Tag Archives: national parks

Climb That Mountain

It’s been almost four years since the inception of Raincoastwanderings. I had no delusions of grandeur, of it drawing a large audience or translating into a job at Orion or Outside. It wasn’t going to make me Krakauer or Kerouac. And just as I predicted, it hasn’t. The biggest posts get maybe a couple hundred views, and I assume most of those are from my dear mother loyally visiting on different browsers to inflate the numbers. But that’s ok, for almost four years my mantra has been, “if one person is reading, I’ll keep writing.”

Raincoastwanderings has been a sort of public practice for me. If I knew one person was reading, that was enough for me to sit down and try to construct a narrative that was appealing and entertaining. Flooded with typos early on (and still making frequent appearances), I look back at some of those old posts and grimace. But this blog online journal marks the moment I sat down and vowed that I was going to make a legitimate go at this writing thing. The community that has supported and encouraged me over the years is humbling. So to all of you who have put up with me spamming your Facebook feed and inbox, thank you very much.

With that said, Raincoastwanderings is going on hiatus. Over the past few months it’s been difficult to give the site the attention it needs as I’ve been consumed with editing and submitting my first novel. That process is done for the moment and I’m now in the position of waiting and praying that some editor believes as much as I do in my 80,000 word baby. The good news and bad news is that for the next two months I still don’t foresee having much time for Wanderings.

I’ve been contracted by a travel company to edit and rewrite the Denali section of their upcoming travel book. The chapter is due in late June and it’s the opportunity that I’ve been working towards since I started writing. There is absolutely no way that I would have this chance without this forum and the people that have loyally followed it. So again, thank you for your encouragement, kind words, constructive critiques, and good humor. It has been a blast to keep this going all these years and I fully intend on returning to it once I hit ‘submit’ on the Denali chapter. Until then, I do intend on writing occasionally for the Inian Islands Institute and my work will hopefully be posted in their online journal. If you’re so inclined you can check here for occasional updates on the amazing work they’re doing.

Several Christmases ago, a certain individual (who rest assured is not reading this) climbed atop Mt. Soapbox and let me know that I couldn’t, “ride my skateboard forever.” Five years later I’m getting paid to ride the skateboard I’ve allegedly outgrown. And if the book ever gets published, he’s going to wake up to a box of them on his front porch, sitting on a skateboard.   

In the words of Jack Kerouac, “because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that damn mountain.”

Thank you all. Bless the harbor seals.

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The Park Service is Going Rogue (And Kayak Guides Should Too)

Last summer was the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. In Glacier Bay National Park, they spared no pomp or circumstance. Every poster, every talk, every presentation was prefaced, footnoted, and concluded with a reminder that they had hit the century mark. It got kind of comical after awhile. When someone reminded me that it was the 100th anniversary I feigned surprise:

“Really? They should have told someone about it!”

It was all capped with the opening of a traditional Tlingit Tribal House near park headquarters, complete with carved canoes paddled by the Huna Tlingit across Icy Strait and into Bartlett Cove. The day dawned with fog choking visibility to less than a mile. Flights were canceled. Lisa Murkowski was trapped in Juneau, 65-miles from her photo op. Sweet sweet justice.

As I floated in my kayak that day and watched the triumvirate of canoes emerge from the mist and heard the chants and beating of drums, the hair stood up on my neck. It was one of the most impressive and moving moments I’ve ever experienced. A powerful reminder that this place has meant something of incalculable significance to humanity for centuries.

But I also felt a twinge of annoyance that the NPS had chosen to do this on their anniversary. After decades of animosity between the federal government and Huna Tlingit, I felt conflicted on how I felt that it was done on the Park’s day. Perhaps I was picking nits. After all, the NPS had footed the bill for the place. I’m just some punk kayak guide who fancies himself a writer and by extension is a critic of the human condition. I’ve questioned the Park’s intentions before, scoffed at the cruise ship industry running amok in the west arm, and the damn “UnCruises” and their new “high usage” back country areas.

Fast forward a few months.

