THE CHALLENGE OF WILD PLACES
A thunderous boom reaches toward me across the ice-choked waters of upper Taan Fjord in Alaska’s Icy Bay. My eyes dart quickly toward the sound and I watch a massive chunk break off the face of Tyndal Glacier and plunge into the water seemingly in slow motion. A roiling half-circle flume of water gushes upward. And moments later, the swells of the great tumult reach my kayak in undulating succession, gently lowering me into a trough and eerily lifting ice and water 50 yards in front of me high above my head. Adrenaline surges in unison with the waves.
I believe in wilderness for just this kind of experience. Far from the gadgets and the complexities of civilization, the rhythm of weather rules and life is reduced to essentials. Staying warm and dry in inclement conditions. Finding water. Cooking a meal.
Time slows down. Arms tiring with each stroke, I guide my paddle through the water. The kayak bobs on the crest of a white-capped wave; the prow punctures the next; and water gracefully sluices over the canvass bow. The low knoll I’m trying to reach against wind and tide looks a long way off across the open, choppy waters. When eventually I do make it, I am met by a good, deep tired; the kind that makes for a sound night’s sleep.
I believe in wilderness out of appreciation for this sense of accomplishment, and for the opportunity it provides to test my mettle and seek the solace that nature obligingly offers.
Slowly paddling or hiking along the shoreline, I see the various colors and textures of cliff faces and individual rocks. I hear the guttural croak of a raven and the piercing screech of a bald eagle. My eyes drink in the deep blue of lupine and royal magenta of fireweed blooms.
This is not the familiar terrain that surrounds me in my regular life. These are sights and sounds of nature not lost to the fast pace of the work week or drowned out by the din of traffic. My work as an advocate for saving other deserving wild places too often keeps me office bound, on the phone, answering e-mails, or rushing through airports to make the next connection.
In this particular wilderness, each moment the clouds allow I gaze in awe at St. Elias Mountain, a towering massif bursting 18,000 feet into the sky four miles distant. One July 4th holiday, my companion and I alone had this sight to behold.
I believe in wilderness because these landscapes harbor such marvels, such challenges. Rejuvenation and gratifying self-sufficiency reward those who embrace the wild. I am now ready to plunge back into my work just as that chunk of glacier plunged into the sea. I am enthusiastic again to cause the waves of advocacy required to protect these wild places as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
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