Finding meaning in a special place

by Kelsea Harris-Capuano
| August 19, 2020 1:00 AM

“I just saw the bear,” Randy Flores said as he walked up from the Flathead Lake Biological Station shoreline. Flores saw one of at least four black bears who look quite comfortable living on Bio Station grounds this summer.

Black bears are common in the Flathead, but the small number of people at the Bio Station this year may have made them bolder than usual. This is just one element that is contributing to a unique summer intern experience at FLBS.

A whiteboard in the Bio Station’s main office has been tracking bear sightings since early spring and Flores, a computer science intern, isn’t the only one running into bears. Mom and cubs have been spotted frequently and a young cinnamon-colored yearling has been hanging out by the beach. Most folks keep bear spray close at hand while walking around FLBS grounds.

I had my share of surprise bear encounters this summer too. But sharing the Bio Station with them doesn’t feel like a hardship, more like a respectful balance. It’s a privilege to see them so frequently and so close.

That privilege I feel also extends to my time as an environmental journalism intern at FLBS.

Being at the Bio Station feels like a gift amidst uncertainty and anxiety. FLBS grounds are a haven of lakeshore bliss, which is how I assume most people feel here.

And there’s comfort in the normalcy. Yes, like most places FLBS made changes to its operations had to adapt.

FLBS has been conducting scientific research for a long time. COVID-19 hasn’t stopped that. Seeing the rhythms of field work, the production of quality science is grounding and stabilizing. Its importance gives meaning to daily life under that larger umbrella of global chaos.

Even before pursuing journalism, I felt it was important to be informed, engaged with the world. So I read a lot of news, and it’s pouring in from every direction. My inbox is full of newsletters, briefings and stories of daily struggles. COVID-19 news, Black Lives Matter coverage, protests in Oregon — it’s overwhelming.

Finding meaning feels really important while grappling with issues so much larger than a single individual. I do that by writing stories about the Bio Station, its science has an impact that can ripple out far beyond FLBS itself.

And no matter how brief the story, or small the audience, it feels anchoring during life’s current tumultuousness. I’m getting more than I’m giving by being here at Flathead Lake.

COVID-19 has reached the far corners of the globe and reminded us again, that no matter where we go, we’re all in it together. Continuing to recognize how special Flathead Lake is, how beautiful places and healthy environments support us, feels even more poignant now than ever.

Maybe that special place is your backyard, favorite park, or hiking trail. All of those places require support and care in return. Good science is how we understand the world and it helps us care for its people and the environment.

After a long day of spinning my wheels writing a story that was struggling to come together, I went on a quiet paddle around Yellow Bay. I was rewarded with a sighting of momma bear and her baby ambling through tall grass by the shore. Hearing my approach momma stood up on her hind legs to get a better look.

We stared at each other while I backed away. Deciding I wasn’t a threat, she went returned to her business, cub trailing behind her as they wandered into the trees and out of sight.

Kelsea Harris-Capuano is a featured guest columnist and is completing an internship at the Bio Station as the 2020 Ted Smith Environmental Storytelling Intern.