All of a sudden my critiques feel like the meaningless spats between a married couple. Was I really complaining about the Park Service leaving their metaphorical dirty dishes in the sink? Was I really all worked up because now 50 people were allowed to walk along a trail next to Reid Glacier instead of 12? My life was so simple I had the time to bitch about the Norwegian Pearl interrupting my morning as I looked down Johns Hopkins Inlet.

Now I look at the Park Service the same way Rey looks at Luke Skywalker.

It’s like a mixture of “I Am Spartacus” and “This is Sparta!” Between the Badlands National Park going rogue on Twitter to the new “Alt-National Park Service” movement, I’ve never been prouder to be affiliated with the Park Service. Right now I’m just hoping there’s going to be a “backcountry” in four years and argue about.

Knowing the people I do that work for the NPS, this defiance shouldn’t be a surprise. For many, if not all of them, their work is not just a job. No, people work for the parks because they genuinely care. Trump didn’t expect that. He assumed they were a bunch of good little worker bees that wouldn’t say a word as long as they kept their jobs. Guess what buddy? You just kicked the hive to discover the bees were hornets, and they’ll be damned if you’re going to take America’s honey from them.

But he’s going to try to muzzle them. We’ve seen it already with the EPA and when he forbid the Park Service from tweeting after they posted a photo comparing how small Trump’s hands crowd was at the inauguration.

One of the biggest jobs in Glacier Bay during the summer falls to the Interpretive Rangers. A crew of patient, knowledgable, and energetic folks who step onto each cruise ship that passes the park boundary to tell people what the hell they’re seeing and handle such cracker jack questions as:*

“does the water go all the way around that island?”

“Is that glacier made of salt? Is that why the water’s salty?”

“Are there polar bears on the glacier?”

“Do you believe in climate change?”

(*these are real questions)

Ah, yes, climate change. First, stop asking, “do you believe?” This is not a religion. There is no Church of Global Warming. You can chose to accept the facts or not. They exist whether you “believe” in them or not. It’s science, irrefutable science.

For the past eight years, NPS rangers have been able to calmly and accurately regurgitate the facts of respected scientists from across the globe, explaining the uncontrolled growth of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, the uncontrollable rise in ocean temperatures, and the extreme unlikelihood that human beings are innocent.

But of course the angry Oompa Loompa isn’t going to let people discuss a Chinese conspiracy on his dime. Which isn’t actually anything new. Park rangers were forbidden from discussing the effects of Climate change during Bush’s second term. Maybe, just maybe it had something to do with Dick Cheney’s ties to the oil industry. Just maybe.

So the Park is once again going to be shackled by the irrational opinions of the man in the White House. So while the Park Service may have to have a more muted level of public resistance. Though I would anticipate several “off the record” conversations aboard those cruise ships this summer. But the kayak guides have no such shackles. We can say what we want and do what we want as long as we don’t harass marine mammals and get five star reviews on TripAdvisor.

So the mission statement has changed a lot from: give people a nice lunch, talk about John Muir, and maybe see a Humpback to a full blown: Edward Abbey and the Monkey Wrench Gang recruitment poster.

Wilderness guides have the incredible opportunity to impact people from across the globe (as long as they’re not from Middle Eastern countries where Voldemort doesn’t have any business ties). When people come in contact with the physical world and dig their toes in the sand or walk through a forest framed with Devils Club, their hearts and minds open. There is a golden opportunity to get through to people, or at the very least, get them to listen. I’ve convinced “if it can’t be grown it must be mined” Republicans that maybe, just maybe, Common Murres are worth more than coal, at least for an afternoon.

The point is, people listen to the guide. Partly because their lives depend on it, partly because it is insanely obvious that we give a shit about these places. We care so much about something so much bigger than us and it shines through. And if the Park Service really can’t talk publicly about the threats this wanna be emperor is creating for these places, it’s up to us speak even louder, scream it at the top of our lungs to everyone we meet.

People are desperate to act and fight back. Many of them will be rushing to their parks this summer to get a good look at America’s Greatest Idea in case they disappear. They won’t. The Park Service has made that clear. The American people have too. Did you notice how fast that bill to sell off public land disappeared? Being a guide has always been about trying to change people and impact their lives. That’s still the case. But it’s something bigger now. Now I’m arming people to fight back, to take their experiences and wield them as a weapon. And as the Park Service continues to resist, it will be an honor to stand beside them every step of the way.

