The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Weasel, ANWR, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Hey Folks,

Here’s a follow up to my recent post on proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Whilst that post concentrated on facts and figures and data and so forth, I think greater arguments ought be made. As you can see from a cursory read of that post, it’s too easy for folks to cut up a pie in any way they choose in order that it might yield the slices that best fit their appetite. I suppose part of the reason for this is that the pie itself is, ultimately, generated by our cultural institutions, our way of living, our way of seeing the world. The potential number of barrels of oil the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may yield is somewhat of an abstraction – what constitutes a “barrel”, for example? How large is the footprint of a drilling rig? How many caribou will that impact? Any measurements we choose to use are simply yardsticks of our own worldview (I guarantee you, for example, that the Porcupine Caribou Herd would, if asked, probably give a very different answer to even our cleverest scientists). What if we don’t look upon the world with that viewpoint, however? How else might we be able to see the world, and in what ways might we possibly benefit from a different angle?

To be completely honest, I don’t think our wisest path is to ask how will this affect the caribou or the polar bears. I think our wisest path will be, as it always is, to ask how will/does this affect us. A better question, and the one I want to consider here, is what could be the impact on our humanness if we choose to not drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Firstly, it might be helpful to examine what’s at stake. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few places left in North America where we have access to the wild. So what is ‘the wild’? That’s an enormous question, and lies at the root of my essay here. We’ve become so used to defining the wild, wildness, wilderness, wildlife, and all that goes with it by what it is not that we probably no longer understand, in a sense, what any of those things actually are. Wild means uncivilized, right? Wilderness means a place untouched by our meddling hands, right? Wildness means unkept, uncontrolled, right? Wildlife means life that is not domesticated, right? One of the reasons we do this, I presume, is because if we actually define “wild”, we’ve probably just lost it. In effect, to define “wild” is to subordinate it, to reduce it to something within our grasp – it’s possibly like trying to define God or whatever deity you choose to wrap your parameters around. Something greater than ourselves is not, in real terms, definable by us.

Perhaps another reason we describe the wild in this way is because we are so pinned in our way of seeing all things as revolving around humanity, that we’re unable to find a way to describe some other without relating to ourselves (or, at least, to how we see ourselves). Each of those ‘definitions’ I suggested above relate, very directly, to ourselves, and, in this case, our control of things; I didn’t describe ‘the wild’, I described some thing that we’re not (or, as I said above, at least not how we perceive ourselves to be).

On the other hand, we are definitely definable by that which is greater than ourselves. We may well even be defined BY that which is greater than ourselves, that which we exist within. We exist within, just as we evolved within, the wild, within wilderness, and definitely within wildness. Wild is intrinsically as much a part of who we are as our ability to solve the quadratic equation might be. While, perhaps, our cognitive mathematical skills might be one of the things that provide humanity with our own uniqueness, setting us apart from the rest of creation in the same way a wolf’s howl sets it apart, our wildness is part of that which unifies us with creation, which connects us and joins us with all that we’re a part of. Our wildness is a reminder, a thread, that joins us to the landscape in which we live. Our constant struggle over the last few thousand years to stand aside from ourselves is probably as clear a sign as any that we’re not well.

I’d propose we can gain a lot by choosing not to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas extraction. We might begin to take some steps in a direction that lead towards a reconnection with the vital earth, a reconnection with the landbase, a reconnection with each other, with ourselves, with the wild. This is, in fact, a step towards humility and grace, away from arrogance and ego, because it’s a choice we can make, it’s our choice, and we really can do as we please. We can continue on, and say “this is our world, this is our planet, this is our country, this is our landbase, and we’re gunna do a, b and c to it”, or we can say “we live on this world, we share this planet with a host of other creatures and features, we exist ONLY within the landscape, and we have no greater right to use it than we do to use one another”. There’s absolutely nothing that stops us from choosing either of those alternatives. I honestly believe that at some point, our culture (because it is indeed, a cultural function) will deal with this issue – just as it did, for example, with slavery, and is doing so now with other “human issues” such as discrimination. Whether or not we make that choice today or tomorrow remains to be seen, but we will take that step.

