Red Ants in Your Pants Dance your pants off, and, while you're at it, pick up a new pair

Sarah Calhoun describes herself as a connecter. When she first launched her business, a company that makes workwear for women, Calhoun traveled the country hosting pants parties out of an airstream trailer, learning about her customer base in face-to-face connections.

With this philosophy of direct human connection, Calhoun grew Red Ants Pants to a leader in women-led small businesses and a champion for rural enterprises.

Based in the small ranching town of White Sulphur Springs, Red Ants Pants is simple: “We love hard work and we love pants that fit.

Though Calhoun didn’t have a background in music, she knew there was something important about the connection that live music culture fosters.

Coming together in person is a really important piece of the human connection...I don’t want to lose sight of that in our world. Sarah Calhoun, Founding Owner, Red Ants Pants

So Calhoun launched a music festival five years ago in a cow pasture just outside of White Sulphur Springs.  The perfect place to dance your pants off (and pick up a new pair while you’re at it), Red Ants Pants Music Festival harks back to the company’s mission by bringing revenue into White Sulpher Springs and connecting people through good music across a great landscape.

Festival proceeds provide a portion of the company’s funding while also funding the Red Ants Pants Foundation, supporting women’s leadership, working family farms and ranches, and enriching and promoting rural communities.

The festival has grown traction since its inception, and has garnered positive word-of-mouth recognition among artists. “They love the hospitality and the energy of the crowd,” Calhoun said. “They all want to come back.”

Calhoun said it’s hard not to have a good time at the fest. “The Montana skyline, the sunsets, and the landscape—there’s a reason we all live in Montana.”

When: July 23 – 26, 2015

Where: White Sulphur Springs

Who: Friday features headliners blues musician Keb’ Mo’ and country beauty Lee Ann Womack. Alt rockers Lucero, Shook Twins, and more. Saturday Ryan Bingham headlines, with Turnpike Troubadours, Dead Horses and more among the performers, and Sunday features the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band headlining, with Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis and Annalise Emerick are among other Sunday acts.

In addition to musical acts, the festival has a wide range of clothing, food, and goods vendors, as well as agricultural and work demos, including cross cut saw demonstrations, sheep shearing, horse shoeing, roping, and more. For the bearded folks in attendance, the annual Beard and Mustache contest is a blast.

Tickets: Options include a three-day pass for $125 in advance or $140 at the gate, and one-day passes run $50 in advance ($55 at the gate). VIP seating is offered on a for $500 (limited availability).

Camping is an additional $20 per person. Children 12 and under, if accompanied by adult, are admitted free of charge to both the festival and campground. If interested, festival organizers are assisted by up to 250 volunteers and actively seek help for each year’s events.

Where to stay: The town of White Sulpher rolls out the carpet for Red Ants Pants goers. Festival attendees can stay at a handful of lodging offerings in the town, or on-site at a field adjacent to the festival grounds. No RV hook-ups, but showers ($), potable water, porta-potties, hand washing stations, and trash receptacles are provided. An on-site breakfast wagon offers up hot meals, and though it’s a bit dusty, staying and playing in the same space offers up the full festival feeling.

More info: RedAntsPantsMusicFestival.com

Insider tip: Look for music into the early hours of the morning throughout the campground. Follow your ears and you’ll no doubt stumble into a den of musicians jamming or a circle of bluegrass improve, still running off the high that watching live music in such an intimate, rural setting can produce.

Western Lupine Sweet-Pea Spires of the Big Horn Mountains

There’s no place as sacred to my family as the Big Horn Mountains. We were raised in these forests, playing among the aspens, making boats out of tree bark and sending our cargo down Clear Creek.

Where the North and South Fork of Clear Creek meet, my family has a cabin. Here the flowers bloom in a delicate balance of Queen Anne’s Lace among the sharp stabs of Arrowhead Daisies and the drooping bluebells. Lupine carpets can be found along the forest floors.

There’s a magic to catching wildflowers in bloom, and though there’s a rhythm to when they bloom, there’s no guarantee how long they’ll last into the heat of summer.

Perhaps the most captivating of the Big Horn blooms is the Lupinus perennis, or the Western Lupine. With it’s hairy leaflets and varying shades of blooms—some a rich purple while others cultivate a pinkish center, and yet others grow an almost blue tint—the Lupine is a charmer of the forest.