Digging in and Fighting Back

Oh. My. God. Well this has been a pretty shitty week hasn’t it? It’s tough to know where to begin. I wrote on Facebook that it feels like we’re living in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and every day we wake up to a new “educational decree” imposed by Donald Umbridge. I’ll admit to spiraling into despair for hours on end, my Facebook feed the proverbial trainwreck that I cannot look away from. It’s hard to feel like I’m doing anything to fight back from my vantage point. But I’m slowly coming around to the knowledge that sitting here in terror is not going to make anything better. When I let this regime control my every emotion, thought, and action, I’m letting them win. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them win.

If Trump is Umbridge then we must all be centaurs (yes that makes Bernie Sanders Dumbledore, Harry Potter persona tbd).

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So, what do we do? First and foremost, take care of yourself. You’re no good to anyone if you spend your days scrolling Facebook (guilty), fighting with internet trolls, and banging your head against the wall. Take breaks from it. It’s ok. This article helped me tremendously today.

https://medium.com/the-coffeelicious/how-to-stayoutraged-without-losing-your-mind-fc0c41aa68f3#.v53k3afa5

Self love has never been more important. I’ve laughed harder this week than I have in a long time. Don’t mistake me, that doesn’t mean this is the happiest I’ve felt in a long time, there’s a difference. You can be sad and upset and still laugh. Find anything that makes you laugh from your belly. If you’re into stand up comedy may I suggest John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, Eddie Izzard, and Whitney Cummings (all with mature content. If naughty words prevent you from laughing from your belly you can try Brian Regan or Jim Gaffigan). I listen to an hour a day and man does it help.

I’d suggest getting off Facebook. Maybe not entirely, I mean, shoot, I want you to read the blog for crying out loud. But minimize your exposure. There are some great communities and groups on Facebook that can help you plug in and help you get in the fight. There’s also some disgusting and horrible people who voted for Trump and will go out of their way to rub it in your face and tell you that you don’t matter.

What. Arbitrary. Silliness.

This war will not be won on Facebook. And I’ve never walked away from a Facebook argument thinking, “that was productive.” Win people with your actions, not your shares or comments. Unfriend, or at the very least hide those that post or comment things that make your blood boil. It’s easy enough to get worked up without their contribution.

Now that you’re personally as fit as you can, it’s time to dig in. What we’re facing is an assault on literally everything we hold dear. And yes, the word literally does fit. It doesn’t matter if your priority is the environment, LGBT rights, women’s rights, refugee rights, or any of the many other causes that are in so much trouble. Look, it’s too much. And trying to spread yourself to fight all of them is, as Bilbo said, like too little butter over bread.

It’s a multi-front war and you cannot be everywhere at once. Take your chunk of butter and layer it on whatever it is that you feel able to be in for the long haul. There is no wrong answer here. Pick your battle, give it your all, and trust your fellow human beings are digging in elsewhere. I will be devoting as much of my energy as possible to the war on science and our national parks. What is happening to the EPA, the USDA, and other government organizations is horrifying and as many have been saying, Orwellian. I welcome you to reach out to me with anything and everything. I am a simple kayak guide with a BS in Marine Biology, but I will always have the time for anyone that wants to talk Science, Climate Change, or the NPS. I want to be a safe place. Really. Come to me with anything. I’ll do whatever I can.

I would say an exception to our single cause focus should be for marches. I hope everyone that was physically able participated in the women’s march on Saturday. When you show up and the numbers swell, it magnifies the voices of all of us. Everyone has a few hours to make a sign and walk the streets with your friends and comrades for social justice. The next march I’m aware of is one protesting the silencing of the academic community, currently slated for some time in March.

http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com

The women’s march was amazing, fantastic, inspiring, all those wonderful adjectives I don’t get to use enough. You know what would be just as amazing, fantastic, and inspiring? If we got another 2.9 million people on the streets in March. Imagine if we pounded the concrete again in solidarity with our scientific brethren and told Trump that you mess with one of us you mess with all of us. It would say that this is not a fad or a bunch of sore losers as they love to paint us. No, this is a united, passionate, and huge coalition that is not going away.

