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.