Grizzly Bears or Landscapes, Wilderness Discussion.

A grizzly bear stands and looks over Naknek Lake at Sunset, toward Mount La Gorce, Katmai National Park, Alaska.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” – Thich Nhat Hahn.

Hey Folks,

Well, with all the comments about landscapes versus bear photos on the last few pages, I thought I’d try a compromise. I know, I know, compromises end up pleasing no one, right? Well, so be it.

This is possibly the last photo I took on my trip last month, a sunset over Naknek Lake – I was hoping for some nice clear skies the following morning – and actually had a big sunrise – but then it clouded over, very soon afterward, and no good light was had for the morning shooting. Then I had to pack and get ready for the plane to come pick me up. The trip was all over too soon.

The photo is one exposure, so no real photoshop trickery – I even left the gull in the bay (@ Ron 🙂 ).

The real reason I wanted to post this photo was, honestly, a talk I went to listen to tonight, at a local bookstore, by a great Alaskan writer, Bill Sherwonit. His newest book, ‘Changing Paths‘, has just been released, and this was kind of the ‘release party’. He spoke about the book, the making of the book, the subject of the book, and read a few sections from it. It was a great presentation, and a real treat to hear someone so in touch with the wild and wildness talk about his experiences, and share part of that with the audience. I enjoyed it a lot, and recommend the book.

After the talk, Bill opened the discussion up to questions, and I asked him to elaborate a little on something he’d said about ‘the current wilderness debate’.  Essentially, it’s a very academic discussion surrounding the construct of wilderness, what that is, and how we relate to it. One of the observations, Bill noted, some people make is the point that the “preservation of wilderness” tends to lead to a “dismissal of non-wilderness”; a lack of middle ground, in that we ‘care about this land’ (wilderness), and don’t care about that land (non-wilderness). This is an issue Wendell Berry (another favorite author of mine) has written about. I think this is largely a function of our dichotomous way of perceiving the world; we lose the middle ground, we see ‘this and that’ .. wilderness and non-wilderness .. and has nothing to do with what wilderness itself actually is. But – it carries enormous consequences for the environment. Wilderness advocates often push hard for certain areas to be designated wilderness, to be “protected” from human impact, and this implies, to the dualistic Western worldview, that non-wilderness areas can then be exploited and turned inside out at our every latest whim. It was interesting to hear Bill talk about this a little. The question of how to avoid this is a fascinating one.

Another issue he raised was the idea that wilderness, as we’ve come to define it, typically leads us to understand that wilderness means a place people are only visitors; a construct which, not only is incorrect, but one that has hurt various different indigenous peoples throughout the world, including in Alaska. (NB: Alaska, through the Alaska Lands Act (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act , or ANILCA), has managed, so far, to preserve some wilderness areas that allow for subsistence lifestyle by those fortunate enough to live within the prescribed boundaries of certain areas. It’s a unique situation in this country, today, and an interesting one. Perhaps I’ll write more on the specifics of ANILCA and Alaska’s wilderness later. It’s a contentious issue, for many, here). Jack Turner wrote in ‘The Abstract Wild’ that wilderness involves not the number of people who might exist within a given area, but how those people relate to the place they live within (Jack’s essays in that book are the best discussions on the subject that I’ve ever stumbled across). I think too often we fall for the very Western (and recent) construct that wilderness means “no people”; we lose sight of the fact that we not only evolved within the wilderness, within wildness, but that wildness exists inside our selves, just as it does in the deepest mountains and darkest forests. Gary Snyder calls it ‘the wildness within’. I do love me some Gary Snyder!

Back to the photo: to me, this photo speaks of wilderness, of wildness, the wild. The root of the relationship between the photo and Bill’s talk was Bill’s closing commentary, the caption beneath the photo, and my favorite quote by Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn. It (the quote) relates directly to the quality of wildness; I thought this might be be a good photo to post after attending Bill’s talk tonight, so here it is. Hope you like it.

I’ll end, as Bill did, with Thich Nhat Hahn:

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” – Thich Nhat Hahn.

Amen, brother.

Cheers

Carl

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7 thoughts on “Grizzly Bears or Landscapes, Wilderness Discussion.

  1. Ron Niebrugge

    That is an awesome photo Carl – best of the bunch so far! I like the gull in the naknek Lake. 🙂

    I bet that was an interesting presentation. I always looked forward to Bill’s column in the Sunday Anchorage Daily News – he is an interesting and knowledgeable guy.

    Thanks,

    Ron

  2. Mark

    A beautiful shot for sure, and very appropriate for the post. Your comments about people brought an interesting thought to mind… What if this image had some man-made object was in the shot? Would the message be altered?

    I am all for man being right along with everything else that is “wild,” but can’t help get away from the thoughts of how we tend to change our environment to suit our own needs. As you said, the relationship and how it is managed is key. If we are talking about native populations that’s quite different than “modern” people unfortunately.

  3. Carl D Post author

    Hey Ron,

    Thanks, and yes, the presentation was great. Bill’s last name is correct .. he’s “on it”. 🙂

    Hey Dan, thanks .. that quote is so cool. Thich Nhat Hahn is amazing.

    Cheers

    Carl

  4. Carl D Post author

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks. In answer to your question, What if this image had some man-made object was in the shot? Would the message be altered?, I think the message would depend entirely upon the object, and it’s relationship with people, and with the landscape, and with the bear/other creatures. Would a skyscraper send the same message as my small 1-person tent? Would a birch bark canoe on the shore speak the same message as a 1000′ cruiseliner?

    That said, I do think we, at this point in the world, can only do well to hold some places as places we ‘visit’; if for no other reason (and there are countless other reasons as well) than a symbol and act of respect to the world we live within. At this point, it’s an act of humility to say ‘this place is important enough that we choose to leave it be’. I suppose I differ from Wendell Berry a little here, who places a focus on living harmoniously with the world; on farming carefully, on logging carefully, etc, etc. I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment, of course, but until we show clear signs of drastic change in that regard (and I’m not talking of the few relatively, small, isolated examples of careful agriculture, or respectful timber industry, etc), then we need to focus on leaving places alone.

    The struggle then, of course, is the one mentioned in the initial post; how do we avoid that dichotomous split, the mentality of leaving this place alone means we don’t have to treat the place we do live within, work within, etc, carefully? We’ll preserve this set of mountains and blast the tops of these others to get some coal, we’ll leave this forest alone and clearcut this other one.

    To my way of thinking, we need to do 2 things – firstly, place into real preservation those places we’re not currently consuming, and secondly, drastically change much of the way we utilize those others; learn from those people like farmers Wes Jackson and Wendell Berry, forestry like the Menominee Tribal Enterprises, etc and apply that kind of real respect and care to greater industry. Once that kind of shift takes place, only then can we really have a discussion about how (or whether) to live within a wilderness.

    My USD$0.01785 only, of course.

    Cheers

    Carl

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