By Michael Howell
How well do you know your world?
It’s hard to imagine anyone visiting the Bitterroot Valley for the first time who would not be struck by the awesome beauty of the place. But those who linger here, who live here, soon recognize something even more amazing and that is how the place can grow even more beautiful the more you learn about it. It’s like the difference between what a city slicker from down south might see when walking through a snowfield in the Sapphires compared to what a seasoned tracker sees. One sees some strange markings in the snow, probably some kind of track left by some kind of animal. The other sees the whole story. How the bobcat tracked the unsuspecting hare. Where the chase began. He can even see how long ago it happened, based on the condition of the tracks and what he knows of the weather conditions over the last week. Our knowledge adds to our vision of things. The awesome beauty of the world grows deeper the more we learn about it. And the learning never ends. As Aristotle put it, “The more we know, the more we know there is to know.”
So, no matter how much you already know about the Bitterroot Valley, you owe it to yourself to visit the latest Natural History exhibition at the Ravalli County Museum. You are bound to learn something new. Local experts, agencies and organizations of every sort collaborated to put this exhibit together including the US Forest Service, Montana Natural History Center, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Bitterroot Gem and Mineral Society, Montana Audubon Society, Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, and Raptors of the Rockies.
Museum Director Tamar Stanley said that the exhibit was designed with a three-tiered focus combining natural history with social history and art. It has been designed to be appealing and accessible to people of all ages. It is set up to intrigue and involve the viewers. For instance, you can test your knowledge of local animals by trying to identify the various animal pelts and then try to match them with the appropriate skulls, tracks and, yes, even scat (poop).
Some incredible photography by Patrick Clark is laced throughout the exhibit, as well as some samples of beautiful watercolors done in the field by water colorist and naturalist Karen Savory.
The Natural History Exhibit will run through April and things will be continually added to it to keep it interesting for returning visitors.
To help us all see things even better, a series of lectures has also been arranged which complements the exhibit with topics ranging from cultural customs of indigenous people, to wolves, fish, fire and the mighty Glacier Lake. The January lecture series is entitled “Fields and Forests of the Bitterroot.” Steve Arno and Bob Mutch gave the first presentation last week, lecturing on the role of fire across the landscape of the Western US and the local Bitterroot private and governmental property.
The lectures takes place on the second floor of the Museum on Thursdays at 6 p.m. The schedule for the rest of the month is as follows: January 9 – Jack Losensky will present a photographic presentation of the forests of the west and the Bitterroot in particular prior to European arrival and influence; January 16 – Panel discussion including Paul Moore from the Montana Dept. of Natural Resources, Byron Bonney of the Bitter Root RC&D Area, and Julia Altemus of the Montana Wood Products Association; January 24 – The Bitterroot National Forest will address all components of the federal government’s many obligations of providing “The Most Good for the Most People” over the long period.