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Filtering by Tag: Dissertation

Where My Wild Things Are

Hannah Jaicks

Since it has been way too long since my last blog post, a lot has changed and evolved in my own life, and I have been remiss in keeping updates about the research side of things due to a >brief< 279 page document that is my final dissertation.  I have a number of things that I should be writing about today: my move to Montana last spring, my defense (which was successful), my current happenings...However, rather than focus on any of that, which there is plenty of time for, I wanted to reboot my musings by sharing the Acknowledgements section of my dissertation.  If there's one thing I've come to love and enjoy about my work, it is that it is collaborative in nature.  These collaborations have come in all shapes and forms--research colleagues, old friends, new friends, strangers turned family--from all of these relationships, I am a better person as a result.  While the East Coast is getting hit with the first snow of the season, I'm sitting in my favorite coffee shop in Bozeman, where we've already received a number of snowy and below-zero days.  For my loved ones in the East, stay warm and don't let a little snow slow you down.  As I go about shaping and crafting my next projects, which I promise to share more about in the coming months, let me first share a message for the people who have helped get me to this point:


            When I was eight, I began spending my summers living with my grandparents out on Shelter Island in New York.  Far from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, I spent my days running around with a frenetic energy in the ocean, bike paths, and a musty cottage.  During this time, I developed a love of the natural world and a fascination with the fellow animals I would encounter: jellyfish that stung me, deer that would walk across my path on late nights I slept outside on the deck, and osprey that would show up every evening at five to search for crabs near the beach.  Unbeknownst to me, my grandfather would observe me on my daily adventures, and he once described me as having a reckless abandon for life.  This description can sometimes prove detrimental due to my tendency towards impatience and desire to figure everything out at once.  However, it has also meant that I’ve never been short on passion.  In the field of conservation, one needs passion because it is that passion, or love, that pushes you forward.  I recently heard a quote that reminded me of the answer that I give people who ask how I keep going despite the seemingly hopeless and uphill battles facing our planet:

            “The assumption is that hope is a prerequisite for action. Without hope one becomes depressed and then unable to act. I want to stress that I do not act because I have hope. I act whether I have hope or not. It is useless to rely on hope as motivation to do what's necessary and just and right. Why doesn't anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight. We are going to have to fall in love with place again and learn to stay put.” (Janisse Ray, The seed underground: A growing revolution to save food)

            As anyone who has ever undertaken something lengthy such as a dissertation or worked on a task that feels insurmountable, there are many days where hope feels unattainable or even realistic.  For me, on the days where I’ve felt discouraged or hopeless, I am reminded of my own reckless abandon that I got to enjoy as a child who was lucky enough to learn that the world is bigger than she is.  That love then, is what keeps me going, and it gives me the fight to figure out how to change the rules of the conservation game that we’ve been playing incorrectly all of these years.  My advisor, Cindi, has often (jokingly) asked me if I’m writing a dissertation or a library, and it’s partially because of my impatience (endearing eagerness?) that I’m trying to change the system all at once.  I know that this is not possible, so what I’ve written here is the first step of many in a lifelong pursuit of my love for people, place, and the animals with whom we have the privilege to share our lives.

            On that note, there are a few wild animals in particular that have helped my own love stay strong as I’ve gone about these endeavors.  First and foremost, my grandfather, David Jaicks, is arguably the best person I’ve ever known, and my favorite carnivore of all.  I miss him every day because he gave me the emotional support and patience that this wide-eyed wild child needed to find her sense of grounding.  He, along with my grandmother Nancy, helped me to create the roots that keep me firm in who I am today, and they never let me forget that I matter.  Nancy, I am grateful that you continue to remind me of this grounding.  Another beloved carnivore of mine is Jean.  You are more than a teacher and a mentor; you are a constant source of strength that inspires me to show up for life every day ready to begin again.  My friends, a mix of college, New York, Philly, family, graduate school, and Montana creatures who somehow find my eccentricities loveable: Will, Emily R., Daniel R., Donna, Patrick, Julie, Andy, Kathleen, Anna, Nick, Emily D., Jeff, Bryce, Scott, Lizzy, Jen P., Jen T., Sruthi, David Agar Jaicks, Bill Jaicks, Steve, Rebekka, Kyle, Logan, J.R., Bess, and Jurgen; I am a more loving and grateful person because of you.  My parents, Dawn and Bryan, your support is eternally appreciated.  Not many people would drive eight hours through the night to take their daughter to go see Jane Goodall, only to return that same day.  Getting to jump to the front of the two-hour line for her autograph because I came the farthest of anyone else is something I will never forget.  My teachers that have guided me and supported my love of learning: Dr. Hagelin, Dr. Rablen, Ms. Carson, Mr. Minsky, Mr. Kahan, Mr. Krauthamer, Ms. Franco, Mr. Carson, Sra. Kantor, Dr. Schwartz, Dr. Sloan, and Dr. Pagnotta, who you are has made a world of difference to me.  My committee and advisors: Cindi, Roger, Caitlin, Susan, and Bill, without you I would never have been able to dream up and undertake such an incredible project.  Finally, to the nonhuman animals I’ve been fortunate enough to know, including my beloved Luce, Devon, Molly, Sandi, Sunny, and Teddy as well as the warthogs, hyenas, bats, penguins, monkeys, gorillas, orangutans, lemurs, giraffes, and wallabies I’ve met around the world, thank you.  It is because of you that my reckless abandon, or love, is so strong, and I dedicate this dissertation to all of you.

