Long before Jesse Bryant and Hannah Habermann came together to create and launch their new podcast, “Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole,” they met as students on a course with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Both passionate about the environment and exploring the outdoors, each left the course in pursuit of studies and career paths that could make in impact in the wild spaces they loved.
Over the course of the years, Bryant would go on to serve his AmeriCorps term here at Teton Science Schools, return to NOLS to become an Instructor and, eventually, to his east coast roots, enrolling for his Master’s degree at the Yale School of Environmental Studies & Forestry. Habermann, a Montana native, would also find her way east to study Creative Writing and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College. Eventually, she too came to Coyote Canyon for an AmeriCorps service position with Teton Science Schools.
As friends, Bryant and Habermann would see each other a few times here and there throughout the years, but it wasn’t until they reunited out east that they were able to build the partnership that they share today…living, working and creating in Jackson Hole, together.
A strong connection to place…but really?
For both Habermann and Bryant, Jackson Hole and the surrounding Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is both beautiful and complicated; while the Valley is common ground for so many, the stories and narratives attached to it are anything but aligned. Recent conversations with students, colleagues, friends and community members confirmed the complexity in understanding this iconic place, Habermann explained:
“It became clear to me that there is such a variety of narratives, conflicts, and stories that make Jackson and the GYE the complicated, fraught, and beautiful place it is today. Not only that, but the stories at play here speak to some of the biggest questions facing communities in the intermountain West, the U.S., and the world today – how do we balance a variety of perspectives and beliefs people have about what a good life looks like? How do we balance the need of the human world and those of the natural world? How do we justly and equitably allocate resources as those resources become more and more limited? Who gets to decide the fate of land? How are the fates of lands and people connected?”
For Bryant, the realization actually came in a Yale lecture hall when he proudly, and naively, announced to the class that he was from Wyoming after having lived in Jackson only a few years. As it unfolds, his professor had lived in Jackson since the ‘60s and humbly invited him to “sit down.”
“I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about the history of this place that I was [calling home],” shared Bryant. “There was a guilt that grew in that. I wondered how I could teach about ecology without knowing about the people who came before. I was operating in a vacuum informed primarily by my presumptions and prejudice about what the good life is and what is important.”
Unpacking the past to reshape the future
With combined humility and curiosity for what was true and what wasn’t about the place they call home, and a newfound understanding that there isn’t a coherent story of this town, Habermann and Bryant set foot on a new adventure together: a podcast.
To dive into the nitty-gritty of Jackson Hole and unpack the intimate stories of the people, conflicts and institutions that have made this place what it is today. Ultimately, “we’re trying to create something that will be a discussion starter to bring people together and consider what we want the future of this place to be,” shared Bryant.
This January, after months of observations, inquiry, research, writing and creating, they debuted “Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole” as a podcast and radio program. “We decided that this was the best way to get stories and social, environmental history out and combine it with what is happening in the present. It feels a bit ambitious, but that goal was the impetus of this,” shared Bryant in an interview with a local newspaper.
The 10-episode series navigates topics such as the birth of Grand Teton National Park, past and present indigenous people and communities in this area, chronic wasting disease and the controversial feeding program on the National Elk Refuge, wealth inequality and a housing crisis. Throughout each episode, you’ll hear the voices of both Bryant and Habermann alongside interviews with local experts and archival recordings from the Jackson Hole Historical Society.
“It’s been really cool to dig up voices from the past and interweave it into the show,” Habermann said in an interview with a local newspaper.
If there’s one thing both agree on, it’s their hope that “Yonder Lies” listeners reflect on the stories and assumptions that guide their lives. “That is what we mean by myth. Not a story that is necessarily false or old, but the logical, everyday stories about what makes the good life that we all follow in a subconscious way,” shared Bryant. For those living in Jackson Hole, the hope is that listeners come away with a greater understanding of the history of this place, and how that context shapes the challenges the community faces today. “I hope this information prompts self-reflection and helps listeners feel empowered in being an active, contributing part of their community,” reflected Habermann. “There’s a lot at stake here,” added Bryant.
Tune into the first episode of “Yonder Lies” on Grand Teton National Park by streaming or downloading the episode on Apple Podcasts, iTunes and Spotify. The next episode, focusing on indigenous past and indigenous present, will be available for streaming or download on February 2. It will be airing on KHOL 89.1 at 12:30 p.m. MST the same day.
You can also follow and support Bryant and Habermann’s journey on Facebook, Instagram and Patreon.