The School That Ties Everything Together

Travis Bitters

Like most of you, I have spent a lot of time in all types of classrooms.  At university, I studied literary theory, plant taxonomy, ethnobotany, and even how to ride a horse. In the Army, I went through jump school, language school, and how-to-soldier school. However, the most significant school for my career as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service was Wilderness Awareness School (WAS).

Let me clarify that. My college degrees help me make money and help me appreciate the beauty of words. My military schooling was essential for performing tasks in the defense of the country. But WAS is significant because it helped me root myself in community, understand grief, and merge my passion with my occupation. For me, WAS is the school that ties it all together.

I often think about how my experience in The Immersion at Wilderness Awareness School affects my life now, particularly with my role as an Education Specialist Ranger at Yellowstone National Park. This program influences my career in three significant ways: environmental awareness, community, and occupational competency.

The Immersion made me more aware. I’ve had a Sit Spot since I was a teenager and I experienced some cool things just by being outside.  The quality of those experiences improved exponentially after I was exposed to the significance of bird language, animal tracking, and other awareness fundamentals and routines. My awareness started when I heard about Tom Brown Jr. I attended his classes, and it was there that I heard about Jon Young and took his naturalist training program. A college degree and a tour in Iraq later I came to The Immersion. I came to The Immersion because I was looking to practice awareness skills in community. I found much more.

The Immersion enriched my connection with others. It was more than instructor and peer relationships. It was about functioning and performing in a community of elders, adults, youth, and children. It was also an opportunity to reflect on my passions and befriend my grief. This is a natural consequence of increased intimacy with my ecosystem, and The Immersion emphasized and facilitated that growth.

WAS is still part of my life. I’ve recently moved to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and I have a lot to learn. As I am faced with learning a new place I naturally turn to the training I learned at The Immersion. For me, it’s the best way to become familiar with an ecosystem. (And Yellowstone happens to be the most intact ecosystem in the lower 48! I’m very excited about that.) The Immersion, and Tom Brown’s classes are the best preparation I could have for really getting into exploring and explaining megafauna to the public.

In all, The Immersion works, as it transforms you into a better naturalist and environmental educator. This training continues to have a significant impact on my professional and personal life. I recommend them to veterans, coming of age adults, mentors-in-training, and everyone who wants to connect to nature in the old and communal way.

Wilderness Awareness School