Breathe Bassist Matt Smiley + Poet Anna Paige

All in for Soloist + Breathe, a collaboration with Matt Smiley, on his album The Avant Garde:

I wrote Breathe from a stairwell of memory, a back-of-bar kind of encounter. When Matt asked me to send him some recordings, this was fresh off a bar napkin. I’m honored to be included. Find the full album at Matt’s bandcamp.

Montana’s Signature Music Festival Montana Folk Fest Hits its Stride

One of the largest free festivals in the west, the Montana Folk Festival is the successor to the National Folk Festival, which held residency in Butte from 2008 – 2010. When the National Folk Fest moved on, Butte organizers were “having too much fun” and decided to keep the event going, said festival manager George Everett.“We had acquired the infrastructure and had a lot of expertise as to how to put on a music festival, so it was an easy transition.”

Now in its fifth year as the Montana Folk Fest, the event is fast becoming the signature festival of Montana—a showcase of global music, dance, art, and ethnic cuisine. Various stages across uptown Butte host a continuous eclectic cycle of musicians, while food vendors bring an array of culinary flavors as diverse as the music.

FolkFest2014_music5.jpg
Broadway Stage.

Stages are laid out across the city, stages. Each stage rotates through a worldly array of performances. Last year’s festival played out across six stages, including a participatory dance pavilion, a family stage with performances oriented toward children, and a stage dedicated to music of Montana.

The Original Stage, situated atop the city on the site of an old mine yard, is built into a defunct mining headframe, a reminder of Butte’s backstory as an underground copper mining center.

“We are really hitting our stride,” Everett said, who expects record turnouts for the 2015 festival.

When: July 10 – 12, 2015

Where: Butte, America

Who: Musicians from around the globe travel to the Montana Folk Festival. If last year is any indication, there’ll be killer blues, French folk, Canadian bluegrass, Peruvian dancers, Southern acoustic rock, Cajun influences and sounds of the bayou, full on Funk, Asian and Native American groups, as well as some pretty esoteric stuff. In addition to performances, musical showcases bring together different musicians to play together in a forum while discussing their take on a specific music style.

FolkFest2014_music9.jpg
Peruvian Scissor Dancers.

Tickets: The event is free to all, though event organizers fundraise throughout the year. Event sponsors, longstanding donor commitments, as well as steady small donations, help fund annual operations. About 800 volunteers are sought each year to help set up and tear down the stages, and volunteers collect donations during the festival. “Admission is free, but we appreciate donations onsite,” said Everett.

FolkFest2014_music2.jpg
The Dardanelles.

Where to stay: There are only 1,300 hotel rooms in Butte, and they book up well in advance of the festival. The city opens its parks for free camping on a first-come, first-served basis. Bathrooms are onsite, but no showers or other services are available. Campers can also seek out accommodations in the national forests around Butte, and a handful of RV and campgrounds are located in and around Butte. Many attendees stay in surrounding areas, including Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, and commute in for the day.

More info: MontanaFolkFestival.com

FolkFest2014_music3.jpg
The Silver Dollar.

Insider Tip: Book accommodations in the city early to ensure the full festival experience. The old mining town is rich with nationally recognized historic sites, from Chinatown to the well-preserved downtown buildings to the mining pit itself, and is a distinct backdrop for the multicultural Folk Festival. For thrifty campers, McGruff Park is located in the heart of the festival, and all you need is a tent to experience the action. Once the music winds down on the main stages, catch musicians after-hours at the legendary Silver Dollar bar or at jam sessions in the city campgrounds.

Photos from 2014 Montana Folk Fest, Butte, America

Parker Brown Senior Recital

Cure for the Common The Squeeze

Before heading out on summer tour, Bozeman’s Cure for the Common brought their newest release, “The Squeeze,” to Billings.

The album features Garrett Rhinard (vocals, keys, synth), Steve Brown (vocals), Matt Rogers (guitar), Weston Lewis (guitar, vocals), Jordan Rodenbiker (bass, vocals), Joe Sheehan (drums, vocals), Frank Douglas (lights, vocals), Jon Gauer (trombone), Tully Olson (trumpet), and Ben Johns (tenor saxophone).

