Cue the Whales

Cue the Whales

“Has anyone eaten bear?” asked Phil.  “I’ve heard that it tastes like pork.”  David didn’t miss a beat.  “Actually,” he said, “it's more like bat.”  Evidently, the bush meats commonly available in the African village where David had worked in the Peace Corps had regularly included bat, which was not considered an unusual dining option.  

Trips like our voyage on Arcturus can open one’s eyes to new worlds and new ways of thinking.  I did not immediately regard the coastal marine environment of southeast Alaska as one that would have the same “wilderness” values that I find, let’s say, on the open tundra of the arctic.  That all changed, however, after a few hikes in the Tongass and numerous encounters with marine mammals as we sailed or kayaked. 

I especially remember one fine morning on which a dozen or so gray whales surrounded he boat and escorted us like an honor guard.  Every so often, one of the animals would roll slightly, tilting its head so one eye would emerge from the water, presumably in order to get a better view of the boat and its crew.  It is not every day that you can gaze directly into the big round eye of a whale, exchanging what I firmly believe was a moment of mutual comprehension and awareness.

This is an excerpt from the latest Northern Passages blog.  Please click the link or visit the website to read the full post.

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Wild Serenade

Wild Serenade

Bahrr-ohhh-nne!  Bahrr-ohhh-nne!  The deep tones resonated from the open hatch above our heads, echoing into the sleeping compartments behind.  Then came banging and crashing sounds, accompanied by whoops and exclamations, indicating that the boat was being boarded.

Nels and Miles came scampering down the aft ladder into the main cabin, doubled over with laughter and displaying the didgeridoos that had been the source of the atonal chorus.  And so began another day aboard Arcturus.

On the morning of the didgeridoo serenade, Nels had quietly awakened Miles and they had slipped away in kayaks as Arcturus rested at anchor in a secluded cove off Chichagof Island.  They found a bountiful bed of bull kelp nearby, the elongated blades growing up from the bottom of the bay, and cut the long cylindrical tubes into an ersatz Alaskan version of the musical instrument that originated in Australia.

Bahrr-ohhh-nne!  Bahrr-ohhh-nne!  The concert would have continued for quite some time but both Nels and Miles were dangerously close to passing out from hyperventilation as they tried to master the continuous breathing technique needed to keep the droning action of the didgerees going.

This is an excerpt from the latest Northern Passages blog.  To read the full article, please click the link or visit the website.

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Crossing Bridges

Crossing Bridges

I don't presume to understand the complex relationship between race and the experience of wilderness, or to generalize from the example of swimming pools to broader points about environmental justice.  I would note, however, that this is an increasingly fertile topic for critical race studies and other explorations of justice and equality.  

For example, in her book, Black Faces, White Spaces:  Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors, Dr. Carolyn Finney writes that "national parks and forests can unintentionally become sites where African Americans experience insecurity, exclusion, and fear born of historical precedent, collective memory, and contemporary concerns."  

Many relatively new organizations, like Jourdan Keith's Urban Wilderness Project and Rue Mapp's Outdoor Afro, are working to bridge the historical divide between environmental advocacy and civil rights activism.  The major national conservation organizations are also increasingly aware that social justice issues, including greater inclusiveness for African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, will be critical to the future of the environmental movement.

This is an excerpt from the Northern Passages blog on this topic.  Please click the link to read the full post.

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