across several large piles of very fresh, very berry-filled bear scat. I’m not a half mile from the trailhead, and there’s houses a scant half mile from there. My visions of fighting bears amongst the tulips suddenly don’t seem so far-fetched.
Later that week, I’m lounging in my back-yard hammock, lazily perusing the latest installment of National Geographic when I hear a loud buzzing near my head. I pause and glance up, my desultory gaze turning sharp as I catch a glimpse of a jewel-toned body and blurred wings: a hummingbird. I sit up, intrigued, and take in all the wildlife in the quarter-acre plot: butterflies flit through flowers; a hummingbird buzzes around looking for nectar; squirrels chitter overhead; a flock of unidentified birds soars overhead. It is now clear that my challenge will not be gardening for wildlife, but gardening with wildlife. I live in a wild and wonderful town, and I could not be more excited to get to know the place, the people, and my project.
Darcy McKinley Lester studied forestry science at Pennsylvania State University with a focus in forest biology. Her junior year, she spent five months at the Australian National University where I focused on forest policy and international forestry. Darcy is serving with the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula, helping certify the community as a wildlife habitat and furthering the Eco-School initiative in the state.