This album is the embodiment of the squeeze on all of our lives. It is a culmination of our love for music, art, family, friends, fans, each other, our planet, and humanity as a whole. It is an expression of our intent to use our art for action, and our desire to change the world for the better. Cure for the Common

Last One There Granger and Kemmick launch a film project centered on childhood recollections

Billings, Montana isn’t known for its pretty face. The city sways in a cradle of what was once the shore of a vast inland sea, yet a skyline of refinery pipes and spewing factory smokestacks steal the show.

These unassuming sandstone cliffs, compressed as the sea retreated, form the valley that holds Billings—described by explorers as expansively beautiful, and in the right light, at the top of the cliffs, it’s easy to imagine such an untamed landscape.

Billings’ street view isn’t as striking. Sharp, characterless buildings camp on the historic backbone of the downtown’s first structures, leveled to make way for the 1980s. There’s a gritty rhythm to the city, and it’s easy to be distracted by the soundtrack of passing trains and hollering transients, the swish of moderately priced suits and the sway of pencil skirts among ripped, greasy Carhartts and pastel medical scrubs. Sprawl further west and box stores merge into Roundabout Hell, where pavement seas on The Land Formerly Known as Farmland link one-story stand-alone structures.

JP Kemmick spent most of his remembered life surrounded by the Billings sandstone, moving to Montana at a young age with his mother. During JP’s teenage years, the town’s expansion was slow. Culturally, the city was quiet. Venture Theater was still a tiny operation in a garage. There was one brewery—Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co., but it wasn’t a thriving operation. Live music was sparse. The Babcock Theatre was shuttered.

“We roamed the streets until we found some basement stairs and hung out there,” said JP of growing up in Billings. “We hung out at Hastings for hours, until we bought some terrible $1 album and drove around listening to that. We got bored, and then we made some fun. That’s what Billings was for me.”

Along the same timeline, Marshall Granger was also milling about in Billings.

“Whatever drives 15-year-olds to hang out in a parking lot, or to drive up and down 24th Street at midnight, like it’s ever going to be a different experience…” Marshall recalled, trailing off as though his 15-year-old self suddenly surfaced, gawking at the space that Billings presented, a landscape of warehouses and flat, yellowing prairies where expansion seemed inevitable.

Independent of one another, JP and Marshall felt displaced, not interested in the party circuit. Both began filming their friends.

“We were just having fun, being creative individuals,” JP said. “Growing up in a place where there’s not that much to do, you have to be resourceful, and for us, that was creating stories constantly.”

Filmmaking interested Marshall in middle school, and he began taping his friends “being dumb.” At the same time, his older brother was studying film theory, and through these experiences Marshall began to understand cinema’s essence.

By melding those two sensibilities—the world of film appreciation and the different ways of approaching film—Marshall began to see how he could create in that field. It felt so open to him, a space that allowed experimentation and vignettes outside the Hollywood lens.

JP considers himself lucky, as he knew he wanted to be a writer from a young age. From his recalled experiences, JP has crafted many stories of growing up in Billings.

“Whenever I write a realist piece, it has a couple of teenage boys getting into a distinct kind of trouble that is unique to growing up in a smaller place,” JP said.

Though JP made plenty of movies in high school and a couple short films in college, he found the process incredibly difficult and frustrating.

“I discovered early on that it wasn’t really for me, but I continued to write stories and be madly in love with movies,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to connect the things I’m writing to film without having to do the work myself, which is where Marshall comes in.”

For Marshall, the stories he gravitates toward are the ones where nothing much seems to happen, but the underlying dynamics create a tension and dialogue that can spring deeper connections and conversation.

While both attending school in Missoula, JP and Marshall connected over a short story written by JP, which struck common chords in Marshall from his background in Billings.

The story follows two high school boys disconnected from their families and their struggles navigating life in this removed way against a backdrop of the open, empty spaces of Billings. The narrative is rancid with teenage time sucks: Taco Bell for dinner, Slug Bug punches, trailers wallpapered with pornography, and the darker side of youth, of picking on fat folks, and deadbeat dads, and mothers who drink away the day. Of a stolen handgun and the inevitable dramatic twist that such a possession creates in short narratives of teenage angst.

From the young protagonists we’re given a glimpse into trailer windows and the lives that play out behind the curtain: the mother peering out just once to shout unheeded advice to her child, her sleepy eyes holding yesterday’s mistakes; the early afternoon smell of alcohol on a father’s breath, the grasp of his hand too tight on his child’s shoulder; the desperation and displacement in a half-packed suitcase and the knowledge that you’ve got nowhere to go.

