“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” Henry David Thoreau
The price of Senator Lisa Murkowski’s vote to approve the tax bill and reverse herself on health care was to end 57 years – dating back to the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower – of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Like her father who preceded her as Alaska’s senator, she has been fighting for years to open up ANWR to oil and gas drilling. It looks like she will finally get her wish.
Several years ago I spent two weeks in the refuge. Looking for adventure and some refuge for myself, I had enrolled in a National Outdoor Leadership School program. There were 12 of us, and I was the oldest by about two generations. My nickname was “Jerry”, short for “geriatric”, and I had never done anything like this before. We had to carry 70% of our body weight in packs on our backs as we hiked across the Brooks Range into a vast land more wild and remote than any I had ever seen, camping one night on the continental divide, which in Alaska runs east to west at an elevation of only 3,000 feet.
The 1964 Wilderness Act defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” – and we saw wolves, caribou and a grizzly and her cub but no trace of humans.
We need these places, which are disappearing so rapidly. We need them, not just for the survival of the wild plants and animals whose lives are more and more constricted by relentless human development, but for our own wellbeing and for the wonder that comes even from imagining them.