Lastly and most awkwardly, I want to talk about money. It’s a sticky subject I know and it’s not my intention to offend anyone. So please just take this as a thought nugget and nothing more. I am not wealthy. I have no intention or plan to ever be wealthy. But I have been blessed financially. I grew up in a good home, was supported throughout college by my parents, and continue to be given help by incredibly generous people. Recently Brittney and I have been looking at land in our precious Gustavus. Here too we’ve encountered people that are not ruled by maximizing their profits and are supporting our dream.

I think it’s really easy for us to disappear into our rabbit hole right now, look out for number one, and hope all of this blows over. But here’s the thing. That’s exactly what they want. If we allow them to chip away at our allies, sooner or later they’ll come to the front door of our holes, and there’ll be no one left to hear us meekly shout. To be honest, I want to turn tail and hide. I’m not a confrontational person. I’m good staying in my own lane. Activism does not come naturally to me. But one of my favorite quotes is, “activism is my rent for living on earth.”

So Brittney and I want to turn our land into something of a sanctuary. We don’t know what that will look like or in what capacity, but we both feel compelled to take our blessings and pass them on. Maybe that will be in the way of a massive garden open to all, or maybe it’s as a safe house for the persecuted. The point is, our priorities have changed. We don’t want to just build a house and keep it to ourselves. We feel compelled to give back.

I think we all have the ability to do this in some capacity. It’s hard to part with our hard earned cash. I get it. I have a bit of a hoarder mentality and I’m slow on the draw to find my wallet when it’s time to pay. But I really think that we’re in this mess because too many are ruled by the dollar. I hope it becomes easier to give the more I do it. I hope that in time, my own personal security does not prevent me from doing what I believe is right. It’s a journey for all of us, and I think when we stop looking at the number in the bank account and instead the number of lives we’re changing the world becomes a more beautiful place. Many have or are already doing this. ACLU and Planned Parenthood have received a tidal wave of financial support over the last few days. I get to use those wonderful adjectives again; amazing, fantastic, inspiring. It comes from the type of people that will read this. Bless your generosity, let’s all make some sacrifices, let’s do without some things that we really want. In the end I think it will be much more rewarding.

These first few days have been darker than I expected. I don’t know if any of us could truly say we were ready for the horrible series of roundhouse kicks we’ve taken. We’re battered, bruised, and scared (sad adjectives I’ve used a lot this week). So let me end with this. You are not alone. You are loved. You are valuable. You matter. Remember those 2.9 million women and men marching on Saturday. Remember that Hillary won by almost 3 million votes. The majority are with us, waiting to be unlocked and empowered. Find them, equip them, lead them. Hug your dog. Kiss your partner. Laugh out loud. Do not let these people take your joy and passion. We simply cannot afford to lose it.

I am here for anyone that needs me. I’m ready to make a difference. I’m ready to fight.

Join me. Bless the Harbor Seals.

With Love,

David Truett Cannamore

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August Fog

For the first time this summer, there’s a bite to the breeze. When I step out the backdoor. The air tastes like Fall. It brings forth images of Cottonwood Trees changing color. The taste of Pumpkin flavored beer, pumpkin spice lattes, shoot, pumpkin flavored everything. Fall comes early in Alaska. The first week of August reminding us that each season but winter is short, to be savored.

With it comes rain. The rain that justifies our existence as a rainforest. A rain that makes everything green. A chilling nasty rain with curled lips and sharp teeth that bites at the back of your neck and crawls beneath the most impenetrable Gore-Tex.

But on days like today, when it doesn’t rain, oh what a beautiful setting. Bless the rare calm, and foggy mornings of August. Blue sky above, the land ensconced in curtains of fog.

There’s something magical about paddling in the fog. The shutters pulled over our eyes, every other sense becomes sharpened.

You smell your way through fog.

