As in any form of communication, there is a certain amount of information that is inevitably lost in translation. This seems especially true of print journalism, where the fidelity of the story is sacrificed at the hand of so many factors. Deadlines, editors, the short time a journalist has to spend with a story while others wait in the wings, the journalist’s style and the particular “spin” of the piece. For all of these reasons, I both love and loath the craft. And it is that – a craft. So, I often take time to put myself in the shoes of the journalist before I offer criticism. I don’t critique each scissor snip during a haircut; I don’t tell the mechanic how to fix my car (when I owned one); as an educator/instructor, I was sensitive to those telling me how to teach. There are aspects of each art form that must appreciated as that. However, if I come out of a haircut with uneven sideburns and a chunk of hair missing from stray clippers, I ask for a touch-up.
That said, I want to offer a point of clarification on the story that ran in our university newspaper today. The story, “Not all who cycle are lost” was an interpretation of my story by the journalist. There are understandably some mis-quotes and missing information. This seems to be part of the deal with any story. The quibble I have with the re-telling lies in the third paragraph.
“The twenty-eight-year-old Hartford was one of five students working this summer to tame the property near Trout Creek in a University of Montana pilot project for sustainable agriculture. Hannah had volunteered her 100 acres of unruly evergreen forest that was nestled in a small valley between two mountains for the study.”
I think that the journalist was well-intentioned, but in this paragraph, she missed the actual point of the story. With three words, she unwittingly stepped into dangerous philosophical territory. Never did Susann, myself, or to my knowledge, any of the other interns wish to “tame” the land. It is true that the land was “unruly”, but that descriptor does not deserve such a negative connotation. The land was as unruly as every other part of the world we live, buffeted by forces that we have no control over. This is what made it beautiful. In the short amount of time I spent on that 100-acres, it was clear if there were to be any taming, it would be of myself by my surroundings. This is not so say that we had no intention of altering the landscape, but the objective was to to do so in a way that preserved the integrity of area and allowed a small group to use only what they needed.
There are so many ideas about what sustainability means, that the word has lost much of its significance. Sustainability takes so many different forms that sometimes the only way to approach understanding it is by knowing what it isn’t. In all of my travels, those who most impressed me were the farmers, policy-makers, activists, and regular citizens of the Earth that understood that there was no taming our world. They hoped to live simply and thankfully in a world that, in the end, has complete control over them.