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Wild About Utah: A sense of where you are

Silhouette of a man standing with a mountain in the distance
Michael L (Mick) Nicholls

I arrived in Logan, Utah for winter quarter in 1994—after history professor Ross Peterson recruited my three sisters and I to Utah State University, despite the fact that our dad was a University of Utah professor and Dean. I was the final piece of Ross’ coup and he flashed a satiating grin when I first visited him on campus.

Before entering Ross’s office, I stopped to stare at a promotional poster for the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, featuring—I later learned—Mike DeBloois, wearing a brim hat, silhouetted against the Grand Teton in Wyoming. The photograph was taken by USU history professor, Mick Nicholls. The caption read, “A sense of where you are.”

This is how I first became acquainted with the concept of “sense of place” and the idea that the wild places I valued, the wild places that were part of who I was, and who I am today, had value on a larger scale.

A man standing with landscape and mountains in the background
Eric Newell, Photographer

As a College of Natural Resources (CNR) student, I enrolled in Watershed Science with Jack Schmidt and Wilderness in American with Mark Brunson. Later I took Snow Dynamics with Mike Jenkins and Environmental Education with Barbara Middleton. I was delighted that I could take college courses on rivers, on Wilderness, on the science of avalanches, and on outdoor education. Though I later changed majors, those CNR courses provided connections to places and to knowledge I’ve drawn upon throughout my teaching career.

The next year, I enrolled in English professor Tom Lyon’s course, American Nature Writers.

Tom was a lean man with a long easy stride you could pick out from across the quad on campus. I still have the books we read for his class: American Women Afield, A Sand County Almanac, Refuge, My First Summer in the Sierra, and others. Tom took us to Logan Canyon to witness the endemic McGuire primrose in bloom. We talked in class about the books we read, then we ventured out to the west desert to backpack and write.

“Walden was written with a pen,” Tom emphasized before reading a passage aloud to us:

“O the evening robin, at the end of a New England summer day! If I could ever find the twig he sits upon! I mean he; I mean the twig.”

Tom’s emphasis on “the twig” inspired fellow classmate, Tim Wagner, to make T-shirts inscribed with the phrase.

Tom was a key figure in establishing the Department of English’s literary journal The Petroglyph which showcased nature writing from 1989 until 2001. In the 1990’s Tom’s efforts were crucial in preventing much of Highway 89 in Logan Canyon from becoming four-lanes. Tom’s sense of place was contagious. Several colleagues in that course pursued writing careers.

I transferred to elementary education my second year at USU because I believed the most important life work I could undertake was to connect the next generation of humans to wild places. I didn’t want to grow old in a world with people who had no understanding of, or connection to, the land that sustains us. I didn’t want to grow old in a world without advocates for conservation.

Here is what I know—getting outside to interact with the natural world matters. Spending time outdoors boosts our physical, mental, and spiritual health. We form connections with those we share our wild journeys with and we develop “a sense of where we are.”

I am Eric Newell and I am Wild About Utah.

Images: A Sense of Where You Are Courtesy Eric Newell with photo Copyright Michael L (Mick) Nicholls
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, Also includes audio Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe, & Wakeman
Text: Eric Newell, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon

Additional Reading

WildAboutUtah pieces by Eric Newell,

Mountain West Center for Regional Studies, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Utah State University,

Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University,