Saturday, August 23, 2008

The definition of "wilderness"

Dispatch #1 from an East Bay Traffic Jam
by Heather E Meader-McCausland
(reprinted from '07)

The other day, in Emeryville CA, I found myself at one of those outdoor malls. There were lots of stores of the usual sort, Gap, Banana Republic, Barnes and Noble, Ikea, to name a few- not to mention a huge movie theater (I think it has around 14 screens), and then there were several big hotels conveniently placed across the street.

What caught my attention however, while I sat in rush hour traffic, were the two street signs: Ohlone Way (the street leading to the mall) and Shellmound (where the hotels were sitting). When I commented about the signs, my sister explained that actually, that area was/is an Ohlone shellmound, which became a toxic industrial sight, and then still later sprouted hotels and stores and movies theaters. But not until the Ohlone Indians were, for the most part, eradicated during the horrors of the European conquest of California.

I have discovered recently that, if you are not in a fit of road rage, you can ponder many things while inching along the street in a car. In my case I pondered the terms and prevailing definitions of ‘environmentalist’ and ‘wilderness’. I thought about forgotten people, disappearing ways of life and about bays and marsh lands, birds and the California grizzlies. I also thought about parks and what it has meant to fight to preserve the land and wildlife of the arctic.

I have always believed that the fight to keep the arctic wild is as much about the people that live there and their survival as anything. Many people seem to forget that 'wilderness', as we know it, has always included people. Unfortunately now, with all the emphasis on wilderness protection, the people in the surrounding villages have often been forgotten – not seen by the dominant culture as important as caribou and wolves.

In this day and age I believe that parks are very important. I want the “wilderness” – the mountains, the caribou, grizzly’s, wolves and the like to have a bit of breathing room without the negative impacts of humans – we are currently impacting enough.

But when I talk about preserving the wilderness I am not just talking about parks and wildlife I am also talking about the people of this region, whose survival is just as important to me as the land and wildlife.

I do not spend much time in the surrounding villages. My arctic home is about 60 miles without roads from the nearest ones. In the Brooks Range, however, that means we’re neighbors. I’m not going to pretend to know the detailed ins and outs of the nearest villages. However, I will say that for the most part things haven’t been easy, young people are leaving, elders are passing away and cultural and economic viability is difficult at best. The simple fact is these villages are a part of this wild landscape and therefore their survival should be an important factor in the “environmental fight to save the arctic wilderness”. Along with the mountains, wolves, caribou and grizzlies the people of the arctic deserve just as much of a chance, and just as much support to survive and thrive in their homes, in their villages and in the ‘wilderness’. As the Outside begins to turn their attention towards the arctic – towards oil drilling, polar bears and global warming – I hope that it will break out of history’s well warn footsteps and begin to see all the different parts of the ecosystem that has been threatened and damaged by the dominant culture’s arrogance.

• To learn more about the Ohlone people whom have streets named after them but are still not recognized as a official federal tribe, see
• To learn about the forced relocation of the Inuit people in Canada check out “The Long Exile” by Melanie McGrath . This book is incredibly powerful and well written.
• To learn about many issues in regards to Alaska in general, and specifically the native people of Alaska, check out the University of Fairbanks Project Jukebox where you can listen to the oral histories. It is an amazing project.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How To Keep Track Of Us!

If you would like to get updates about Northern Light Legacy's projects, events and adventures please go to our website and click on the link to subscribe to our updates. We'll let you know when this blog is updated and what future projects or events are being planned.

You can also find us on Myspace at

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some unique and fascinating facts about Alaska

The News:
A radio news blip the other day: An armed man on an ATV tried to highjack a car on Giest Road at a red light. The armed man remains at large, he escaped on his ATV after a high speed chase by police.

Community Bulletin on radio: For Sale: One piano, several sled dogs, Ithaca 10 gauge, M1 Grand Springfield. 30.06 and 450 rounds of ammunition. All great condition, call for price.
The Weather:
It’s a fact: it gets so cold in the winter that your tires freeze flat, and it takes a couple of miles of driving to get them round again.*

It’s also a fact that in this last month I have not seen a single car alarm remotely activated (or activated at all for that matter), but I have seen many cars remotely started. It’s a bit un-nerving at first to be talking to a friend and suddenly have the engine of the car next to you rev with no driver in sight. I guess at -40 degrees I’d want my car started and nice and cozy before I got out of the office too.

