The Power of Alaska
PHOTOS BY KEITH ELLENBOGEN
Rarely is the raw power of nature so evident as when one stands staring up at a 300 foot towering mountain of ice. All around us the mountains have been worn smooth by frozen water over millennia with the only jagged peaks being those that were high enough to escape the relentless onslaught of the glaciers. Mother harbor seals concerned for their newborn pups watched us with wary eyes from their frozen perches atop icebergs as we slowly cruised past, careful to keep our distance so as not to disturb them.
This was Dawes Glacier, a tide water glacier, in other words a rare type of glacier that originates in the mountains and makes it all the way down to the ocean, which was recorded by John Muir in 1879. The weather was holding for the time being, and though rain seemed imminent, who could be bothered by a little rain when confronted with the incredible power and beauty of nature. Huge hundred foot columns of ice regularly crashed into the water in front of us with a deafening BOOM warning us to keep our distance.
This was only our second day, having arrived the day before into Juneau Alaska for the beginning of a week-long adventure aboard the Mist Cove, flagship of The Boat Company, a non-profit tourism and conservation cruise company that had been operating in this region for 30 years. Over that time they have raised millions of dollars that has been put towards the conservation of Southeast Alaska; they have also supported EarthEcho through their McIntosh Foundation, which is how I got to know the family. After befriending Hunter Macintosh, son of the founder of The Boat Company, I was invited to go on a trip and explore the region and learn about the fight to save the largest national forests in the United States, including the incredible Tongass. In addition it is the largest, most intact old growth temperate rainforest in North America, if not in the world. Unfortunately the battle still continues to fight against logging and maintain a sustainable fishery. In fact, just yesterday, Alaska's congressional delegation introduced legislation that would repeal a 2001 law that bars most new roads and logging in the state’s national forests. Of course, as a national forest, the Tongass belongs to all of us, and most of all to our children. Thus it is the responsibility of all of us to …
In just a week have seen so much, from giant halibut to bald eagles, mountain goats, whales, and more. Spectacular early morning kayaking gave way to gourmet breakfasts then naturalist hikes, fly fishing, sightseeing from the boats, and more. Often times we would be joined by Dall’s porpoise and breaching humpback whales off the bow as we cruised from one incredible place to another. One hike in particular was a visit to a forest of such beauty and mystery it felt as though we had been transported to some distant land which hitherto had only existed in the pages of a Tolkien novel. Surrounded in the forest by nurse trees (old fallen trees who provide fertile ground from new trees to sprout from), I was reminded of the words of John Muir, who said, “When one tugs at a single string in nature, he finds it connected to the rest of the world.” Another day saw us fly fishing on a river catching salmon and trout with vistas that rival any other I have seen.
Now, as I sit here towards the end of the week, I am reminded that in many ways Alaska is a microcosm of humanities struggle with conservation. Over the last few hundred years of Alaska’s exploitation by Russian and then American and European settlers, we have gone from wholesale slaughter of nature to a more balanced approach. That balance is constantly in danger of regressing, but with determination and the help of dedicated people like the McIntosh’s and organizations like The Boat Company, we are learning what the native people of this region have known for millennia, that without a sustainable environment we cannot thrive on this planet.