Marshall latched onto the visual potential in JP’s characters, these aimless high school kids trying to figure out questions bigger than they were capable of digesting at that age. The setting, these drifting spaces where people live on the edge of poverty, was a ringer for some of the scenery Marshall experienced while knocking around Billings as a teen.

“When I first read the story, there was a lot of meat that I didn’t process, such as the family dynamics,” Marshall said. “What I did see were visuals of the Billings area and the scenarios that these kids are in—they are photographs of growing up in Billings and having nothing to do as a kid and just wandering around. Those images were frozen for me. It became clear that (the film) should be done.”

Marshall is currently working on preproduction of the piece, titled Last One There. Filming of Last One There will take place in Billings and surrounding areas this summer, and Marshall hopes to release the film in the early part of 2016.

JP describes the story as “99 percent fictional, and by that I mean 10 percent fictional, like all things.”

Early drafts didn’t explicitly state that the setting was Billings, JP explained, “but I always had some version of Billings in my head. I like to use more of an imagined landscape, because I don’t like being bogged down in being accurate about a real place, but it was so very Billings to me.”

To Marshall, Billings has been a place of transition, even when it felt stagnant. “I saw it as a proper city when I talked to kids from rural towns, and it felt like an empty mess when I would visit my brother in Missoula,” he said. “But what I have come to see in Billings is a perfect synthesis of the sides of Montana I know. I met all my best friends doing community theater with a loving tight-knit group of kids and adults working together constantly, and then spent my teenage years with those same kids wasting time in empty parking lots and trespassing box stores after hours. There’s a lot of emptiness in Billings, but there’s also a ton of vibrant life.”

To fund the project, during the Christmas holiday Marshall and several friends and Billings musicians (many home for Christmas) turned the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s stage into a transient living room that glowed with mismatched lamps and was covered in treasured furnishings and trinkets collected from homes of the participants. Five dollars were collected at the door to “lend a helping hand” to the production of Last One There, and $1,500—half of Marshall’s projected budget—was raised.

The jam, a roving collection of Billings musicians, included the Kemmick family, Dan Page, Hannah Habermann, Jenni Long, and Marshall (who, in addition to his filmmaking skills, can sling a guitar and sing) taking the stage with friends and fellow musicians with Adam Roebling & Skylar Jessen. It was worth more than the price of admission. Musicians rolled though tunes so comfortable that the living room concept became real.

Marshall’s a bit hesitant when it comes to “crowdfunding” the rest of the money needed for the project (the latest Internet way to raise money). He’d rather trade goods, barter, or provide a service in exchange for funds raised.

“Over the past year, a lot of my projects have been very Montana-centric,” Marshall said. “I want to keep exploring that, and there’s plenty of room for people to be contributing to that here and plenty of resources to take advantage of.”

Though currently living in Missoula (he will finish his degree in spring), Marshall’s relationship with Billings continues. “I’ve gone from ‘How do I get out of this place?!’ to ‘How come no one has done this?!’ There’s a lot of untapped space here.”

For JP, who is currently finishing his master’s work in Missoula, his Montana run isn’t finished either.

“You learn to love a place after you leave it,” JP said. “It’s a big state, and I still know very little about it. I’ll keep coming back.”

Marshall isn’t quite sure what direction he’ll go after finishing school. “I feel it’s necessary to head out for a while,” he said. “I’ve never not lived in Montana.”

Yet, after spending the first 20 years of life here, Marshall views Billings as his first act. “It’s weird to think of having that and not coming back.”

For more information, or to contribute to Last One There (financially, spatially, actorly, etc.) email marshallgranger@gmail.com.

Till Death…Or We Part Neurochemistry and the often messy business of ever-after

The magazine pitch: Always the bridesmaid. The gist:“All your friends are getting married. Talk about weddings from your perspective…like getting fitted for a dress you will hate, or helping plan a party, or how over weddings you are…trying to be happy for your friends while you reserve your sense of inevitable doom,” assigns my editor.

My face: Pursed.

My initial reaction: Oh, you want the 30-something divorcee to weigh in on marriage? Over my dead body.

I’ve got nothing against marriage. I think everyone who wants to get married should have the ability to do so. Not everyone who has the ability to get married should.

