A Love Note to My Mom and the Lands She Taught Me to Cherish

Marcia Brownlee is the program director for NWF’s Artemis initiative, where she focuses on creating a community of powerful, informed sportswomen who will foster positive change and defend and secure the future of our public lands, waters, and wildlife.

To my Mom,

remember walking along Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I was young. 6, maybe? I think it was the first time I realized the power of wind, water, and time to impact our world. My world. It was the first time I saw a bat. It was the first time I saw the Northern Lights.

I remember camping almost every year at Holland State Park. You and I would have long conversations as we walked up and down the beach. There was sand beneath my toes and the sound of waves lapping against the shoreline. To this day, I seek out water when I need to contemplate what life has thrown at me, and I find the best conversations happen outside.

When I was 10, we visited the Grand Canyon, Rushmore Caves, Yellowstone, Redwood, Badlands and more National Parks than I can remember on a whirlwind cross-country tour. It was the first time I realized how big this country is, and what it means to be a public land owner.

When I was 15, we went to Glacier National Park. I remember driving along the Going to the Sun Road when Dad intentionally drove too close to the roadside waterfall to get you wet. We caught that on the camcorder. I remember being in awe that we were standing on a glacier in shorts and tank tops. I remember falling in love with a landscape that would eventually become my home.

When I was 18, we did a backcountry backpacking trip across Isle Royal. It wasn’t your favorite vacation, but it changed my life. I saw moose and heard wolves and slept in a hammock over the water. At night, we read aloud around the campfire, and I got a glimpse of what it would be like to know you as an adult. I saw clearly, perhaps for the first time, your tenacity and your devotion.

When I was 36, you had Alzheimer’s and I became a hunter. Becoming a hunter brought me and Dad closer, and I know that would have made you really happy. Becoming a hunter encouraged me to spend even more time outside, to watch more sunrises and sunsets, to listen more closely to the wind in the leaves, to pay closer attention to our vulnerability. To death. To life. To the intricate interconnectedness, the unavoidable reality, and the necessity of their coexistence. Hunting taught me how to get lost in the pursuit and leave off — even for a short time — dwelling on things I couldn’t change. Learning to hunt allowed me to step away from the loss and anxiety and be overwhelmed by excitement and anticipation. I walked miles and miles across Montana and Idaho public lands processing, healing, grieving, remembering.

You passed away a week after Mother’s Day in 2018. Dad and I sprinkled some of your ashes in the Bitterroot Mountains.

Once, I think I was 17 or 18, I sent you a card that said, “I hope someday I’ll be able to show you the world that you have allowed me to see. I think of you every time I see something beautiful.”

This morning, I watched the sunrise over a field filled with glacier lilies in Lolo National Forest. I thought of you.

The National Wildlife Federation public lands program advocates for our public lands and waters, wildlife and the right of every American to enjoy them.