            And now my fellow wild things, onward…

To Montana, With Love

Hannah Jaicks

            Last days are always bittersweet, and the conclusion of fieldwork is no different.  Labor Day weekend is notoriously symbolic as the end of summer, and for me it represents the wrapping up of my research out West.  I've been home a little over a week, and, unsurprisingly, it's taken me a few days to get back in the swing of New York City's pace.  It's hard shifting gears from a summer of open spaces and interviews to crowded trains and intense reflection.  Admittedly, I'm in that daunting phase of research where I've just spent a long time collecting a massive amount of information, and now I'm sifting through everything trying to make sense of it in a way that someone other than my own quixotic brain can understand.  As my friend and colleague said yesterday, 'We've got all this work we've done, but it doesn't mean much until it's put together and presented to others in some way.  This process is so personal.'  In other words, our ideas are what we have at this stage in our professional careers, and we're wrestling with how to share them with others in a way that's at once authentic, articulate, and a contribution to the field.  As you can imagine, this task is both exciting and daunting.

             Thinking about this summer, it's hard to separate field work from the personal experience of being out in Montana and all of the Greater Yellowstone for me.  Then again, that's likely because, as an ethnographer, I tend to absorb everything I'm surrounded by, so any sort of research is inherently personal and transformative.  As I've discussed, I'm a firm believer that place can deeply influence one's experience and self-perception.  For me, I never anticipated the deep connection and sense of 'home' I would feel when I started my dissertation work out West over two years ago.  I grew up on the ocean, so I never gave much thought to what the mountains would mean to me.  Getting to spend such a concentrated time out in those mountains this summer and doing the type of work that I love, ethnography, was the ultimate privilege.  Naturally, it was hard to leave.  If it weren't for an already planned return trip in October, I don't think I would have ever come back.

               Still, being back in New York brings its own form of excitement.  Astoria is home to some of my closest friends and graduate school colleagues, so seeing them brings a different sort of joy to me.  Casual conversations of our summer work over board games has helped bring me back to the mindset of the city and the expectations of my graduate school program.  I'm getting ready to meet with my committee, and I have a few presentations coming up this fall, so any feedback from the people I trust is greatly appreciated.  It helps that I've heard their inquiries into my methodologies and theoretical frameworks over games of Settlers and a sailboat ride on the East River.  It cuts the sting of 'Back to School' quite nicely.  In addition to analyzing and writing up my research, I'm beginning my work again with the director of the Child Development and Learning Center, and I've started my position as a Writing Fellow for the CUNY School of Professional Studies.  On September 10th, I'm giving a presentation to the Critical Psychology cluster on my dissertation research, and I'll use that talk as a chance to get some feedback on the road-map I've created of my dissertation (aka- the Table of Contents).  Anyone is welcome, so if you're in the city, come by the 6th floor of the Graduate Center from 11:45-1:45.  Myself, along with my colleague Bryce, will both be speaking on our work.  As sad as I am for my summer in Montana to end, I'm well aware of how lucky I was to get to go out there in the first place and spend days on end doing exactly what I love the most.  It just makes me all the more motivated to find my way back there.  To summer. To Montana.  To my animals.  To my people. With love.

Country Roads

Hannah Jaicks

             The past week or so has been an odyssey or, rather, a number of them.  So far this summer, I've managed to put over 2,000 miles on my rental car (AKA the Aloha mobile--I'm sure I make many kids playing the license plate game very happy with that Hawaii plate).  I like to talk to people in person, and many of the individuals I speak with live in various cities and towns around the state.  Thus, it's been typical for me to have to drive upwards of two hours one way to meet with people.  I don't mind really, and it's hard to complain when my travels have taken me from Helena to Yellowstone to Bozeman and a bunch of towns in between more than twice (each) this past week alone.  I spend the drives organizing my thoughts and questions on the way to the interviews, and on the way back I tend to think back on the conversation to process everything.  I audiorecord my interviews for later analyses, but I still like to immediately reflect on everything I just heard.  Most of the time, it helps orient my field notes and ideas for my own work in a way that I hadn't anticipated.  That being said, I still have plenty of time alone with my thoughts, and I've exhausted every podcast episode of Nerdist and This American Life.  Hence, I've taken it upon myself to get really good at singing along to the local country music stations in my best Tim McGraw voice while I weave and bob through the hills of the southwestern Montana region.  Pretty sure I provide the truckers passing me with hours of entertainment when they see me singing my lungs out.

