“…It is not enough to fight for the land, it is even more important to enjoy it. So get out there and hunt and fish, and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly awhile and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely mysterious, and awesome space…” —Edward Abbey
It was a blustery day on the airstrip at Kaktovik. The sudden gusts made you stiffen, turn your back from the sprawling sea of ice, and reach deep into your pockets for warmth. There stood the famed renegade, Edward Abbey, in a frozen stance, waiting for the morning plane.
He had just floated the Kongakut River and we shared stories about the wilderness and the abundance of life in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Perhaps what surprised him most was an American robin that perched near his tent, singing its joyful song in an arctic gale. For a bird that Abbey might have seen in Arizona, it was an impressive story of migration that he witnessed firsthand.
Edward Abbey has been an inspiration to many of us, from his classic books like The Monkey Wrench Gang, to his love of nature and his work as an outspoken crusader for the planet. He crafted words that not only poetically described his observations of the natural world, but in his unique way, he made us care about wild places, take action, defend Mother Earth, and stand up for what we believe to be true.
At the same time, Abbey had the spirit and love of adventure. He bannered a good message for all of us on the importance of leading a balanced life. Get outdoors, explore and discover, seek adventure, wander with your friends, celebrate victories, and breathe in the deep quiet and sweet air. That’s the stuff that nourishes and empowers us — mind, body and soul.
Abbey’s message is perhaps more timely today than ever. We are faced with enormous environmental challenges in Alaska and worldwide — addressing climate change, preserving precious places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Great Barrier Reef, keeping our air and water clean, and protecting countless endangered species. There is a lot of serious work to do.
Whoever said the job to protect the magnificent state of Alaska would be easy?
The number of issues facing all of us is overwhelming, daunting. Yet, we can sign the endless stream of petitions, join the marchers on Earth Day, attend hearings and speak out, write emails, letters and commentaries, and lobby in D.C. We can also educate ourselves to create sensible arguments that convince our neighbors, our friends, our adversaries, and our leaders that Alaska’s wild places and its creatures must be safeguarded — that we will continue to stand up for what we love and cherish.
That is why the Northern Center and the collective weight of the conservation community is so important right now. We can join together — our voices, our spirit, our love of wild places, our resistance — and speak up for earth and all of its inhabitants. It’s our duty, our responsibility, as citizens of the earth and as Alaskans who care deeply about the future of our beautiful state.
And let’s not forget the people all over the world who care about Alaska too. Take the Australian woman who we recently met on a country road in Queensland. She had visited Alaska once and climbed Denali to its breathtaking summit. When she heard we were Alaskans, she lit up and exclaimed “You live in the most spectacular place in the world!”
Yes, we certainly do, and with that honor comes responsibility to protect it.
With summer approaching, we should remember Edward Abbey’s message to get outdoors and enjoy our time in the wilderness: float a river, hike a new trail, pick an extra pail of blueberries for a friend, climb that mountain you’ve always wanted to, volunteer to clean up a favorite place, catch a king salmon and savor it.
And be grateful for all that is Alaska, ready to defend it with your whole heart.
Debbie S. Miller is 42-year Alaskan who loves the wilderness. She is collaborating with Fairbanks photographer and naturalist, Hugh Rose, on a forthcoming adult photo essay book about the wilderness that surrounds Prince William Sound. A Wild Promise: Prince William Sound, will be released in April, 2018, by Braided River.
Also — I think I’ve been a NAEC member since 1976 ish? About 40 years!