TCSAR: Can you tell us about your childhood and where you grew up
Nancy: I grew up in northern Idaho in a little town off the beaten path. My mom didn’t work when I was a kid and my dad was a teacher, so we spent our summers in our Volkswagen van in the mountains for years. It’s definitely the source of my current lifestyle and passions. The natural world was instilled in me as a child - we were outside all of the time in the mountains of Montana and Idaho. We grew all our food, we went out hunting and fishing, and I didn’t know you could just buy loaves of bread that were already sliced till I was in at least 4th grade (laughs). It was good, it has made just being outside very natural.
TCSAR: Did you go to public school?
Nancy: I did go to public school. When I was in 7th or 8th grade we were living in a little rural town going to school in a building that was actually condemned. It was quite the scene and my parents decided to move to Moscow Idaho so we could go to a good school.
TCSAR: Did you have any siblings?
Nancy: Yes. I have a younger brother and a sister.
TCSAR: Does your family still live nearby?
Nancy: My brother and his wife live in Salt Lake so we get to spend a lot of time together going on adventures, recently in the Winds. My sister lives near my mom in Idaho. My mom regularly visits the Tetons and climbs and works in the mountains with me. My dad also spent many years enjoying the Tetons with me before he passed away. We’re all super close, which is wonderful.
TCSAR: Where did you go to college?
Nancy: I went to the University of Idaho for my bachelor’s, and then to the University of Wyoming for my master’s project.
TCSAR: What are your degrees in?
Nancy: Biology, wildlife and natural resource management and Spanish, and then my graduate work is forest ecology and botany.
TCSAR: You have a very distinct love of the Whitebark Pine. Why that particular tree, because it’s threatened or is there some other special attachment?
Nancy: I believe that the things that happen to you that are often meant to be, they’re your true destiny. Like in the book the Alchemist, which is one of my favorite books, if you live your true story or your personal legend, your path reveals itself and as the book says “all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it”. I think that is what happened for me. I started working with high elevation trees when I was 15 in the eastern Cascades and fell in love with the alpine and the trees that live there. But even before that, my personal legend was taking root. In 1977 my parents dug a white pine out of the mountains and planted it at our home. The tree was born in 1975 just like me. Whitepine is closely related to whitebark pine and it also suffers from blister rust, which is the fungus that infects whitebark pine and one of the main reasons for my work on whitebark pine. I remembering spending a lot of time with that tree. It got blister rust and I was devastated that it was sick, and I took care of it until it died in 1989. So I think the trees picked me, yeah, I don’t think I picked them (laughs). I think maybe in my previous life I was a tree or I will be in my next life. I think that would be a good life, standing one place, enjoying the view from above.
TCSAR: That’s not your only job though, you have several jobs, correct?
Nancy: Right, uh. Let’s see I have 4 or 5 jobs. My main job is as the forest ecologist for Grand Teton National Park, and I’ve done that for 17 years.
TCSAR: What does that entail?
Nancy: In addition to mapping, monitoring, researching, cone collection and seed conservation in Grand Teton, I help coordinate whitebark pine restoration program in the Greater Yellowstone. Myself and amazing coworker, Doc, travel all over the ecosystem collecting tree materials that the regional geneticist requests for the restoration program. This work is also what I did for my graduate degree.
TCSAR: And then you’re also a climbing guide?
Nancy: Yep and I also guide part-time for Exum Mountain Guides, both in winter and summer.
TCSAR: And those are the only two paid jobs.
Nancy: No, I also work as an avalanche instructor, for both AIARE as an instructor trainer and Jackson Hole Outdoor Leadership as their lead instructor for avalanche education.
TCSAR: What inspired you to join SAR?
Nancy: As I stayed in this community longer and longer, I wanted to make a deeper connection to people that have been here a long time. I also wanted to take the beautiful gifts that I’ve been given and things I’ve learned and integrate them in a way that helps people enjoy what I enjoy so much. I am honored to go on the rescues and help people in their moments of need. I really love all the education that I am able to do through SAR. I believe that beautiful things happen when people’s passion is integrated with responsibility and a mountain ethic. It gives people freedom to go do the things they love. I feel like there’s a time in your life when you get to play, play, play and gain a lot of experience, and then there’s a time when you integrate it and offer it back. SAR gives me that chance.
TCSAR: What other hobbies do you have?
Nancy: My main passions in life been climbing since I was 14 and backcountry skiing since I was 19. These passions, particularly climbing, have driven pretty much all the choices I have made in my life including coming to the Tetons. So I spend most of my time skiing or climbing and for better or worse, I don’t have a lot of other hobbies. I do also love endurance running, I love going on big long runs, like 30 or more miles in the Winds. I recently bought a house and I’ve taken up home improvement projects and though I am not very good at it (laughs) it is actually really fun. And also enjoy painting when I have time, I like to sew (mostly to fix my gear) and make earrings, cook all my food from scratch and I am enjoying being able to plant a little garden again since I got my house.
TCSAR: Paint what?
Nancy: Of course I paint trees, but also abstract things. Painting has evolved over the years as an important way to nurture to the artistic side of myself.
TCSAR: Is there something on the team that people might not know about you?
Nancy: Well I helped build a truck named Marley that was green, yellow, and red. I drove it in demolition derbies in northern Idaho. My favorite was the figure-8 races because you get to thread the needle. I practiced by driving fast on windy roads in northern Washington before I lived in the Tetons.
TCSAR: Were you any good at it?
Nancy: I was pretty good at it. I always wanted to be a racecar driver….
TCSAR: So out of character!
Nancy: Yeah, right! (laughing). I’ve never bought a motorcycle because I think I would kill myself going too fast.
TCSAR: What is your perfect day in the mountains?
Nancy: Interesting. That’s changed over the years. My perfect day in the mountains right now would be perfect more so because of who I spent it with and less so because of what objective I achieved. I would want to spend the day with someone who I love being with, who’s a solid partner and a relaxed person who laughs a lot and I would want to have good “splitter” weather, no thunderstorms. If I could do anything this weekend I would go climb the Buckingham on the southeast ridge of the Middle Teton because it’s so many pitches of moderate climbing, you’re just flowing over the rock and that is bliss. So yeah - good weather, good partner, lots of moving over the rock would be my perfect day.
Nancy: What are your favorite things in your pack?
TCSAR: In summer I always carry my Steri-Pen so I can get more water - I can maintain going day after day if I can stay hydrated and fresh mountain water is amazing. In winter, I always have my down skirt!