We Are Part of a Larger Natural World

A guest post by Laurie Hoyle, Santa Barbara, CA

In summer 1990, I backpacked about 55 miles in the Arctic Refuge starting from the Canning River, cutting through the Sadlerochit Mountains, then hiking across the tundra to the Arctic Ocean. The trip remains with me in a series of images: Caribou emerging from the mist; a grizzly bear running from our camp, her two cubs in fast pursuit; a tundra swan on a freshwater pond, flushed with a rosy glow from the long-angled light of the sun circling the horizon. I remember also the intense color and startling clarity of the land under a cloudless sky. My shadow stretched out before me with seemingly nothing between it and the distant horizon. That trip tested me both physically and emotionally, and it gave me the greatest sense I have ever had of being in a truly wild and remote place.

At trip’s end, we were picked up and flown back to Kaktovik. Our pilot told us the news we had missed, that Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and that the U.S. had gone to war against Iraq. I knew then that this tricky balancing act we’re attempting–to get at the resources we need to fuel our economic development and maintain our “way of life” without destroying ourselves and our world in the process–had become more precarious than ever.

Now, fifteen years later, we find ourselves in circumstances new but strangely familiar, with issues of national security deeply intertwined with those of economic interest. It is no surprise that the Refuge is again at risk. Earlier generations have understood that we can heal political divides, we can use our intelligence and initiative to increase energy efficiencies and develop renewable resources. But those generations also understood that some things we cannot do: Once we destroy a wilderness, we cannot recreate it. Let us follow the lead of these earlier generations and act courageously to save the Refuge now. If we do not, we lose that which wilderness makes exceedingly clear: we are inescapably part of a larger, natural world and we simply cannot survive without it.