On low tide mornings like this one the odor of anoxic mud crawls into my nose. A rancid guide leading me back to shore when the trees disappear behind the milky white sheen. My ears orientate like a dogs, the cries of a crow lead me across the mouth of a cove. Land nowhere in site, paddle toward the crows.

As always I’m accompanied. Today it is the minimum two people. Mark and Laura. Middle aged, bouncy, and happy. The sort that are easy to talk to because the silences are never awkward. Everything is wonderful in their eyes. The fog, the water, the sea lion that interrupts my bear story. They make my job easy. The sort of people you wish you had every day. We paddle near the shoreline and let the fog wrap around us like a sweater. The smell of the beach and the noise of the crows guiding us.

Boats pass unseen in the fog. The intrusive foghorn of a cruise ship echoes off the mountains and trees every few minutes.

We float in a kelp bed two miles from the dock. Our paddling has been serene and relaxed. I’m in no hurry. If you’re in a hurry, kayaking isn’t for you. Easier to let the world come to you then to try to catch the world.

“Are you worried about the possibility of losing the glaciers because of global warming?”

The question comes from the husband Mark. It does after you talk about the retreat of the glaciers. How, in 1794, Glacier Bay was nothing more than a five mile divot on the north side of Icy Strait. Yes I know, no internal combustion engines spewing carbon into the atmosphere in the 18th century.

There’s something different about the way that Mark phrases the question though that gives me pause. Are you worried about the glaciers?

The glaciers? I mean, I guess so. It’s funny, I live in a land defined by them, created by them. If anyone should worry about the well being of the glaciers I guess it should be me. And I am, now that I think about it. For Glacier Bay with no glaciers is a sorry end indeed. What would we call it? Muir Bay National Park and Preserve?

But when I think about climate change, about the cliff that we’re either a) barreling towards or b) careening over (depends on who you ask), glaciers aren’t the first thing I think about.

“What I think about,” I say, “are murres.”

“Murres?”

“Murres, among other things.”

I explain about the blob, which they had never heard of. About thousands of murres washing ashore on the beaches of southeast and south-central Alaska. I describe their delightful noises, the joy of a muttering murres, their exasperated yells. We all seem to have that animal that touches us in a way no one else understands. Brittney loves Black Oyster Catchers. Hank Lentfer loves Sandhill Cranes. And I have Common and Thick Billed Murres.

“For me, Glacier Bay without Murres is no longer Glacier Bay.” I say. “Maybe that’s short sighted of me. But imagine if you stopped paddling, and it was quiet.”

We do just that and are serenaded by a timpani of birds. Marbled Murrelets, Canadian Geese, crow, raven, phalarope, and oyster catcher.

People talk about getting out in nature. “Getting away from it all.” We call it. The peace and quiet of wilderness. But here’s the thing, nature is never quiet. To walk into the woods and hear nothing would be… empty, desolate, unsatisfying. Nature isn’t supposed to be quiet. There should always be a squirrel rattling, a bird calling, a sea lion swimming.

What we’re really talking about, is getting away from ourselves. Away from the world we created. The artificial one sculpted from metal and concrete. The birds and squirrels and sea lions are not noise, they are music to our ears. And a world without them, glaciers or no, is no longer a world.

Two Bears for Mark

I’m curled in my sleeping bag, the Alder trees at the back of my tent shelter me from the early morning sun. I’m somewhere in the world between dream and reality. So when I hear the sound of Mark’s boots making their way through the Reed grass, I’m not sure if it’s real or imagined until I hear his voice. His tone is calm and measured, but something in it makes my eyes snap open and heart rate quicken before he finishes his sentence.
“David? I hate to disturb you, but there appears to be two brown bears walking towards us along the beach.”

Hate to disturb me? I glance at my watch: 6:45 in the morning. Not that it matters. I want to be disturbed if there’s pair of brownies on the beach no matter the time of day. I unzip my tent and am greeted by my two hundred roommates. They’re small and elusive, rusty red and jet black. But the high pitched beat of their wings all sound the same in my ears. I’m inundated with the gnats immediately. But I brush them out of the way, pulling my bug net and can of bear spray along with me.

