National Geographic photojournalist Ami Vitale’s quest to discover places where people are deeply connected to the natural world, has taken her around the globe. Yet, it’s also an unexpected story close to home, Vitale’s first-ever United States’ assignment—2014’s “Growing Up in Big Sky” profile of Montana ranch kids—that holds a special place in her heart. Accompany Vitale as she returns to the J-L Ranch north of Yellowstone National Park to revisit wildlife biologist and rancher Hilary Zaranek and reflect upon the lessons learned from a family whose lives are intertwined with nature.
It takes time to understand one another and develop strong bonds but when we truly understand each other’s stories, we are transformed and no matter where you go, the joy of human emotions remains the same.
When I came to tell the story in my home of Montana, what hit home so deeply were these universal truths. We are part of a complex world created over millions of years, and our own survival is intertwined with the entire ecosystem. When we lose one piece of this intricate web, we are not only losing the creatures we coexist with but we also suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities. Whether I am in Kenya or Montana, the issues are the same; climate change, drought and human-wildlife conflict, impact all of us equally.