Earth’s Greatest Travelers

Earth’s Greatest Travelers

"Lion" by Dena Fairbanks. "Bear" by John Hamill.
I’m off to Alaska. Alaska? The AfricaAnswerman is going the wrong way, no? No. The similarities between Alaska and Africa are manifold. They’re where the last great wildernesses on earth struggle to survive.

There’s nothing extraordinary in the realization that the ends of the earth are wilderness. In many ways it’s why they’re the ends of the earth. In the case of Alaska, it’s radical climate, daylight hours, threatening geology frame the borders of our planet with what’s livable.

A wealth of biomass from the world’s great whales to many of its birds flock here as natural selection would want, to exploit the extreme nutrition that condenses itself in short periods each year. Think of it this way: the amount of sunshine is identical anyplace on earth. It’s just at the poles a lot more of it comes in their summer and none in their winter.

This means life adapts in strange ways, essentially living the life of Riley for about 3 months of the year and sleeping for the rest. Plants, inuit, and I dare say immigrant humans all adapt to that strange lifestyle.

But earth’s travelers aren’t anchored to any spot. So the world’s behemoth, the blue whale, and its most angelic if hyper bird, the hummingbird, make journey after journey here for the privilege of working 24 hours a day for three months.

It’s a work routine lots of young people aspire to!

When I first went to Alaska it was much different than today. The growth of earth has transformed Anchorage from a weirdo’s way station to a magnificent city. The wealth of neglected natural resources made the hillbilly a billionaire. Fairbanks was a cold place for airmen. Today its university leads research in astronomy and natural resources.

And there’s a lot more tourists.

Just like Africa. So our job is to recover, perhaps preserve, the thrills of the past.

Humans need thrills. Adrenalin is not just for avoiding the boss. We need to jolt our physiognomy every once and a while to keep it tuned up.

The scenery of Alaska and Africa is simply incomparable. There are many places in the world as expansive and awesome as Denali, and there are many places in the world as overwhelmingly beautiful as the plains of the Serengeti. But then, there’s also Prince William Sound and the Wrangells, Ngorongoro Crater and Manyara’s cliffs.

The compactness of beautiful, thrilling scenery in Alaska and Africa has no rival.

We get rather boring every now and again. But a lion and a bear are never boring. The natural world is dominated by sheer force buffeted by the brilliance of natural selection. It’s nice everywhere once in a while to be relieved of having to be clever, or make the right decision, or figure out your taxes.

It’s nice to be in a beautiful place where the order of everything is predetermined. It’s something of an intellectual copout – and certainly not what humans were built to do.

But humans are different from everything else, and in these great wildernesses we come to understand exactly how and why.

“Awe replaces anxiety,” Patricia Schultz writes in the New York Times.

Stay tuned! I’ll try to post pictures of our trip, but here’s a remarkable secret: I get less connectivity in Alaska than Africa!