I reference my marriage rarely. Like a knee-jerk reaction, it comes out socially only when I’m trying to relate. “Oh, it was a great wedding,” I say. “I’d do it all again, just pick a different guy.” This usually nets a few awkward chuckles and sympathetic glances.

I recall with mysticism myself as a 20-something, ready to say, “Till death do we part,” especially given the way we were able to revoke those vows. Turns out, marriage for us was, “Till death, or we part.”

It’s in the Secret Meetings of the Bitter Divorcees where I feel most comfortable discussing what is often labeled as a failure. “Failed marriage” survivors, I’ve found, have many of the same relationship fears and regrets. We didn’t get married thinking it would end or that we picked the wrong spouse. We ponder how the life we once lived, which started out so blindingly good, could be diminished to a paper trail. Untangling one’s self from exes is painful. Untangling from a marriage is downright nasty. My ex still shows up on my credit report.

This is not to imply that I’m “over” weddings, as my editor implied. I love love, and nowhere is it more abundant than at a wedding. I’ve been on the sidelines and at the altar, been a therapist, officiator, photographer, florist, caterer, and confidant. I’ve cried joyfully, and I’ve given a few cry-worthy toasts to some of my very best friends at weddings. I’ve talked a tequila-filled bride out of the bathroom on the eve of the wedding. I’ve safety-pinned the gaping bust of a wedding dress closed seconds before the first dance. I’ve been the last one on the dance floor and the first one to the clean-up party.

Never have I seen more love and happiness in one place than at a wedding.

I’ve also seen my fare share of these weddings last. Many still have that new car smell, being less than a decade in—a feat I do not take lightly as I didn’t even last half that.

I Don’t

There’s a lot of jabber on the web about marriage these days, articles accompanied by stock images of single people in wheat fields spinning in circles. “Why working-class Americans aren’t getting married.” “Top 10 reasons it’s fine to never get married.” “Does marriage STILL matter?”

It’s as though the Internet algorithms want us unwed folks to find Zen in the relationship stewpot. Yet, to wed has long been part of our social expectation we’ve been practicing for thousands of years, but that pressure to marry may be easing.

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, for the first time on record, single American adults outnumber married ones. According to the Pew Research Center, American adults above the age of 25 who have never been married hit historic highs 2014. Twenty percent, about 42 million people, have never married, compared to 9 percent in 1960, attributed in part to emerging gender gaps, marrying later in life, and cohabitating or raising children outside of marriage.

Marriage may be on the downtrend, but to wed or not to wed remains a point of contention for Americans. The generally held belief that society is better off if people marry and have children continues, yet each year young adults become less likely to marry (even while living with a partner). And for the been-there-done-that adults, only one-in-five currently say they would like to wed again, estimates Pew.

Is marriage going out of style? As younger people render it unnecessary, the ways people approach and talk about marriage has shifted. Waiting to marry can provide an individual opportunity for financial independence and gives them more time to understand the ways they love. Whereas, marriage was once seen as a way to provide stability and family, the contrary is beginning to evolve: to marry and have a family, one must be stable.

Chemical Connections

What comes with a divorce is the ultimate realization that no one is going to take care of you. You’re left to look out for #1. Yet, is this any different for the married population? At the end of the day, there’s no guarantee this person will love you forever, regardless of legal tender that binds you.

Perhaps the overwhelming sense of failure that some divorcees experience isn’t so different from the incredible pressure that some married folks endure: Their marriage could, like so many others, fail.

The question then becomes not about marriage, but about trust. Can you trust this person to have your back? Is this an emotionally safe relationship? We all want to feel safe, satisfied, and connected in all our relationships, and we want to avoid fear, frustration and heartache. When we attach to others to fulfill these needs, we engage our brain’s limbic system—the center of emotion, motivation and bonding.

Happiness, in part, is made through a cocktail of brain chemicals, specifically four neurotransmitters of the limbic system: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Each of these naturally occurring brain chemicals are linked to different aspects of happiness.

Endorphins, which mask pain, act as natural painkillers. Dopamine, released in enjoyable, repeat behavior, activates the reward center. (It’s that warm feeling you get when you’ve accomplished something.) Serotonin provides feelings of value and is tied to self-confidence and pride. Oxytocin, the “cuddle chemical” or “love hormone,” is a bonding molecule. It’s released by touch and physical intimacy, and helps create feelings of trust, reinforcing relationships.