The Outdoors, People and Animals:
An Alaskan coast guard survey concluded that 50% of man overboard accidents resulted from the victim trying to relieve himself over the side of the vessel. *
Researchers on the northern tundra reported up to 9,000 mosquito bites per minute. At that rate a person would lose half of her blood supply in 2 hours!* (And yes, I live on the Northern Tundra - but I aint never seen them THAT bad).*

As of 2006 Anchorage police and wildlife officials got more annual calls concerning problem moose and bears then they did for hold-ups, bomb scares, liquor violations, escaped criminals, subjects resisting arrest, prostitution and 'illegal aliens' COMBINED! *
The Visitors:
The Anchorage visitor bureau and my friends in Juneau swear that numerous tourists step off the cruise ships and ask “What’s the elevation here?”*
The banker who switched over my account swore that in the summer he gets far too many people from the lower 48 who come into the bank to “cash in US money for Alaska money”.

The Anchorage Convention and visitors bureau reports these actual inquiries from tourists: “How much does Mount McKinley weigh?’ and “When do you turn on the Northern Lights?”*
A Denali Park Ranger reported leading a hike to the top of a small mountain in an area where there were no trails. An apprehensive tourist asked: “If there are no trails, how will we know when we get to the top?”*

The People, Culture and Gov‘t:
In 2006 Alaskans ranked number one in high school degrees, number one in ownership of Harley Davidson motorcycles, number one in the consumption of ice cream and the 2nd highest per capita consumers of Spam in the Nation.*

There is a town in Alaska (to remain unanimous) known for hosting an annual Fourth of July marksmanship match, where contestants fire from within an National Park, across an active airway runway, and across a navigable river. The winners in 2005 were the National Park Ranger and the Tribal Peace Officer.*
(this photo was taken along a main road, acouple hundred yards later it BEGIN)

Snowmobilers breaking trail for the Iditarod Trail Dog Race discovered that if they wired a can of SPAM to their exhaust manifold, they had a perfect hot meal in 50 miles.*
Talkeetna has a festival called Moose Dropping Festival with games and contests that center around the uses of dried moose droppings.*

Environmentalists (presumably in the lower 48) heard about the festival and demanded more information: “How high are the moose taken before they are dropped.” They were prepared to sue.**

Alaska is known for growing the largest Cabbages. The last record was set in 2000 with a cabbage that weighed 105.6 pounds!*

Since 1991 (originally started as a joke) Nome residents take their old x-mas trees and “plant” them in holes in the ice behind Fat Freddies restraunt. In 2006 there were 70 tree’s in the “forest” which also attracted many animals including pink wooden pigs, plywood walruses and plastic flamingoes.*
At Fort Yukon’s Spring Carnival - to be crowned Queen you need to participate in the usual talent show, questions, fancy gowns AND build a fire to melt snow, run in snow shoes and skin a rabbit.**
An Alaskan bank once offered new customers an Iditarod commemorative Smith & Wesson .44-caliber revolver.**
In 1974 Mount Edgecumbe, a massive volcano near Sitka Alaska, started spewing black smoke, the Tsunami alarms were sounded and people were in a near panic when one of the prominent businessmen admitted that he had hired helicopters to drop tires into the Volcano and then set them on fire as an April Fools joke.**

The story goes that Chicken, Alaska was named by a group of miners that found it a great place to hunt Ptarmigan (sorta like wild chickens, sorta) - but they couldn’t spell it so they named it the closest thing the could think of.**

**Moose Droppings and other Crimes Against Nature - Tom Brennan
* The Alaska Almanac 30th Anniversary Edition

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Moose, the Motorcycle and the Tourist

So, last night as I was coming home from line dancing at the local bar - I was in a damn fine mood, blasting country music and day dreaming about tearin’ up the floor some Friday night… Line dancing has much of the same foot work as Irish and Scottish step dancing (that’s where it originates), and since it’s been far too many years that my messed up ankle has kept me from fancy Irish footwork – I was more than high
on life at 10 pm at night –driving home from the bar in the light of the Alaskan summer night.