Mark is cool and collected as he points down the beach to the place where he last saw the bears. A lot calmer than I’d expect a guy from New York city to be during his first Brown bear meeting. Actually that’s not fair. It’s not like Mark Adams has never left the concrete behind. He’s hiked the mountains of Peru, gone where no white man has ever been in Madagascar. When you write like he does, people send you everywhere.

Which is why we’re here in the early morning light at the north end of Russell Island in Glacier Bay National Park. Mark’s writing a book about Harriman’s Alaskan expedition in 1899 and John Muir’s travels. When he needed a kayak guide, I was blessed with the opportunity to lead him into the wilderness. To travel as Muir did, one paddle stroke at a time. To explain and describe the land and creatures as they passed. And of course, to bring us back in one piece. The first part had been easy. The bears would make it tricky.

I walk down the rocks, trying to get a better angle of the beach. What a sight I must be. The weathered and experienced Alaskan guide, rubbing sleep from his eyes and pulling up his pajama pants that are a size too big. The pants are absurd. Navy blue with a pattern of wolves howling at the moon. The sort of thing you wear on rainy Saturday mornings while drinking coffee. Not fighting bears.

I step onto the tallest rock I can find and stare into the tall Rye grass at the back of the meadow. My body’s awake but not my eyes. I rub them again, trying to focus and keep my expression calm and collected. This happens all the time of course.

Two little brown ears pop up among the grasses. Little satellite dishes that recede the thin long face of a brown bear. Instinct kicks in. I clap my hands and call out good morning. I don’t shout, I want to save some volume, just in case. The bear looks at me, head tilted sideways, politely curious. As if he’s rising on an elevator another bear appears next to him. They’re skinny and young. Probably just got kicked out by Mom within the last month. Four year olds. Teenagers. Young, dumb, ready to take on the world. I can relate.

They saunter back into the woods as I call. Nonchalant and relaxed. I turn and beam at Mark. We’ve talked a lot about bears the last couple of days. I’m glad we saw one. He’s got his little waterproof notebook out, scribbling notes. A few minutes go by and there’s no sign of the bruins. I put on more respectable pants and pull out the Coleman stove, putting water on for coffee. I’m forgetting something… mugs!

Leaving Mark with the stove and food, I jog back up the beach and to the tent, digging for the thermoses. No sooner do I reach the tents and Mark’s voice floats up the beach.
“David? Your friends are back.” Uh-oh.

I come back down the beach, my pace a little quicker this time. I find a big rock and jump on top of it. I spread my legs and stand tall. Stretching my thin 6’4” frame as far as I can. I shout, I clap, I wave my arms. The bears spare me a half-second look and go crashing back into the Alder. From my vantage point I can see the trees shaking fifty yards back from the beach. They’ve cleared out.
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(The beach the night before the bears. The bears came out of the Alder near the blue/green tent)
I reach Mark and the stove, setting the thermoses down and pouring the boiling water into a Nalgene we’re using as a coffee maker. While the coffee steeps I run back up the beach for socks. The bugs are eating my Chaco attired feet alive. I reach into a dry bag and freeze. Something is snapping twigs in the Alder feet from me. Boots forgotten I step back, clapping and shouting. I’d started at a six, my volume’s at ten now. I reach into my pocket for the bear spray. It’s not there. It’s on the beach with Mark.
As calm as I can I shout down the beach, “Mark, can you bring the bear spray up with you please.”
I feel caught. Food and author on the beach, tents and kayak near the trees. In my head I can hear the voice of the park biologist Tonya Lewis. “Don’t let the bears get your food.” I run back down the beach, clapping and shouting the whole time. A plan forms in my mind. Grab the food cans and stove. Pile it at the waters edge, break down the tents. Get the hell out of here. If they want the beach this bad, it’s all there’s. I meet Mark halfway, his arms laden with bear cans, the stove, and water bladder. I grab a handful of gear, turn, and feel my heart drop. The bears are back. Feet from Mark’s tent. For the first time in my life, there’s a bear between me and my kayak.

