We are concluding our Alaskan adventure. Our trip has taken us through the interior of Alaska starting at Fairbanks, passing through Denali National Preserve, Anchorage and eventually, Whittier where we boarded the Island Princess bound for Vancouver. Onboard the ship, we enjoyed stops at Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. We have taken a river cruise, a jet boat through class five rapids, a train through mountain passes and tunnels, a closeup experience with the Mendenhall Glacier and countless encounters with Alaskan wildlife. We have seen whales, dolphins, otters and sea lions, soared with eagles and respected the ravens and met countless native and resident Alaskans.
I need to share my impressions of this beautiful land. I wrote in my earlier blog of the vastness of the land and the overpowering beauty and magnitude of its mountains, especially its crown jewel, Denali. In this attempt I would like to speak to the fragile nature of its environment. We came to see the mountains and the glaciers. We explained to anyone interested that we especially wanted to see the glaciers before they disappear. I will tell you that every ranger, guide and native will tell you that global warming is felt no more drastically than in Alaska. Average temperatures have risen by four degrees. Weather patterns that once produced heavy winter snows in many areas have been altered, in turn, lessening the chances for glaciers to, at the very least, stay stable. Higher summer temperatures have caused many mountains, once snowcapped all year long, to lose their snow before the summer season has ended. The warming is most evident in the glaciers. Alaska has most of the remaining glaciers of the world and yet only 5% of them are deemed, “healthy”, meaning they are still advancing or in most cases, staying stable. The other 95% are all receding and many at alarming rates. As a glacier recedes, it eventually becomes a hanging glacier, one no longer reaching water but rather “hanging” from the mountain basin high above the valley floor.
Alaskans, to a person, request the visitors, their friendly term for tourists, to please take this information back home with them and then to make a promise to find at least one thing no matter how simple, that they can do to reduce their carbon footprint. When you stand in awe in front of one of these majestic glaciers, you can’t help but make the promise. It’s not a question of whether you believe the science, but rather can you deny what’s right in front of you. As a people, we cannot turn a blind eye to the problem. We must do what ever we can with our actions and our votes to protect our open spaces, rivers and streams, our land and its resources, not just for Alaska but everywhere they exist.
If you go to Alaska, you will in fact encounter the “last frontier”. You will sense the vastness of the wilderness and experience the history and culture of its people. You will hear of their love of the land and their determined spirit to not only survive but to thrive. You will pass through areas that take you back to the gold rush days of 1898 and leave you feeling like that was only a moment ago.
Alaska will take you in, heal you and realign your senses. And as you depart, you cannot help but feel renewed. That is what wilderness does. It gets into your soul, reminds you where we all once came from and beckons you to come back. To come back to the wilderness, to the wildness that lies in each and every one of us.
Go to Alaska or at least to somewhere wild and then pledge to protect it.