Fire to Ice

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“Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice.” Read the first two lines of an only nine line poem that is both simple and complex. Robert Frost wrote the work, and it was first published in December of 1920, in Harper’s Magazine. The poem was again published in Frost’s Pulitzer Prize winning book “New Hampshire” in 1923.

In August 2017 around Northwest Montana, our world was severely threatened by fire, which continued into October and by the October/early November time period had abruptly changed to challenging snow and ice conditions. And so, as fallible humans given to both compassion and envy, and being somewhat at the mercy of the elements on this earth, we rolled with it and began anew.

Many including perhaps Frost himself speculated that his poem “Fire and Ice” was also alluding to human emotions. The parallel being that too much fire and passion can quickly consume a relationship, while cold indifference and hate can be equally destructive.

While attending a meeting in early November on Canadian lynx research, an announcement unexpectedly drew emotional reactions from this humble columnist. The presentation by Dr. John Squires of the Missoula Forestry Sciences Laboratory in Missoula was focused on lynx research overviews and updates.

From approximately 1990 to about 2006, yours truly was heavily involved in both furbearer and forestry research in our area. Projects were related to fisher, marten, wolverine and lynx research, and included: furbearer track surveys for Tim Their, furbearer researcher; wolverine live trapping; lynx hair snagging with John Weaver; lynx live trapping and radio collaring with Clayton Apps; fisher live trapping and radio collaring with Ray Vinkey; American badger research with Joyce Whitney, forest inventory and analysis team leader; and forest timber sale, cruising and streamside management zones with Plum Creek Timber. Working with the folks at the sciences lab on furbearer research was a great learning experience in many ways. It was a pleasure working with Kevin McKelvey, John Squires, Gary Hanvey, Jay Kolbe and Len Ruggerio.

Len was the head of the department of research. Len and myself hit it off right away! Ruggerio being a tough Italian kid from the NYC area, and myself being of Irish descent and from the same area, shared a common stubbornness and resilience that is rarely talked about among these peoples. But it is always understood and mutually respected.

Within minutes of greeting John Squires, I found out that Len had passed away. I think that I had heard a rumor to that effect, but perhaps refused to believe it or accept it at that time. I had no words. But I remembered that Len had always stressed to me sound science and keeping an open mind. He always emphasized finding a balance in solutions and relationships. Thanks Len.

To seek a fair balance is a trying but noble cause. It is honorable to strive for preserving the unique lynx habitat we have here, while at the same time harvesting timber in well designed and marked stands of timber that will not adversely affect wildlife. To explore every possibility of maintaining pristine wilderness, but not ruling out clean, non-polluting mining to help our struggling local economy and people. To weigh the scales out evenly when dealing with men and women in working and personal relationships. And between fire and ice.

“Some say the world will end in fire

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.” — Robert Frost

Brian Baxter is a forester, wildlife researcher, educator and author of articles on the outdoors. He has worked in the area for decades and teaches a variety of outdoor educational programs for various local groups.

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