What can we gain by undertaking such a monumental change in the way we perceive the world, the landscape, our fellow creatures, ourselves? Well, we’ll come to know who we are. We’re not a part of the world, we ARE the world – just as dogs and hogs and frogs and bogs are also the world. But to see ourselves in isolation, as we do, and the rest of the world as an other is to not know, not completely know, who we are. Isn’t that the spiritual process of virtually every religion to exist, to know who we are, to realize our humanity, to experience the world completely as humanity? To know who we are is surely the reason we exist. In order to more fully know who we are, we have to accept the wild within our selves, the wild, the free, the organic root of humanity. We turned away from this part of ourselves years ago, and reiterating over and over to ourselves that we’re not wild, we’re civilized, we’re orderly. I think this is another function of defining the wild through negatives so clearly – “UNcivilized, UNcontrolled, etc .. there’s a negative energy that permeates our vision of the wild, which reinforces our rejection of it. A kind of historic cultural collective brain-washing has taken place, effective to such a degree that we no longer know ourselves; we’ve focused so intently on a few aspects of ourselves, such as our cognition, or our economics, or our religion, that we’ve forgotten the others.

Here’s a simple experiment to try – and do try it, it can be very effective. Hold out one hand, straight out in front of you, palm up. Stare at the palm of your hand , right in the center, that point where the middle and third fingers join the palm. Focus on it, closely, completely, concentrate all your energy on that point, all your thoughts, your sight, every sense you have right there on the palm of your hand. Don’t move a muscle, just give all your attention to that point on your palm. Do it right now, and give it a good 30 seconds of your attention:

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Did you do it? Don’t lie.

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Are you aware of the toes on your left foot? No, I thought not. The way our mind works is that it doesn’t give its attention to multiple elements at one time. We’ve focused so intently, for so long, on certain parts of who we are that we no longer know, understand or even want to know the others. We’ve worked ever so diligently for the last few thousand years to disown our wildness that we no longer remember it. But, just like the toes on our left foot, it remains. It’s inside us because we can’t exist without it – it’s life itself. Life is wild; crazy, free, spontaneous, wonderful, mysterious life.

I think by making a choice to leave the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge unto itself, to step back from our continued domination of the world around us, we can begin the process of coming to know ourselves again, coming to know and embrace the wild. This struggle toward the sacred is something that requires work, diligent, disciplined, ongoing, practiced work, as surely as does the art it so often yields. It’s work, but it’s good work. My buddy Frank would say it’s the ONLY work that matters. For some people, it matters so greatly that they’ve already made good headway, and are farther down this path than the majority of us. I’ve had the good fortune to know and enjoy the company of a few such folks in my travels, and I’m unceasingly astounded by their wisdom, their humility and their grace. For others, it matters (for the moment) not at all, and they not only have taken zero steps in this direction, they see no reason to even begin. Such is the wild.

Choosing to not drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge can be an acknowledgment that our standard of living is not measured in dollars and cents and ipods and espresso machines, but is measured, ultimately, by the health of the realms in which we live. The health of the caribou herds, the wolves and bears, the birds, the tundra, the lichens, the mountains, rivers and the wind itself is the health of our humanity. The well-being of the community in which we live is our well own well-being, and I hope this culture begins to understand what this means sometime reasonably soon. It’s a step, a small step is all, but as with hiking, small steps, followed by more small steps, can make great progress. Small steps are what got us to where we are today, and it’s only with small, countless, repetitive steps that we might get somewhere else. I hope they get us to the wild, to wildness, and to the wilderness. I like it there.

Cheers

Carl

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3 thoughts on “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  1. Beth Lunsford

    Very well said! I like the wild, too. I can easily live without all of the materialistic things,except to just survive & be free. Most people have definately lost their connection to wild or basic or whatever you call it. Sad, but true!

  2. Carl Donohue

    Hey Beth,

    Thanks for the note. I think we’ve lost much of that connection, but I don’t think it’s gone – it’s still right there as soon as we give it our attention – just like that pinky toe! :0

    Cheers

    Carl

  3. Beth Lunsford

    Ya know, Carl, I’ve read over this essay again & again. The one thing you said that always sticks in my mind is about regaining HUMILITY & GRACE, letting go of our egotistical ways for a change. Makes great sense to me. I love this essay. So true, so true!!

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