Coastal Plain, Section 1002, ANWR, Alaska.

Arctic wildflowers, coastal plain, ANWR, Alaska

Hey Folks,

Here’s a photo of the arctic coastal plain, near the Canning River, ANWR, Alaska. This is the now infamous ‘coastal plain’, known as Section 1002, the area that is so frequently proposed be open for oil drilling. One of the big arguments made in favor of opening the area to drilling is that the coastal plain is ‘boring’, or ’empty’, or ‘nothing’. I disagree that it’s boring. I found it stimulating – the place simply feels alive, vibrant. There’s an energy here that I connected with almost immediately. There’s some intangible quality that about the vastness of it, so overwhelming about walking across a land that so simply and completely swallows your presence, yet is simultaneously responsive to every step you take, every turn of your head. Hiking across the tundra is so completely overwhelming, I was so insignificant in the grandeur of the place, swallowed within it’s vastness – yet I was also so immediately a part of that vastness, a piece of the landscape. it’s an amazing experience, if one is open to experiencing it. I can’t agree that it’s “boring”.

Nor can I concur that it’s “empty”. Without even seeing the the 150 000-plus member caribou herd that migrate over the arctic coastal plain (I missed such an event by a mere couple of miles) I was almost constantly aware of the various characters and features I shared the tundra with: the arctic terns, the tundra swans, the ptarmigans, the rough-legged hawks, the mosquitoes, the foxes, weasels, bears, the willow, the lichens, the mosses and grasses, the fossils, the land itself, the rivers and streams that weaved their shimmering patterns across the landscape. This arctic coastal plain is not empty, or lifeless or a void barren wasteland; it’s a home, to an entire, intact, ecosystem of creatures. It could only be considered ’empt’ to someone who wanted to perceive it that way, and closed themselves off to seeing it any other way.

Another argument is that the coastal plain is “ugly”; whatever that may mean. Again, the beauty is absolutely there to those who open themselves to experiencing it (just as it is with people). It may not be the traditional snow-capped peaks, sparkling over against a glassy turquoise lake, rather the coastal plain has a quiet beauty, a splendor all its own. for me, a critical element of that is the depth of the landscape here, the completeness of it, the seemingly endless miles of rolling and fluid ridges and hillsides. I love the amazing dynamic range of a view that stretches for infinite miles contrasted with the incredible detail in the lichens and mosses that carpet the tundra. I can gaze miles into the distance, lost in those yawning fathoms, and I can simultaneously stare intently into the intricate patterns in the tiniest of plantlife beneath my feet – there’s a beauty everywhere here, and the more open I am to experiencing it, the more deeply I feel it.

I won’t go on about the Arctic coastal plain. I’ll just go to bed, fondly remembering the amazing place that it is, and I hope it will remain for a long to come.



7 thoughts on “Coastal Plain, Section 1002, ANWR, Alaska.

  1. Mark

    It never ceases to amaze me the ‘value’ assigned to natural areas based upon the sole purpose of serving human needs. Thanks for sharing your experience here.

  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Mark

    Thanks for your comment man. You nailed a big part of the issue here – ‘value’ .. we don’t count a tree as part of the GDP (and hence assign it any value) until we chop it down – If someone were to kill the cairbou, say, and sell the meat, hide, etc for money, our culture then declares the caribou herd to be of some value to the nation – otherwise we declare the place empty, barren, a wasteland, valueless. We submit that the caribou herd has no value – which is really a form of insanity.



  3. Carl Donohue

    Hey Chris

    Thank you for your post, and your sentiments. I feel the same way, but something inside me tells me it’s only a matter of time before the Refuge is opened to drilling, unfortunately. All I can suggest is we continue to fight that, as hard as we can, for as long as we can.



  4. Mark

    I certainly hope it is not, because I can certainly see the way things would play out if it did. It gets opened up, the environmental deterioration starts to tally up, and the government uses the same old “Oops – we didn’t know that, blah, blah, blah – didn’t have the information, blah blah, we will know better ‘next time.'” Yeah right… there is very little we don’t know about in advance that is claimed otherwise.

  5. Carl Donohue

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks for your note, man. I agree with you, completely about the response once the impact hits home (though you forgot to point out the first step, which is batant denial). And you’re right, we DO know this stuff in advance. The information is widely available; in many cases the information actually came about through studies funded by those proposing to open the refuge to drilling – and if I can find information about the potential environmental imapct of drilling in ANWR, then I know “they” can.

    IMO, the bottom line is simply this: it’d be a positive step for ourselves if we could find it within us to allow at least a couple of places to remain “off limits”, to be humble enough to say “this place is bigger than we are, and we should be able to find a way to live without turning it into a slave of ours – simply allow it to be, as it is wants to be, without imposing our will over it”.



  6. Beth Lunsford

    The very vastness of this plain is really indescribable unless you have been there yourself. I have a good imagination, though! I bet it makes you feel so small!! I bet it is beautiful. And the photos I’ve seen are definately not BORING! I guess so many people are too busy paying attention to themselves & money that everything else is insignificant to them. That’s really too bad.

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