Northern Passages | Coming Home to Wilderness
In his current writing project, Northern Passages | Coming Home to Wilderness, Bob Osborne invites readers to join his exploration of the ethics and esthetics of conservation and wilderness, with a focus on Alaska. The book is intended to be a collection of essays with an indeterminate completion date. Bob shares personal stories about nature and adventure travel to celebrate the esthetics of the outdoors, contrasting that experience with his 35-year career as a corporate lawyer in the highest echelons of American business. In doing so, Bob delves deeply into his evolving sense of moral community with wilderness, which the 20th century conservationist Aldo Leopold referred to as the land ethic. Some of the blog entries at this website are trial ideas for the book in progress.
Cultivation of a conservation ethic is especially important in Alaska, where natural habitats are as yet substantially intact at ecosystem scale, affording suitable range for top predators and for herds of migratory caribou. Bob’s stories and essays span a wide variety of wilderness locations, some more rugged and remote than others, throughout the final frontier. Many of the narratives involve intimate interactions with the animals who inhabit these lands, including salmon and rainbow trout, whales, bears, moose, caribou and wolves, and raptors, cranes, loons and other birds.
Come along on Bob’s very first trips to Alaska, which focused on fishing for salmon and rainbow trout in the freshwater streams flowing into Bristol Bay. Join him on a floating seminar about conservation, sailing with likeminded friends along the outer coast of the state’s southeastern panhandle. Backpack and raft across the breadth of the arctic Brooks Range, from the Chukchi Sea in the west, to the central Gates of the Arctic, to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the Canadian border. Search for musk oxen among the granite tors of the last remnants of the Bering land bridge. Visit a remote cabin and explore the more accessible wilderness areas of Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula and Kachemak Bay, and the Chugach Mountains.
Northern Passages seeks to entertain, to engage and educate, and at the same time to provide practical information that will be useful to others in exploring the backcountry of Alaska. Embedded in the narrative is a substantial amount of information about the natural history of Alaska, its geography, its plants and animals, and its native inhabitants. This includes topics such as the biology and metamorphosis of spawning salmon, the temperament of grizzly bears, the geothermal and seismic forces underlying the Pacific Ring of Fire, the cultures of indigenous peoples, the behavior of arctic bird species and the humans who observe them, and the importance of conservation leadership and legislation.
The book’s central thesis is that conservation ethics and wilderness esthetics go hand in hand: the surest way to develop the moral sensibility of the land ethic is to experience wild places, either personally or vicariously. Northern Passages makes that experience accessible to a wide range of readers by drawing on Bob's wilderness travels in the company of family and friends over more than two decades. It weaves the moral philosophy of conservation and ethics into the storyline of how a corporate lawyer from the lower states came to care deeply about the Alaskan wilderness, its plants and animals, its rivers and mountains, its tundra plains and its taiga forests.