August was another month full of changes. We went from sunny afternoons to misty mornings, from lush green to fall colors. It was a time to harvest: berries, mushrooms, and salmon.
“I see Earth!
It is so beautiful.”
Visiting Lake Minchumina, site of the annual rock skipping contest, stays in my memory…
A place right in the middle of the interior of Alaska, 100 miles from Kantishna. In the distance you can see the Alaska Range. From the plane surrounded by glacial ponds, lush green, flat as a pot.
Raspberries and rose hips.
A few houses scattered around the lake shore.
And a landing strip for B2 bombers.
What a trip.
“Only by going alone in silence,
can one truly
get into the heart of the wilderness.
All other travel is mere dust
and hotels and baggage and chatter.”
Those are the words of John Muir, who was a loud and clear voice in the creation of the national park system in the United States. His travels in and writings about the wilderness of North America had an influence on many, including Theodore Roosevelt. Interestingly, John Muir was opposed to the government running the national park system, as he considered many politicians as being incompetent, to put it politely. He wanted the US Army to run the park system. John Muir died 2 years before the National Park Service was instituted by Congress in 1916.
Today we celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service.
The Organic Act of 1916 states the mission and goal of the National Park Service, which is “…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Many voices and powers have formed the NPS into its current shape. Already at it’s 75th birthday it was recognized that “…the Service faces challenges greater than at any time in its history. The parks, many buffered by rural or wilderness surroundings in years past, are increasingly besieged by development. What goes on outside their boundaries can affect their air, their water, their wildlife, their natural and historic ambience, as profoundly as what goes on within. Natural and cultural landmarks outside the parks face similar threats, prompting pressures to include them in the park system.”
My feelings about the national parks are ambivalent. The idea to preserve wilderness and history for future generations is commendable. However, what we consider wilderness and how we access and manage wilderness is contentious. I am with Edward Abbey, who suggested parks with limited access by automobile. I know this is not a very popular proposition, but it is the only way to experience real wilderness, as described by John Muir. Thanks to their remoteness, size, and administration some parks in Alaska come very close to John Muir’s idea. Access to Denali, Wrangell-St.Elias, Glacier Bay, and other parks in the state is limited due to their remote location and their sheer size. Those are the places that appeal to me.
In the 80’s I spent many days and nights in Yosemite Valley. Above the valley floor it is strikingly beautiful, but I never understood, why we had 1-hour film processing and other unnecessary amenities in the valley. There was a time when private traffic was banned in the valley, which I thought was a great idea. Today, up to 21,000 visitors find their way into the valley on a peak day! Campsites are hard to get without advance reservation. The Park Service has the difficult task to balance conservation and visitation. In 1917 there were 11,000 visitors in the park all year!
I think it is worthwhile, especially on a day like this, to reflect on our views of wilderness and conservation. Do we really need to drive our vehicles into parks and expect to see wildlife and pristine landscapes from the comfort of our cars?
I think wilderness is something that cannot be experienced from a vehicle. It requires effort, sweat, patience, and time…
It is not available on demand.
It is an experience that you cannot buy.
It is priceless.
Without it our planet is a cold, dead place.
To the next 100 years!
“Clouds come floating into my life,
no longer to carry rain or usher storm,
but to add color to my sunset sky.”
The storms that drifted into my life lately have brought mist and rain. Considering we are in the middle of August that is not surprising. The rainy season is about to begin. Mushrooms are popping up everywhere, the first yellow leaves are falling to the ground…
The clouds have also brought colors into the sunset sky. Or is it that the sun is actually setting? By 10PM I need to switch on the lights to read. They were not needed during the earlier part of summer.
So I will consider Mr. Tagore’s advice and enjoy the colorful sunsets.
Rabindranath Tagore was an Indian poet, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
“Every giant leap for mankind resulting from a technological advance requires a commensurate step in the opposite direction – a counterweight to ground us in humanity.”
Dense fog lingered yesterday in the Upper Lynn Canal grounding the local helicopter fleet. Usually they shuttle visitors onto a nearby glacier, so they can experience the magic of walking on ice or riding in a dogsled.
Obviously I am on a different schedule and I would rather spend a winter with the dogs or go on a long hike to experience the beauty of remote ice fields, but not everybody has the opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, I can’t help the thought that the best way to connect with Nature is to be in Nature. Taking the helicopter feels like a thrilling shortcut to me.
Seems to me taking shortcuts is a virtue of our times.
Grounded in humanity…
What does that mean?
Who is teaching us about humanity, one of the seven virtues?
Without much fanfare my friends the arctic terns have left. Off to Antarctica…
They arrived in Alaska in May, fed on eulachons, found a mate, raised their chicks, and off they went on their annual 20,000 mile journey. It’s just an unimaginable twist of evolution that these tiny birds embark on this long trip every year. How do they find their feeding grounds in Antarctica, how do they find their way back to this particular spot at the end of the Inside Passage? It’s a miracle.
Soon, I will have to make a choice, too. Where to spend winter? Should I try the snowbird approach, too and travel South? Or should I spend another winter in Alaska?
The beginning of July certainly was a color spectacle. Wild flowers galore. Blue skies, emerald lakes, and lush greens were the backdrops for daisies, clover, paintbrush, and so many more flowers.
Then morning mist, rain, and storm clouds moved in, much to the delight of black and white lovers.
If summer had a slow-motion mode I would push that button now.
No such button, sigh.
Then I just wait for the repeat next year.