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90 years later, Garcia ’12 follows Fryxell’s path in the Tetons

By Beth Roberts


Fryxell is a “big name” at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.


The summer after he received his Augustana bachelor’s in English, Sebastian Garcia ’12 found himself crossing a deep Wyoming lake in a canoe with “Fryxell” written on the side. Ninety years earlier, Fritiof Fryxell also had graduated from Augustana with an English major.

Garcia and Fryxell are connected as well through interests in the natural world: Fryxell had a second major in biology, while Garcia minored in environmental studies and music. And both worked as rangers in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Fryxell was the park’s first ranger-naturalist, in the summers of 1929-1934. He had completed his Ph.D. in geology at the University of Chicago in 1929, and went on to organize a new geology department and major at Augustana. Known as a brilliant professor as well as an ambitious naturalist and mountain-climber, Fryxell used his teaching talents to begin educational programs for visitors to the new Grand Teton National Park and its museums.

“Fryxell is a big name in the Tetons,” said Garcia, pleased at their shared history.

Hired as an interpretive ranger intern for the summer, Garcia had two main duties. He gave presentations, guided tours, and learned enough about the park’s features, history, character and creatures to answer hundreds of questions. Second, he made periodic patrols known as “roves” into the backcountry, specifically around Phelps Lake, to explore the area and make sure nothing was wrong.

A good interpretive ranger, Garcia described the land around Phelps Lake as “the latest addition to the national park—the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, donated by the Rockefeller family in 2007.” He said the family had put up buildings and inhabited the place, but that since the donation the area has been undergoing a “wilderness reclamation process.”

Sebastian Garcia ’12 (center) visited Greenhead Ghyll in Grasmere, England, the setting for Wordsworth’s “Michael.”    


Claimed and reclaimed by the wilderness

During one of his backcountry roves near Phelps Lake, Garcia startled a black bear. One of the first things he noticed was its color: cinnamon.

“I turned a corner hidden in brush and trees, and there was this bear, no more than 20-25 yards off the trail, eating berries,” he recounted. The cinnamon-colored bear was eating huckleberries. It sounds like a child’s storybook—until he continues the story.

“I stood my ground and it moved toward me. Then it ran at me—really fast. I was surprised at how fast. I got my bear spray out. At about five yards it stopped, and I didn’t use the spray. It looked at me, straight in the eyes.

“It backed off and made a loop through the berries, then ran at me again and stopped,” he said. “And then it left.”

Why didn't he use the spray? How did he know the bear would stop? One thing Garcia had learned as a ranger was basic bear behavior.

“I knew that usually they will make a charge and then stop,” he said. “Otherwise, it was just intuition. That and the time of year. In early July there is still plenty of food for bears—berries, insects, rodents. In late fall they begin to get stressed, and can be dangerous.”

Afterwards, he learned that the bear was well known and had a name: Punk Rock, for its odd color and fur pattern similar to the Mohawk hairstyle. It also had a reputation for being a “nuisance bear,” as people had been leaving it food, causing it to linger around campsites.

“So it had to be captured in late August and sent 50 miles north,” Garcia said. “I also heard that it was smaller [only 250-300 pounds, at age 2 or 3] because it had parasites, so it probably needed to overfeed.”

He did see the cinnamon-colored bear a second time, earlier in August, during a rove. “I was walking and heard a lot of noise ... like a Sasquatch ... and a bear of identical color and size came running through, and just glanced at me as it went by,” he recalled.

“I don't know what it was running from, or where it was going,” he said. He laughed, “I'm going to miss Punk Rock.”

Sebastian Garcia ’12 (far left) with Dr. Jason Peters’ English Romantic Poets class at Easedale Tarn in England.


From mountain peaks to mangrove swamps

Garcia got the internship at the Grand Teton National Park because of his experience working for the national non-profit Student Conservation Association, for which he helped build trails and bridges in the Adirondack State Park during the summer before and fall of his junior year at Augustana. Now the work experience in the Tetons has helped get him a position with the National Park Service, stationed in the Everglades National Park.

“It’s pretty complicated to get a federal park ranger job,” he explained. “Preference is given to federal employees and veterans, so there are huge pools of applicants.” He's looking forward to a new environment, a new place, and a tropical feel.

One of his Augustana mentors, Dr. Jason Peters of English and environmental studies, commented, “Sebastian set the record for going on field trips with my classes. He was a lover of the out-of-doors, and I could tell that he’d have no trouble with those 19th-century naturalist writers without whom we’d be pretty impoverished.”

Garcia traveled with Dr. Peters’ English Romantic poets class one fall break to England’s Lake District. He joined the environmental literature and landscape learning community trip to the annual Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas; and often he went out to nearby Wesley Acres with his teachers and classmates, to work the farm that provides produce for Augustana’s dining services. 

Someday Garcia would like to travel back to his native Colombia, stay and farm. He and his family moved to the states when he was only 10. Dr. Peters calls him “a true success story: a student educated not for mobility but for going home.”

Garcia credits Augustana’s English department for fostering his sense of place and far-reaching possibility. “The English department has given me ... a definitive goal for my life, and has awakened me to the possibility of having a purpose within my original culture and place,” he said. “Meanwhile, I have a lot of peaks to tackle and places to travel.”

Grand Teton National Park—where Sebastian Garcia ’12 worked as an interpretive park ranger intern last summer.

 


Over these seemingly changeless mountains, in endless succession, move the ephemeral colors of dawn and sunset and of noon and night, the shadows and sunlight, the garlands of clouds with which storms adorn the peaks, the misty rain-curtains of afternoon showers. —Dr. Fritiof Fryxell ’22, from The Tetons: Interpretations of a Mountain Landscape