These neurotransmitters are managed by the limbic system, often called the reptilian brain. This primal part of the brain was the first evolutionary leap in our cognitive development—a reward center to train the brain. From an evolutionary stance, dopamine and oxytocin produced by love and sex contribute to survival of the species. Success at a task produces serotonin, a sense of pride that trains the brain to seek more success. Endorphins produced during exercise mask pain, helping the body with its survival mechanisms.

When the brain is in a stressful environment, cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is released. Cortisol functions as the body’s early warning system (fight or flight), originally useful in keeping us alive. In a modern sense, cortisol is manifested by anxiety and stress. For many, that cortisol drip keeps us in a constant state of paranoia, which interferes with our body’s ability to balance hormones.

When we extend trust and have each other’s backs, we’re releasing happy chemicals and reducing the cortisol drip. Essentially, to love is a survival mechanism. To connect is to be human. What we do with those connections is the tricky part.

Making Messes

After my divorce, my need for connection didn’t go away; it became heightened, but I lived without confidence. I forgot what it felt like to trust like no one ever broke it, forgot how to love without fear that I wouldn’t be loved back.

I forgot what it felt like to trust like no one ever broke it, forgot how to love without fear that I wouldn’t be loved back.

Yet, as I waned from the cortisol drip and let the limbic system drive, my paranoia declined. My ability to trust amplified, and pretty soon I was wading back into love, getting my happy chemicals from the trust I extended to others.

Relationships, regardless of rings, require incredible amounts of trust, gratitude, and grace—for you and for others—none of which I fostered in my wedded life. Marriage was a net that made me feel, no matter what, I was safe. I believed we were statistic dodgers, a couple who could make it against stacked odds that we would be thinking on a trajectory that led us down the same path.

Problem: We loved the good parts and didn’t talk about the bad. We didn’t allow space between us to grow independently, nor did we help each other in the messy underbelly of life. We didn’t have each other’s backs.

Were we too young? Not ready? There’s no science to the right time to marry, rather a longstanding expectation that if you’re in love, it’s what you do. I don’t fault the institution. It’s not so much age, rather life’s lessons that I lacked. In avoiding loss and rejection and only seeking peace and love, I was avoiding the bigger parts of life, the ones that—if you’re paying attention—prepare you to make better decisions in the future.

This time around, I’m more conscious of the kinds of people I spend my time with, and when we make messes (love is messy), I’m a bit better at figuring out how to resolve that conflict, or know when it’s time to move on.

PaigeWedding1.jpg
May I present, Mrs. Paige.

We’ve all been wounded. We’ve all crashed our hearts for someone we truly believed in. And we’re in this human stew together. How you treat yourself will set the tone for how others treat you. Love, and be loved. Give, and receive. Trust, and be rewarded. It’s in these steps toward connection where love’s chemicals flow into the neural pathways that link us together.

We exist because we love. We love because we’re human. We’re human because we connect, and break things, and make messes. We will have many great loves of our life. So belly flop into love. Face plant for it. Cross continents to get it. Do a double take, a head-over-heels NASCAR crash, an Olympic-swan-dive-karaoke-belting-traffic-stopping-carpe-diem grab for it. Your brain will reward you.

The Evolution of Camping Embedded in our DNA, camping is a distinctly human thing to do

For many of us, our lives play out in cities, inside buildings of conditioned and forced air, and in homes closed off from the elements. When we set off to the mountains and deserts, to the beaches or to the lakes, we leave these structures behind.

Linger long enough in these spaces, and we begin to reconnect with the rhythm of our bodies. We ebb and flow with the coming and going of the sun, with the rolling of the tides or the shadows of the mountains. As our skin cools from a day’s worth of sunshine, our instincts begin to kick.

We harvest wood, gut fish, and build pits to hold fire and cook food. Night skies like theatre curtains open to unveil countless stars, delivering perspective and a sense of awareness that the indoors cannot touch. Our ears prick at the rustling around us: the shudder of the trees, the churn of the stream, the crack of fire burning through wood.

Firestarters

Camping is a distinctly human thing to do. It feeds a primal desire to connect with the ground beneath us, the skies above, and to create our own space in a place where we didn’t exist before. It allows disconnection from routine. Cell phones are unnecessary, showers are optional, and time is measured not by deadlines and appointments but by the position of the sun.