I grab the bear spray from Mark and charge up the beach, calling at Mark to follow me. In my panic, a tapestry of expletives flow from my mouth like water down a mountain. “You… bear! Get the… away from my… kayak!”

One of these bears is brave. Too brave for my liking. While one slinks into the woods just out of view, the bolder one moves between the tents. Three more strides and he’s at the kayak. I grab a baseball sized rock and close the distance to forty feet, Mark at my heels. “Look as big as you can.” I tell him.

I shout more words you can’t say in church. I pull the safety off the bear spray. The rock cocked like I’m Nolan Ryan, the bear my Robin Ventura. I’ve never fired bear spray at a bear before. Had proudly told Mark 36 hours ago that bears were misunderstood, shy gentle creatures. Leave it to nature to make me look bad.

I’m ten yards away. First and 10. Russell Island Bears versus Gustavus Kayakers. It’d be a route if it comes to that. I finger the bear spray and shout again, I feel my throat getting raw. At last the bear turns.

I’ve looked into the eyes of many wild animals. Orcas, humpbacks, moose, sea lion, seal, deer. But only a bear’s gaze has the ability to make me feel like I’m two feet tall. Nothing is more untamed, more wild. Daring you, defying you, to tell it otherwise. “This is my house,” they say. “Do you want to see what happens in my house?”

I don’t, and I have a feeling neither does Mark. Although his guide getting ripped limb from limb would make a hell of a chapter. The bear turns and gives a little huff. My knees go weak. The bear spray rising above my hip. Dimly I register that there’s no wind. A clear shot if it comes to it. The bear turns and starts to walk away from the kayak. My heart’s in my throat. Keep walking, keep walking.

He slips into the Alder like a phantom. But for how long? I cover the last few feet to the tent. Mark has stood calmly by the whole time. No panic, no fear. What’s going on inside is a mystery, but he’s a heck of a lot calmer on the outside than I am.

We drag our tents through the meadow and over the rocks, our sleeping bags and clothes still inside. We’ll dismantle them near the water. Right now I want as much room between me and the Alder grove that I can.

Fifteen minutes later we float 100 yards offshore in our double kayak. I glance at my watch and laugh. I’d set a timer for the coffee. It’s been steeping for 52 minutes. I hand Mark a thermos, a Cliff bar, and an apple as he scribbles notes. “Got it get it down while it’s hot.” He says.

The bears are on the beach, right at the water’s edge, digging for tidepool Sculpin and munching on Blue Mussels. They’re a lot cuter with 150-feet of water between us. My heart rate slows. This is all they wanted. Two hungry bears, learning to survive without mom. Trying to find a route to the low tide and the protein. We were just in the way.

I rub the side of the kayak, relieved and relaxed. I didn’t want my career defined by one wrecked kayak. The morning is gorgeous. The water is turquoise, that electric color that only the glaciers can mix. As we float Mark pays me the highest compliment he can. “This may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been… nice choice.” As the bears work their way back into the woods I grin like a hyena and strike my paddle against the smooth surface.

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The Garden: A Plea for our Parks, Monuments, and Refuges

I wonder if Abbey ever felt this way, or Muir, or Roosevelt. A sort of melancholy joy that all of this is fleeting. Perhaps I worry too much. It’s hard not to. In a time when we need wildness more than ever, it’s never been more threatened. One need look no further than the skulking figures of the right, elbowing and jostling each other for the opportunity to be commander and chief. Debates have become nothing more than four amateur comedians, dropping punchlines and waiting for the laughs that aren’t coming. But between the childish jokes of genitalia and chest thumping, they have declared war. Not on ISIS, hispanics, the middle class, or China. But on us. On the final fragments of American history.

The Party or Lincoln has become the Party of More. Blame it on Reagonomics, the Koch brothers, Ted Cruz’s jowls, it doesn’t really matter. Regulate a women’s body, regulate marriage, but God forbid that the steam rollers of industry should be slowed. Away with the EPA, usher in the era of fracking. What goes into the bank account matters more than what goes into our bodies. Away with the public lands, those worthless wastes of space, those dollar bills hanging from the branches, just waiting to be plucked.

