A summer of discovery

By Lauren Hillestad

I began the summer with a number of expectations: work with cool people, create stuff I can add to my portfolio, learn new things, and go on some awesome hikes. I grew up in Mount Shasta, California where loving the outdoors is a given and I’m an Advertising student at the University of Oregon, so the Conservation Technology Intern position at Oregon Wild seemed like the perfect fit. Since the main projects I was supposed to work on were brochures and webpages for hikes that Oregon Wild suggested, I figured the majority of what I learned would take place in the office. However, the lesson that resonated with me the most came during my time hiking with the Oregon Wild staff. 

I’ve been hiking for as long as I can remember. It was a big part of my childhood, and now it’s an even bigger part of my adult life as I find more and more comfort in being outside. But on my first hike with Chandra, Oregon Wild’s Western Oregon Field Coordinator, I realized I’d been doing it wrong all along. Up until that point my outings had been about destinations; I hiked to get to waterfalls, lookouts, summits, and so on. If you had asked me to name the plants and wildlife I spent hours hiking through, though, I would’ve come up blank. 

In contrast, my first trip to scout a hike with Chandra was the beginning of my newfound mission to slow down. Rather than powering through the hike and heading home, we took the time to stop and pay attention. It was the first time in my life I stopped for more than water, a quick glance, or to catch my breath. I came away from that quick hike at Lookout Creek in the Willamette National Forest knowing more about the area and the different species that inhabited it than I ever anticipated, yet for Chandra it was a standard hike. 

In the overall scheme of things, it’s about more than identifying plants and strange insects you happen upon while hiking. It’s about understanding that it’s more than a hike. When my summer began I loved to be outside, and now as it winds down I’m still learning to love outside regardless of my place in it. This sentiment was just as relevant as I began my long list of hike write-ups for brochures and webpages. The focus was shifted from the hike’s destination to the area itself and the history behind it. I realized how much effort had gone into preserving some of the spots I’d always taken for granted, and how little I knew about so many of the trails and areas I’d been enjoying all my life.

More so than anything else, my summer at Oregon Wild put a lot of things into perspective. It’s one thing to see a proposed Wilderness area on a map and have a vague understanding of what you’re fighting to preserve, but in order to truly understand the mission to “keep Oregon wild,” it helps to slow down and experience the areas for youself.