Quintessential to the outdoor experience, campfires are a direct connection to this primal past. Unlike our primate ancestors, early hominids developed the ability to control fire, distinctly shaping human evolution. Such contact with fire was transformative, allowing heat and light into the night, a place to gather socially, as well as the ability to cook food and ward off predators.

Primatologist Richard Wrangham, in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, maintains cooked food had a distinct effect on human development, changing the size of the stomach and intestines, the cut of teeth, and the amount of time our ancestors spent masticating foods. By cooking food, early humans also reduced chewing time and therefore expended less energy. Significant increases in brain size seen in the emergence of Homo ererctus 1.9 million years ago, Wrangham suggests, was the result of the energy dividend derived from cooking food.

As brains are metabolically taxing organs, this surplus of energy could have allowed for expansion of the brain while freeing up time to develop more efficient foraging and agricultural strategies, beginning the shift from a migratory existence to a more sedentary life.

Pulitzer Prize–winning biologist Edward O. Wilson argues the campfire is one of the founding pillars of human civilization and a large driver for “eusocial” existence. Once they harnessed the power of fire, humans, who had been travelers for millions of years hunting and gathering along animal migration routes and staying in temporary shelters, could “nest.”

With the adoption of agriculture, food supplies became controllable, allowing humans to become stationary. In the process, Wilson maintains, humans began to form societies and alliances among family members, genders, classes, and tribes.

“To play the game the human way, it was necessary for the evolving populations to acquire an ever higher degree of intelligence,” Wilson writes. “They had to feel empathy for others, to measure the emotions of friend and enemy alike, to judge the intentions of all of them, and to plan a strategy for personal social interactions.”

As a result, the intellectual and social capacity of the human brain grew vastly, forming the human condition. And it all started around a campfire.

Nature Deficit

Given our long history of nomadic travel, camping is part of our DNA. “Camping not only captures the essential spirit of nomadism but is something that we can easily replicate,” writes Roman Krznaric in his book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life. “It requires little more than pitching a tent with friends and family in a lush rural valley or on a cliff top overlooking the sea, and immersing ourselves in a simpler way of living.”

Increasingly, however, we’re found indoors. Children are playing with glowing electronics inside while adults, many running on empty by the end of their day, turn to digital spaces to tune out. The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen, and adults age 45-54 clock in at nearly 10 hours of screen time estimates the Council for Research Excellence in a 2009 study.

“Camping hasn’t changed that much, but our environments have,” said Jim Rogers, Chairman and CEO of Kampgrounds of America, Inc. “We are put in cubicles, hooked up to iPhones, and working in office environments that provide little or no privacy. We are trying to escape the stream of constant information. Camping gives us an opportunity to unplug and to unwind.”

We are trying to escape the stream of constant information. Camping gives us an opportunity to unplug and to unwind. Jim Rogers

Rogers is one of 10 Eagle Scouts in his family. Former President for the Western Region of the Boy Scouts of America and current BSA President of the Nevada Area Council, Rogers said he learned tangible life skills and developed an appreciation of the outdoors in Scouts.

“Whether a youth is being held accountable to cook a meal in the outdoors, hike to the top of a mountain, or know safety and first aid—Scouting impacts individuals at a very early age. There are no substitutes for those skills,” Rogers said.

Referencing a national effort to get people outdoors, Rogers recommends a “Park Prescription” for people who may be suffering from a lack of nature. “Take a hike and call me in the morning!” he said.

The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy coined “Park Prescriptions” in 2009 to help create a healthier population by connecting greater health with being active in the outdoors. Splitting humans from nature has created what Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, describes as “Nature-Deficit Disorder.” Louv maintains direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults, yet society increasingly shuts out this valuable contact.

“Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses,” Louv writes. “In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace.”

SCZ_17miledrive7.jpg

Interacting with nature is about doing something, not watching something. It’s active, requiring children to exist in their imaginations and create a world from the world around them. “Unlike, TV, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it,” states Louv.

Quiet Time

Is it possible to escape the grid, to power down and disconnect fully from a plugged-in life? Camping lost 4.5 million participants in 2012, according to a study released by the Outdoor Foundation

  • [UPDATE: Participation rates held steady in 2013, with the exception of young adults ages 18 to 24 increasing 1%, while adults, ages 25 to 44 decreased 1%]

Chris Fanning, executive director of the foundation equates the decline in participation due to a high churn rate among campers—while 9.1 million Americans started camping, 13.6 million stopped. Pat Hittmeier, president of Kampgrounds of America, said the total number of days people camp may not be increasing, but the number of times they camp has grown. “We see campers taking shorter, more frequent trips,” he said.