“If you’ve seen one redwood, you’ve seen them.” Ronald Reagan said.

“If you’ve seen one hundred dollar bill, you’ve seen them all.” I say. “The only thing more foolish than trying to drink your money is trying to breath it.”
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Herein lies the danger. Herein lies the tragedy. Ted Cruz has already tried to put an end to the miracle that is public lands—our national parks, our monuments, and wildlife preserves. America’s greatest gift to itself. It twists my stomach into knots. Take my healthcare but not the bay, not Denali, not the Arctic Refuge, these shrines to the world that made us. I’ve met several people who, on their deathbed, ran north. To Alaska. To see the land wild and free. Not to see oil wells or mining sites. But that seems to mean little. Give him a big enough eraser and he’ll wipe them all out. Those wastes of space. All those trees and bays and wolves and bears. Refuges and refugees, two concepts that fall on deaf ears. Give me your poor, your tired, your weak… nevermind, some oil subsides will do fine. Conservative and conservation, similar in spelling alone.

This is our own fault. Nature, wilderness, is mythic to some, a fairy tale to many. Something that may or may not exist somewhere beyond the city limits where the concrete may or may not end. An ideological Bigfoot. It’s somewhere our phone’s don’t work and wi-fi fades away. Many never see them. And we’ve lost all connection to how bad we need them.

Air? It comes from the air of course. Food? From the grocery store. Water? It comes from the tap. Trace the journey of these substances and you arrive at the same place. Soil growing food, trees producing the air and filtering our water. Forgetting that relationship is toxic. Ask the children of Flint, Michigan. Ask the families of Butte, Montana about the “pennies from hell.”

“Growth for the sake of growth is a cancerous madness,” wrote Edward Abbey.

Let us define mankind not by what we can extract and obtain, but by what we can leave alone. Let us not define ourselves by our consumption, but by our self control. Do we have the courage, the willpower to push ourselves away from the petroleum feast, to announce that we’re full? There are bigger things, more worldly things, and yes, more Godly things than maximizing profit on every square foot of land.
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What if we stopped looking at the world like a factory and instead like a garden? A plot that must be nurtured, cared for, fed, and watered. Treated with the understanding that what we take out must be replaced. Minerals and matter must be returned to ensure that the carrots, potatoes, and lettuce of life return bigger, fresher, and tastier next year. Foolish is the farmer who doesn’t renew his soil with fertilizer, who stuffs his rows of lettuce tightly together, believing that the highest quantity planted will equal the maximum yield. Shame to the farmer who doesn’t let a field go fallow. Let the land rest, let it breath, let it be land for a year. And like us after a deep breath, it will work harder, the benefits in a year outweighing the one that was lost.

But the world doesn’t work like this. We can’t stand the thought of letting a portion go fallow. Of not maximizing our yield right now. Forget the future. The future is now isn’t it? The TV told me so. Those that see the world as a garden are shouted down. We’re labeled as extremists, alarmist, other harmful -ists, standing in the way of progress. Good old progress the shield of the conservative politician. But you’ll never hear a politician, pounding the lectern, demanding that he be allowed to frack the tar sands of Utah labeled extremist. He’s just living in the real world. A world where the economy can grow forever. Infinite growth, finite world. His birthright. If we’re not moving forward we must be going backward.
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Will our offspring a century from now look back on us with admiration or disgust? Will we be revered like the minuteman or demonized like the slaveholder? The one’s that took a renewable world and saw it only for what it could do in that very moment. At least we made some money. But is that how we want to be remembered, is that what we want inscribed upon our gravestone?

 Here lies the modern world. The bottom line looked good.

Surely even the most selfish cannot desire to be remembered like this. Let’s be remembered for our love, for our sacrifice, for our restraint. Let a tree be a tree. A refuge a refuge. A fishery a fishery.

“Any fool can destroy trees,” wrote John Muir. “For they cannot run away.”

To which I add, any fool can do something for profit. It takes a man of true character, true conviction, to see a resource, to see personal wealth, and leave it where it is, acknowledging that there are some fields that should always be fallow. We’ll survive without it. The farmers to follow will thank us.

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