Queen of the Mountain

Big Sky Country means big rainbows

            As a researcher with a keen appreciation for the idea of place attachment, I myself am increasingly attached to the mountains of Montana, and all of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem really.  On my first adventure down to Yellowstone this past week, I spent some time with a wolf researcher from the National Park Service.  We trekked out in the morning with his two kids- the best two helpers you'll ever meet- to see if we could find the two wolves in the unnamed pack near South Butte in Yellowstone.  We toted our gear up the hill- spotting scope, radio telemetry equipment, and binoculars, being mindful not to surprise any bears along the way.  No bears, but we came across a wolfkill (a cow elk) from the spring.  Nothing but bones and the pelt left.  We managed to find (hear) the alpha female quickly using the radio telemetry, but we couldn't spot her in the dense area of trees where her den is.  So instead, we admired some elk off in the distance, and we talked at length about the work I've been out here doing.  Here's the thing, very few of my interviews end up being one isolated conversation.  Many people out here want to know more, or have me join them in their field to see things from their perspective.  I take them up on their offer every time I can.  What better way to get to know someone than out with them doing what they care about?

Early morning elk in the mist

Getting greeted in Gardiner

Elk carcass

           After my foray into Yellowstone, I drove back up to Bozeman, and then I was off to Helena the next day to sit in on the monthly Commissioner's meeting for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  I spent the car ride talking with someone who was also attending the meeting, and he helped me understand a lot of the processes in decision-making and governance that are at play here in the region- state, federal, etc.   It was helpful and a nice way to get a better understanding of some of the policy processes that are a tangled web of confusion at times.  Plus, it was a break in my usual routine of singing like a lunatic on the highway, and it allowed me some good opportunities to stare out at the mountains becoming all the more amber as August progresses. 

             Back from Helena, I spent the weekend around Bozeman organizing my...gasp...Table of Contents, which my advisor and committee members have been wanting me to do for some time now as a way to focus myself.  To quote my advisor, 'Are you writing a library or a dissertation, Hannah?' Another researcher out here, a few actually, really helped push me to do my TofC because in writing down an outline, it also forced me to clarify my own standpoint.  As I've mentioned, standpoint and understanding the lens by which you look at an issue is a big deal to me.  It clarifies things for yourself, and it also gives a more robust argument to your analysis because it indicates a degree of self-reflection.  So, I feverishly wrote that up in between visiting a college friend at Music on Main, saying goodbye to my friend who left for grad school, and celebrating with my housemate and his family at a BBQ on Saturday.  He'll want me to add that his soccer team won their league championship too, because they're awesome.  So, there was ample reason to be celebrating.

            After that, I left early Monday morning to return to Yellowstone for some more interviews and a visit with the wolf-watching community.  I foolishly stayed up until midnight playing pool (like a boss I might add) in Gardiner only to have my alarm go off at 4:30am the next morning.  Few things can get me up at that hour, save for the promise of a beautiful sunrise and a chance to see some wildlife.  I was lucky enough to get to experience both.  I wove my way up into the Park as a proud owner of an Annual Park Pass to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, and I waited patiently for the bison to cross the roads as I made my way over to the Lamar Valley.  I arrived right as the sun was rising, and I finally got to see some wolves.  First one black pup popped its head out of the hillside, then two, then three, and then a gray pup.  Suddenly, I was unconcerned with the early wake up call, and I just enjoyed getting to see these animals that I talk about all the time.  I would post pictures, but the ones of the wolves are all fuzzy because I was strung out on coffee and adrenaline.  The pictures at the end of this post will all be from my travels, but I'll hopefully get some better ones of wolves before I leave.  The rest of the day continued on as such, and I met with people who wake up this early every morning (earlier, really) to experience this rush.  Tired and delirious, I left the group and went on to Silvergate, Northeast of the Park, where I would spend that night.  I didn't anticipate that there would be no wifi (I sound like a New Yorker right now), so I spent the afternoon in the Visitor's Center of Cooke City-a nearby town-using their wifi to send emails and coordinate the next day's interviews.  I barely made it to nightfall before my eyelids where dragging themselves shut, so I succumbed to my tiredness and fell asleep-only to repeat much of the same the following day.  Lucky me, right?

             After I got back from Yellowstone, I did another round trip to Helena to carry out a few more interviews. I made it back to Bozeman in time to sit in on the public hearing about the possible Wolf Stamp and its potential to be implemented by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.  This explanation is a big oversimplification (apologies), but essentially it's a way for nonconsumptive users (aka non-hunters) to invest in the state game management department with funds that will go (ideally) to nonlethal control and conservation of wolves.  Again, this is a big oversimplification, but as you can guess, this proposal is not without controversy.  I sat in on the meeting to listen to the different perspectives, and it gave me an opportunity to see some of the (frustrating) political processes in action. Three hours later and without going into detail, it was an informative opportunity to understand how community members can and do engage with one another over these issues. 

             The last stop on my adventures this week has been to return to Yellowstone for one more visit before I leave for the summer (though I've already planned trips for the fall...thank goodness!).  From here, I'll do some more traveling around to look for wildlife and talk to some folks.  It's hard to think of a better way to spend my time than to come to Yellowstone at the tail end of my travels along Montana's country roads.  Enjoy the photos!

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