Still, the camping public is an active bunch—38 million Americans camped a total of 516.6 million days in 2012, more than half of them in state and national parks. In advance of its 100th birthday in 2016, the National Park Service has put out a call-to-action to prepare for a second century of stewardship by connecting people to parks.

Studies show one of the best ways to instill a lifelong love of camping and the outdoors is to start young: Youth engaged in camping when they were younger have a higher likelihood to camp when they become older. JuDee O’Donnell, Girl Scouts of Montana and Wyoming’s summer camp director, sees firsthand the positive value of outdoor time when the Girl Scout council hosts summer camps throughout the two-state region.

“In my experience, children given the opportunity for outdoor play and activities tend to challenge themselves to try new things that may be out of their comfort zone,” O’Donnell said. “They build positive relationships with other camp attendees, are more attentive during education lectures, and develop an appreciation for their natural surroundings.”

Darcie Howard, Audubon Conservation Education Center Director, works to empower families to take their activities outdoors and explore their backyards. She founded Get Outside Montana, a free program that encourages children and families to enjoy recreational opportunities in Billings and surrounding areas.

“Getting youth invested in the outdoors is exposing not just the children but also the parents to the natural world in their backyard,” Howard said. “We spend our time learning science and ecology and making that connection so they will want to further that exploration.”

Could increasing our outdoor time be as simple as placing value on it, prioritizing it above the other noises of our lives? When we connect to the outdoors, we retune to a natural rhythm that powers our circadian clocks and churns our blood with the tides. Our brains have evolved into such intensely social, intelligent organs through the very process of outdoor living. Ask yourself: What is gnawing at your time? How will you choose to refuel?

“There’s a drive for most people to get outdoors,” said Hittmeier. “It’s an easy place to forget about your day-to-day life, relax, and enjoy the experience. Once you get it, it stays with you, and you’ll come back to it again and again.”

Heart Hacks

This is for the hacks.
For those ass poets who write
THIS IS FOR poems.
For the wake-up-put-on-a-little-makeup alarm I snooze five times a day.
For the backspace. The backpedal. The back paddle. The delete.

This is for the daily scroll.
For the time I lost reading lists of
WHAT I COULD BE/SHOULD BE/WANT TO BE DOING.
For the conversations I didn’t start, the hands I didn’t hold, the hug
I could have held six seconds longer. Just six.

This is for that, “Don’t worry, but your father is in the ER” text
For that call from the hospital when you’re a thousand miles away,
and your best friends are collected in a waiting room,
and no one knows if she’s okay.
For the tumor they found, the piece they removed,
the collection of people making decisions around a hospital bed,
and the sickly feeling of relief you get when you’re so glad it isn’t you.
For that Life-Is-Short-You-Could-Get-Hit-By-a-Bus-Be-Nicer-Live-In-The-Moment stuff
That is so difficult to take seriously.

I’m not here to tell you what you could/should/want to be doing.
I am going to say that I feel like a hack every day.
I HAVE GOOGLED MYSELF.
Stalked my own Facebook profile. LIKED my own status.
I tweet just so I can say I’m on Twitter.
I untag unflattering photos.
I work in marketing. I edit my life.

We all do this, we all work in marketing.
And we’ve all been wounded.
We’ve all crashed our hearts for someone we truly believed in.
We’ve all edited. Deleted. Forgot.
Forgot what it feels like
to trust like no one ever broke us.
Forgot how to love without fear
That we won’t be loved back.
Forgot that we really just have now.

So this one’s for the Please-God-Dance-With-Him advice that I took.
For bare-footed waltzes and Motown Mondays.
For Fuck-You-I’m-Pink lipstick and never saying goodbye.
For mornings through car windows and sleeping in tents
For afternoons spent playing records and champagne before noon.
For hand-ground coffee under shared grey skies.
For bicycle rides home.

This is for all you stubborn folks,
For all the messes we’ve made,
The love we gave,
The pieces we seek.
This is for your summer smiles,
Your winter blankets,
Your autumn sigh.

I forget when sharing your beer
That I’ve drank alone.
I forget the day’s ruins
When I hear you say goodnight.
I forget when singing in your car
That I ever felt like a hack.

Thank you.