But I was not so blissed out that I didn’t notice the car pulled over on the WRONG side of the road. As I cruised slowly by the car I also noticed that a cow and calf were chomping away at the roadside shrubbery. Here in Alaska, by the way, a “cow” is a female moose.

NOW, first a lesson in Alaskan wildlife viewing: On the list of most dangerous animals in Alaska – a cow with a calf may be at the top – maybe behind a grizzly or polar bear with cub, but maybe not. Moose have an uncanny manner by which they uh, destroy, their enemies. A moose, weighing up to 1300 pounds and standing up to seven feet at the shoulders, will simply, when pissed off, get up on it's hind legs (kind of like a horse rearing up) and then pummel said enemy with it's front hooves. I'm not kidding, it'll just pound your pathetic body deep into the permafrost.

The good news is they often like to tell you they’re pissed well BEFORE they pummel you. This is how a moose tells you to get the hell away: first they look at you (that’s a good time to check your distance – if an animal that big stares at you, you best be doing some thinking about whether you’re pissing it off). If it finds that it doesn’t like what it’s looking at, it may turn broadside to you, -to remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, exactly how damn big an animal it is. Although sometimes it opts out of this obvious reminder. Next, it starts twitching it ears and eventually will lay its ears back. This is comparable to one of those damn-big-drunk-guys at the bar narrowing his eyes and pulling up his shirt sleeves when he hasn’t taken a liking to you or your boyfriend. If the moose gets around to licking her lips (just like the drunk at the bar) you should know that you’re going to find out if the permafrost is really melting.
So, back to the roadside situation, I pulled ahead and did a U turn and pulled into a parking lot across the way. I had just remembered I had my new point and shoot camera with me, but mostly I wanted to watch the tourist.
You see last summer when I was in Juneau, walking around looking at the receding glacier, I noticed these funny signs that said: “DO NOT CHASE THE BEARS.” I thought they were a joke until I rounded a corner to find a crowd of 20 people, armed with video cameras, yelling excitedly and chasing a bear around in circles until they had it sufficiently cornered against a rock. I ran for the Park Ranger, more out of concern for the traumatized bear than the video camera herd. The Park Ranger gave me a look that told me this was probably the 5th time today he’d dealt with this. He called for back-up and rushed out to try to ‘chase’ the crowds away from the petrified bear. Ever since that time I have been more than a bit un-nerved seeing tourists and wildlife near each other.

To tell you the truth though – I don’t know why I really doubled back. Was I really going to try to stop the tourists if they got out and tried to get close to the moose, or would I just figure it was natural selection? The tourists didn’t get out of their car. Instead they pulled a U turn and got right up against the edge of the road, leaned out of the window, and proceeded to yell and bang on the car to try to get the moose to look at them.

That’s when I saw ‘The Stare’. The ears went back, the head lowered a bit, and the tongue began to appear… I was trying to think how this was going to pan out. Was the moose really going to pummel the car? That would be an awesome picture. Would the moose chase the car when, or if, it drove away? Another awarding winning shot.
But just when I thought the moose was going to charge, the strangest thing happened. This incredibly loud, ‘old school’ motorcycle came tearing around the corner and blaring by at lightning speed. The moose, the tourist and I were taken completely off guard. The moose jumped, and with baby in tow, took off for the trees. The tourist banged his head on the top of the door and I nearly dropped my camera. I’m sure the motorcyclist saw the moose, for I saw his head swivel as he went by. Maybe he was some kind of super hero, being called to duty when wildlife was stressed by ignorant, selfish tourists. Maybe he watched the whole thing unfold and then intervened at the perfect moment. Maybe he does this all the time, leaving many people -and moose- asking “Who was that leather clad man anyhow?” Or maybe it was just the best of luck.

In any case, the tourists drove off with bitter looks on their faces, while the mother moose stayed at the edge of the tree line, ears upright with a young one glued to her side. I sat on the hood of my car (plenty far away) and watched, pondering what a strange collision of worlds we are in now.